What is clutter?
Dr. Sherry Bourg Carter, in an article for Psychology Today writes, “Clutter can play a significant role in how we feel about our homes, our workplaces and ourselves. Messy homes and workplaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless and overwhelmed.” Even more, than the stress that comes from not being able to immediately find things when it’s needed, clutter creates stress by just being there. Dr. Carter also notes that clutter causes distraction and that’s the last thing we need in your home or workplace.
Clutter and the state of your mind
“People waste up to three hours a week finding things that are lost in the clutter on their desk.” says Joseph Ferrari, a psychologist at DePaul University in Chicago. His research into clutter suggests that people with lots of clutter in their homes or workplaces are less likely to get things done, and are more likely to be stressed and unhappy than people with less clutter. A neuroscientist at Princeton University (Sabine Kastner) suggests that when an object in our field of view is surrounded by clutter, the brain receives weaker signals from whatever people are trying to look at. Kastner suggests that people who are highly distractable need to reduce clutter but for people with a strong attention system clutter might be beneficial because it stimulates that system.
Martha Steward strategy for clutter clearing of your wardrobe
If you have to decide what things you’re going to keep in your wardrobe and what things you’re going to throw away or give away Martha Steward has a clutter clearing strategy.
Ask yourself four questions:
1) How long have I had it?
2) Does it still function?
3) Is it a duplicate of something that I already own?
4) When was the last time I wore it or used it?
These questions can be applied to anything you’re not sure if to keep or get rid of. But which question is the most useful for the process of clutter clearing? It looks like the mathematicians by Brian Christian and Griffith, authors of the book ‘Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions‘ have the answer based on their mathematical model on how to optimise the memory of a computer. Since a wardrobe’s capacity is just like the computer’s memory because of limited space, and you need to try and get in there the things that you’re most likely to need so that you can get to them as quickly as possible. So Martha’s fourth question, “when was the last time I wore it or used it?” is the most useful.
Some clutter can be good
Many inventions happened because of clutter. Penicillin comes to mind. Alexander Fleming was notoriously messy, leaving petri dishes lying around and mould growing in one of them and that’s how he discovered/invented penicillin. Read about the advantages of clutter and mess
When too much clutter is not good – hoarding disorder
3.4 million people in the UK suffer from hoarding disorder to some degree. In the United State (According to Scientific American) there are between 5 million and 14 million hoarders. A lot of people like their stuff and are attached to it. Attachment is an addiction and hoarding is now a recognised medical disorder (previously it was classed as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD). In August 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised hoarding as a psychiatric disorder in its own right. Hoarding disorder is characterised as having an extreme number of items and having a great difficulty throwing possessions away, as well as storing them in a disorganised manner so it causes significant distress or affects the quality of life. The list of items that people hoard is endless from clothes to newspapers to photos to printouts of emails to till receipts and even grass cuttings. While some hang on to pretty much everything they have, others collect specific items. “Hoarders fear making the wrong decision about what to keep and what to throw out, so they keep everything,” says Dr Whomsley, who was one of the authors of the British Psychological Society guidelines on hoarding compiled in 2013. “It is a psychological condition and not a lifestyle choice,” he adds. “It can be associated with other mental health conditions such as depression and social anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or OCD.” Hoarders quite often have perfectionist tendencies as well as be prone to procrastination and have difficulties in planning and organising. “The most common time for it to come to a head is when people are middle-aged or older and living alone.” Hoarding is usually triggered by traumatic events such as a divorce or bereavement. “One theory is that having experienced loss in the past, a person is primed to resist any further losses, hence their reluctance to part with things,” suggests Dr Whomsley.
Treatment for hoarding disorder includes de-cluttering and psychological therapies as well as individual and group cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Research published in the Journal Clinical Psychological Psychotherapy in 2017, by Deakin University in Australia, found a third of hoarders who attended a 12-week CBT programme developed to reduce hoarding, experienced an improvement in hoarding symptoms. “Clearing out someone’s cluttered house is rarely effective on its own”, says Dr Whomsley. “That won’t solve the problem because they will just fill it up again, and there’s nearly always an underlying psychological cause that needs addressing,” suggests Dr Whomsley. There are many organisations that help with hoarding disorder such as helpforhoarders.co.uk
Clutter and dementia
Research from the University of Calfornia suggests that well-organised people may be less likely to develop dementia because conscientious people have greater mental reserves and the brain’s ability to form new connections. Lack of deep sleep is also associated with dangers of developing dementia because during deep sleep the brain clears all kinds of debris and toxins that can clog it.