A clutter-free house starts with mindful shopping
For many of us a cluttered home can have a negative effect on our wellbeing. Some people are happy living in their own brand of chaos, artists in particular might claim that an overly neat space can stifle creativity. But for most of us, getting to grips with the organisation of our homes is an ongoing battle. Unwanted clutter has been proven to raise cortisol levels, and can leave overwhelmed households paralysed as to how to tackle the problem.
Clutter is emotional, and that’s why it’s hard to shift. It can harbour feelings of painful guilt that an already busy person doesn’t want to address – guilt about money spent on an unused item, guilt about clothes that no longer fit, guilt about unfinished projects, guilt about unwanted inherited items. There’s also the Endowment Effect, which proves that we value items we already own far higher than those we don’t. So if you find an object in your house and you think “why the hell did I buy this, it’s hideous/useless?” but still can’t let it go, that’s the Endowment Effect.
Most decluttering experts will tell you the same things:
Advice like this and more is readily available on the internet and in scores of books.
But I believe that they’re all missing a key factor in how clutter builds up – How unwanted items get into our homes in the first place. To put it plainly, the problem is how we shop.
Clutter is the symptom, shopping is the root cause.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the cycle – you feel cluttered, you do a clearout, you bin unwanted items or send them to charity, but in a few months the house is full of stuff again. Why? Because you haven’t changed how you shop. I’ve had several decluttering clients who’ve been totally overwhelmed by the contents of their homes, but still had unopened online-shopping parcels in the hall.
We have to break this cycle, and the way to do that is to learn to develop a more mindful attitude towards everything we own and buy. It’s a practice I call Mindful Materialism, where you really think deeply about an item before you buy it, whether you really need and love it, where it might have come from, who made it, and how it fits into your life. This is also a great practise to do with items you already own. Allow yourself to learn to love what you already have in a new way. The easiest root to a peaceful mental state is to cultivate the feeling that what you already have is enough, in all areas of life.
The relationship between the objects that share our lives and our mental wellbeing has been an area that has fascinated me for many years. In 2011 I completed an MA in Fashion History and my dissertation was about the psychological effect of fast fashion on young female consumers. I discovered that shopping in the way the high street shops want us to – frequently, with little thought – not only has devastating humanitarian and environmental consequences, but was also having a negative effect on those of us who consume in this way. There is a psychological phenomenon called the Paradox of Choice which proves that the more options we have, the less satisfied we are with our eventual choice. This then feeds another psychological trap called the Hedonic Treadmill which operates like this:
Rinse and repeat
It has even been proven that your satisfaction with an item peaks in the final moment before you pay for it. Let that truth really sink in.
Now, let me come clean, I am not a minimalist. I love things and was caught in the hedonic treadmill for many years (and still fall off the wagon in moments of weakness). But by identifying these patterns I’ve been able to slow my consumption way down, look at my possessions in a new way, and stay clutter free long term.
Once you learn to step off the fast-paced treadmill of consumption, I guarantee you will feel more satisfied with what you own, less inclined to impulse shop, and less cluttered in the future.
A widespread mindful approach towards the objects that aid and decorate our lives would be of massive benefit to our ailing planet too.
Try Mindful Materialism and see the benefits for yourself!
My name is Emma Gleeson and I am a writer, public speaker and advocate for more sustainable ways of living.
I have a Masters in the History and Culture of Fashion from The London College of Fashion and my research focused on the psychology of our modern addiction to over-consumption which leaves so many people with bulging wardrobes but “nothing to wear.”
For the past five years my business “Give Up Yer Aul Tings” has helped people declutter their homes and organise their possessions.
These days I focus on writing, talking, running events and encouraging people to think about more sustainable ways of living and working.
My first book Stuff Happens will be published by Penguin in February 2021.