This is the core message from Japanese organisation consultant Marie Kondo, who says that clutter fuels higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. “We give our possessions magical properties – but our brain can only handle so much clutter,” she says. “That is why my KonMari method spreads joy through tidying.”
It is also true that we can only take so many new therapy fads and people telling us how to run our lives. As a self-confessed hoarder told Tonic, “If I look around my house I know all my clutter used to be money. But it is my clutter, my house and it is where I call home. I like it and I don’t want to live in a sterile box. Minimalism is for those whose lives are empty.”
Primal sense of security in possessions
Our client’s view is supported by psychologist Dr Krauss Whitbourne of University of Massachusetts, who believes there is an almost primal sense of security in possessions. The knowledge of ownership can be deeply soothing to anxieties and create a feeling of security.
“Being in an environment full of your stuff – if it’s organised – can be peaceful, relaxed and comforting,” she says. “But as soon as it verges into hoarding or getting to that point, it has the opposite effect and reminds you that you can’t make up your mind and get rid of things. You hold onto in the past.”
What both these experts agree on is that extreme clutterers are in a mental and physical trap that fuels stress hormones. They even go as far as claiming that an untidy home can fuel self-hatred.
Do your possessions own you?
Here at Tonic we are wary of being sold what is in essence a rebranding of old fashioned Spring Cleaning. And declutter therapy is hardly new as even William Morris, who was born in 1834, preached that, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.
But do we really need help with the blindingly obvious? Are we all really living hostage to our possessions or are we just living? Dr Krauss has no doubts …. “‘Environmental mastery is extremely important to our well-being. In our society, we like to feel like we have some control over our surrounds. That means not living as a hostage to your possessions“.
She therefore recommends picking up each item you own and ask yourself whether it ‘sparks joy’. If the answer is ‘yes,’ it can stay. If ‘no,’ it goes. This presumably excludes essentials like the loo brush, kids and your tax bill.
Unless you are an obsessive hoarder, there are more important things to worry about in life. OK, housework can’t kill you, but why take a chance?