If the not-so-distant rash of TV shows about re-organizing spaces, cleaning, de-cluttering, remodeling and expansion that hit US airwaves in the mid 2000’s is any indication, America seems pretty obsessed with spacious and immaculate living rooms, master baths and glossy, magazine-spread style homes.
But according to the book Fast Forward Family: Home, work, and relationships in middle-class America, which was based on an in-depth, ten-year study by the UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF), the majority of homes in the U.S. are anything but. In fact, average homes of about 1,750 square feet contain thousands of items (an average four per square foot, actually); a dizzying amount of consumer goods that could only be described by an objective observer as “clutter.”
And this mess is not stacks of magazines and crazy-cat-lady accoutrement, these are every day, “purposeful” possessions; i.e., the stuff we intended to acquire and put on display, such as furniture, art, books, lamps, toys, trinkets or music collections. When you stop to consider what these items are for, (often to show status, or imply identity), you might wonder what the effects of living such a densely accessorized life might be.
According to the CELF study, the consequences do cost you, and not just money: stress hormones measured in participants’ saliva show considerable psychological stress in association with a cluttered home, suggesting that living day-to-day with a messy environment is a bigger problem than we thought, most notably for women. Linguistic data shows that busy working moms often talk about their houses with the words “chaotic”, “messy”, and “cramped,” coupled with the words, “usually”, “always”, and “constantly”. These same women also showed increased signs of stress and a depressed mood as the day progressed. Men on the other hand, reported little to nothing about the clutter or mess in their lives.
Regardless of gender, the message is clear: the high density of objects in our homes and lives — along with the intense consumerism it perpetuates — will only lead to smaller wallets, added disorganization and frustration (did you know that people spend 55 minutes per day simply looking for things?), and now even health risks. As I’ve mentioned in a past post, the expense and energy it takes to manage and maintain all these possessions over time is considerable, particularly when you consider the effort to clean, organize, and maintain them.
So, to help keep your life stress and clutter free, here are a few tips:
#1 Eliminate Duplication
Many households have more than one item in a category. Ever notice how many can openers you have? Pairs of scissors (that don’t even work well), extra pots and pans that never get used? And what about ball point pens? (Seriously….go count them!) When organizing desks, closets or areas of the house, it’s helpful to put things in piles or categories so you can see where you have a surplus, and can afford to trim down.
#2 Dump Storage
A storage unit can be a huge, on-going monthly money drain and is it really, truly necessary? If you live in a small apartment, perhaps. But for anyone with a basement or attic, you already have a built in storage unit. And if you can’t remember exactly what you have in storage (who does?), then that’s a sure sign you probably don’t need those items anymore.
#3 In with New, Out with Old
This one may be hard to live by but it’s a sure way to keep a handle on your hoarding: for every new (non-food) purchase, particularly with clothing or chachkis, decide on an item to remove from the household via donation, recycle centers, swaps, or when all else fails, simply the trash. Check out Martha Stewart.com’s list of best places to donate or sell unwanted items.
#4 Avoid Accumulation
Avoid services or habits that bring new stuff into the household. Monthly sample subscription boxes are a good example: for a small fee a personalized package arrives in the mail for you every month with tiny treats of beauty, food, or novelties. Though I love the kid’s crafting kits from Kiwi Crate, I prefer Sparkbox because it’s keeps kids constantly entertained with educational products, without having to buy new. When your kids are bored of or outgrow the new toy-of-the-month, you simply return the items for a new batch, and yours go to a new home (after the toys haven been sterilized and shrink-wrapped like-new, so kids never knows the difference).
#5 Beget Borrowing
If you’re trying to cut down on, say, storage per #2 above, let friends & family “borrow” things you aren’t using anymore, whether books, furniture or sports equipment. Not only are you helping someone else out, if you’re lucky, those items will never make it back into your home.
Photo courtesy of: s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/02/54/92/2549292_26cac86d.jpg