Clutter Psychology

Growing up, I witness two very different schools of thought with regards to stuff. On the one side, as a child born in Warsaw in the thick of WWII living on the lamb as a toddler, my father held on to everything. Conversely, my mother, one of 14 siblings in Brazil, was used to having only what she needed, not because of financial scarcity but pragmatism. Our house in general was minimalist. The office and basement on the other hand; one of a hoarder. Until this day, I cannot touch or smell newspaper without feeling sick to my stomach. Once moved out, I espoused the minimalist life, a good thing too because once a military spouse dealing with moves from one side of the country to another, you have no choice but to let go of the items you don’t need, if not for convenience for sanity!

The contents in our house, carry emotions and memories. They give us a sense of self and a sense of security. As Karen Lollar, Ph.D. states ‘The house is not merely a possession or a structure of unfeeling walls. It is an extension of my physical body and my sense of self that reflects who I was, am, and want to be.’  We also often associate material goods with happiness; the more we have, the happier we are right? Wrong! In a The New York Times article, they found overwhelming evidence of its negative impact on mental well-being which then induces an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, particularly in women. The more we have the more chaotic our lives get. What brings us joy are experiences, relationships, and self-growth. Not things. 

How did it happen and how do we get out of it?


Our brains like to play a little game where we believe that if we let go of the item, we’ll lose the memory. Is that true? Most likely not! We don’t easily forget the memories that are most precious to us. Do you need that glass bottle containing sand from Mexico? Do you look at the sand much? Will you forget your family vacation if you throw it away? When attempting to declutter, these are the types of questions you should ask yourself when dealing with sentimental items.

Possibly needing it.

Let’s address that box of instruction manuals or recipe books or maps…you know you have it, but do you remember where it is? Better yet, will you reference it? Or will you look it up online? Possibly needing something someday in the abstract future is not the same as needing it. This is where the bulk of clutter happens. 

Possibly wanting it

We teach our kids the difference between need and want as they cry for a piece of chocolate they NEED. For adults, as we grow up and become financially independent, those lines suddenly blur again. It’s a lifelong challenge for some. The things we want to keep usually have to do with someone we used to be or someone we wanted to be. So although you may have once played the guitar in the past, or had every intention of learning it one day, will you be playing guitar any time soon? Sometimes getting rid of some items can feel embarrassing or like a failure but if it’s not bringing you joy today, then getting rid of it will bring you actual joy.


When someone you love gives a gift but you have zero use for it, you feel bad getting rid of it. When you spend a sizeable amount of money on something and no longer use it, or maybe never did, you feel guilt. This one’s especially difficult because that guilt tends to skew the perceived monetary value of the items.  Just because it once was valuable, does not mean it is today.  When selling items it's important to accept that the market will determine the fair price. Even if you sell it for less than you thought it was worth, think of the lightness you’ll feel once the guilt and the items are gone. 


Every day we prioritize our time. Time is precious and we try to use it wisely. Decluttering is one of those tasks that aren’t urgent, like grocery shopping, so we push it to another day. Before you know it, the filling system hasn’t been touched in months and the basement is full of clutter. The more you accumulate the more you avoided, and before you know it, it’s too big a task to confront. A study, published in Current Psychology, found that procrastination with regards to clutter happens to all of us but that the negative psychological effect increases as we age and become more helpless and thus dissatisfied. So taking some time even if it’s a small amount every day will increase your quality of life in more ways than one.

The truth is, unless you move every couple of years, this is a common phenomenon, and nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s so common that the storage business is booming. People rather just shuffle things around than declutter.  ‘Statistics show that the U.S. has an average of nine square feet of storage for every person in the country, while Canadians are at two square feet per capita’ according to a report made by CBC News. It’s not a surprise, decluttering isn’t fun but at some point, it will have to be done. The question is, will you do the work? Will you put this burden on someone you love? Or will you hire a decluttering service?  

If any of this resonates with you and you’d like to take the project on yourself, you might find our article on an Organized Downsizing Process helpful. But if you don’t have time or you just don’t want to deal with it. Our decluttering service isn’t just for downsizers. We’re happy to help.