Clutter, Clutter Everywhere

The average house size in the 1950’s (according to The Swelling McMansion Backlash on was 983 square feet. I lived in one of those with my brother and parents. It had 784 square feet. We had plenty of room. Today, I live in 2300 square feet with my spouse and we have almost every nook and cranny filled with our stuff.

I’m not the only one with too much clutter!

UCLA has a Center for Lives of Everyday Families that sent archaeologists, anthropologists and other social scientists into the homes of 32 LA families back in 2001. They studied, videotaped, tracked, tested for stress and photographed four years worth of family activities and then wrote a book “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century,” about it. Among their findings:

  • “Managing the volume of possessions was such a crushing problem in many homes that it actually elevated levels of stress hormones for mothers.
  • Only 25 percent of garages could be used to store cars because they were so packed with stuff.
  • The rise of big-box stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club has increased the tendency to stockpile food and cleaning supplies, making clutter that much harder to contain.”

The Daily Mail in the UK reports that

“research has found that a rising hoarding instinct among Britons means our homes are now packed to the rafters with clutter.”

And that

“The amount of rarely used items owned by an average Briton has doubled in the past three decades to fill 3,370 cubic feet.”

What happened!! How did we get so much stuff?

 Why we have it, why we keep it.

The researchers reported on by the Daily Mail claim it is the result of the 80s and 90s consumerism.

We started associating more stuff with a better life. Our house size started growing so we had more room to store it, and now we even have offsite storage facilities we can rent by the month to handle our excess.

Here are some reasons I think we have problems getting rid of stuff.

Someone special gave it to us and we have some sentiment attached to it.

My son carved a cute little man out of soapstone when he was in grade school. He is almost 40 years old now yet I still have that cute little man sitting on the window ledge over the kitchen sink.

The Denver Post  confirms this by quoting Regina Leeds, author of “One Year to an Organized Life” who said:

“People turn physical objects into magic talismans that connect them to memories (and) better times in their lives”

We think it may become important in the future.

As my spouse always says, of that shirt he got for Christmas 30 years ago and has never worn, “I might need that someday”.

We think it is part of family legacy and we have a duty to carry it forward to the next generation.

I have a steamer trunk 4 x 4 x3 feet full of legacy pictures, doll collections, postcards from an immigrant grandfather and other family memorabilia. I seldom look through it, but feel obligated to save it now that three generations have already done so!

We stuffed it in the closet and have forgotten we have it.

Purses, clothing 3 sizes too small, wallets received as gifts and never used, a collection of scores of neckties – I’m almost afraid to look.

It is a pain to clear out.

The garage is so full we can hardly walk through it (however, the cars DO live there). How can I sort through all that stuff when there is no place to put it while I dig? It takes time and effort to clear things out, not fun.

We don’t know how to easily get rid of it.

What would you do with a 30 year old exercise bike? Goodwill won’t even take it.

We love to buy things or go to sales.

Searching for and obtaining that special item is akin to the thrill of the hunt. Wanting an object is usually more fun than having it (after the first few weeks anyway). Finding a bargain is very fulfilling.  But, then we bring it home and stuff it on a shelf.

We collect things.

Do you know a collector? My aunt (now deceased, but her stuff still lives with my brother and I) was one. My hubby moves from one collecting interest to another with abandon. Old buttons, militaria, stamps, coins, helmets, chairs…… you get the picture. All those collections are fun for him, but they take up room and add to stuff.

Speaking of collecting, the Mayo clinic assures us that collecting doesn’t make you a hoarder:

“It’s important to note that hoarding is different from collecting. People who have collections, such as stamps or model cars, deliberately search out specific items for their collections. Collectors often categorize their items and carefully display them. Hoarders, on the other hand, will save random items they encounter in their daily life and store them haphazardly in their homes or surrounding areas.”

Our kids leave it with us when they leave home.

My sons are grown and gone. I was pretty good at moving my oldest son out but my younger son still has both of our lofts filled with his stuff!

We think the other guy likes and wants to keep it.

It’s hard for one person to clear out clutter, it is even harder to get several to cooperate in the venture – either due to differing views on what should be kept, differing desires to clear it out or simply due to lack of time together to work on it. If one half of a couple clears stuff out on their own, the other half often wonders what happened to all their ‘good stuff’.

We have life events that dump stuff on us.

A new baby brings tons of clutter (for at least 20 years!). A divorce or death or other breakup of a household can cause their stuff to move in with you! My brother divorced and pleaded with us to take some of his furniture. We finally got him to take it back 5 years later. Mom & Dad died and that brother inherited the house full of their stuff. Then an aunt died and he took half of her stuff. It turned him into a hoarder! He simply can’t get rid of it.

There are psychological reasons we can’t get rid of our stuff.

Clutterers and hoarders may actually have a mental condition which makes it extremely hard for them to part with their stuff.

The Mayo Clinic website says:

“Hoarding, also called compulsive hoarding and compulsive hoarding syndrome, may be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But many people who hoard don’t have other OCD-related symptoms.”

Depression, anxiety and a family history of hoarding also may be contributing factors.

Next time: Health and psychological effects of clutter and options & resources for dealing with our stuff.

 Do you have too much stuff? How many years have you lived in the same house (we’ve been here 23, it gets worse with time!).