Why It's So Hard to Get Rid of Your Clutter
There's a strong link between what you keep and how you feel about yourself.
Posted Apr 27, 2016
There's a reason Marie Kondo's book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold millions of copies and dominated the bestseller lists since its release in 2014: People yearn for simple, clutter-free spaces. Yet, despite our desire for simplicity, embracing Kondo's minimalist lifestyle may be more difficult than it seems.
Kondo recommends only keeping the items that "spark joy"—and eliminating everything else. Readers who successfully adopt her methods report emptying drawers, cleaning closets, and clearing off table tops in an effort to unload heaps of clutter.
While a tidier home can spark joy for many people, others aren't willing—or emotionally able—to part with many possessions. Getting rid of stuff stirs up a lot of emotional turmoil, and for some, it's just not worth it.
Whether you're hesitant to donate clothes that went out of style a decade ago, or you're reluctant to toss your childhood bowling trophy, you're not alone. Research explains why it can be so difficult to part with your possessions.
The Link Between What You Have and Who You Are
The objects you struggle to get rid of are likely tied to your self-worth, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Rather than viewing those objects as "mine," you may think of them as "me."
The study found that people struggle most to part with possessions that lack monetary or functional value. That's why people who lose their possessions to burglaries or fires report that the psychological damage is far worse than the financial loss.
According to researchers, the items you hang onto are likely to be linked directly to your self-worth—and people measure their self-worth in different areas. While one person may link their worth to their physical appearance, someone else may think their value stems from other people's approval. Whatever objects you cling to the most are likely the ones that fuel your self-worth.
If you place a lot of value on success, for example, you may have trouble getting rid of anything that serves as a tangible reminder of your accomplishments. A plaque from your last job, an expensive watch that no longer works, or a stack of old college transcripts may represent your achievement. Throwing away these objects might cause you to feel slightly less successful. It's as if these physical manifestations of your triumphs will somehow take away from your achievements.
If, however, you value your relationships above everything else, you may have difficulty getting rid of gifts from other people. Donating that gifted shirt that never fit may lead you to feel like you're being disloyal to Grandma. Getting rid of a book that a friend gave you may cause you to feel like you're giving away a little bit of your friendship.
Those palpable objects likely fuel your identity as someone who is loved and appreciated. Despite their lack of function, you may feel they serve as proof that you mean something to other people.
To Keep or Not to Keep
The study shows that getting rid of such objects leads to real grief. Parting with possessions that make you feel worthy can cause you to experience sadness—and even depression. So the next time you get frustrated by your cluttered desk or your spare room that serves as a catch-all, consider whether those objects you're holding onto have anything to do with your self-worth. Not only could it give you some insight into the way you measure your self-worth; it might also help you decide what's worse—the grief you'll experience if you toss possessions, or the frustration you experience from looking at the clutter.
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This article first appeared on Inc.