There may be a new “disorder” on the horizon. Now just a silent accomplice to other disorders like depression, anxiety, and sleep deprivation, this growing problem may soon warrant its own title and code number in the diagnostic dictionary. Perhaps it will be called something like “Clinical Clutter Disorder” or “Chronic Disorganization Syndrome”. Although these labels may sound playful or joking, the problem itself is very serious. Whatever it’s title, it will likely become a frequently used label, similar to other labels we now use, like Type A, dyslexic, stressed and burned out. These titles are descriptive; they quickly identify what the problem is and have become catch phases that we all use to communicate our struggles.
Clutter has seemingly become a national epidemic. During the last 30 years the size of the average American home has grown 53%, from 1500 square feet to a little over 2300 square feet. With 800 extra square feet of space in our homes, one would think we would have more than enough room to spread out and be better organized. Not so. During this same span of time, self-storage facilities were originated and have, according to the Self Storage Association (yes, there is an association devoted to storage units), grown to over 35,000 facilities nationwide. Obviously, we have begun to buy and hold on to items so much that we’re requiring more and more space to accommodate our clutter.
In addition to the growth of homes and self storage units across America, new business opportunities and associations have spawned to meet the demand for ways to cope with our accumulating clutter and the resulting disorganization. Business opportunities include home and business professional organizers, closet organizers, and home maintenance services. Organized associations have developed to set up standards in dealing with clutter and disorganization. Among these new organizations are the National Association of Professional Organizers, the Professional Organizer’s Network, and the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization.
Clearly, clutter has become a serious problem. Time and again in therapy I hear people complaining of how cluttered and complicated their lives are. Whether in a mental or physical sense, clutter has robbed them of the energy they need to function well and maintain some semblance of happiness in their lives.
The Psychology of Clutter
So what are the possible psychological dynamics feeding the frenzy of clutter and disorganization in our lives? First, I believe it involves a growing sense of insecurity. Just like a young child feels safer and more secure when he or she surrounds herself with stuffed animals, dolls, pillows and blankets, adults attempt to avoid feelings of insecurity and unhappiness by surrounding themselves with more and more possessions.
People buy things in order to suppress the uncomfortable feeling they get from not having what everyone else seems to have. Commercials and magazines add to the problem by showing us how we will be happier, more efficient, more productive and more attractive if we buy advertised products. Because of the overabundance of any type of item we wish to buy, we’re forced to research them all so as to get the “right” one. The problem is, however, that we very seldom bet the “right” one because no sooner do we buy something than a new and improved version of it becomes available. This leads us to feel disillusioned with what we have, and provokes within us a sense of dissatisfaction. This sets us up for yet another buying spree.
Another psychological dynamic behind clutter and disorganization involves the hectic pace at which we now live our lives. A cluttered personal environment tends to be a reflection of the personal and professional demands of everyday living. As things pile up, we become more disorganized and less productive. This, in turn, sparks internal feelings of distress and unhappiness.
In general, we are purchasing more, and discarding less. As this happens, we’re forced to spread out, creating clutter and disorganized piles of accumulated mess. The mess soon overtakes our homes, just as weeds overtake a neglected garden. When this happens, we fill our existing storage spaces, rent self storage units, buy larger, more accommodating homes, and/or hire professionals to help us better organize our “stuff.”
According to the principles of Feng Shui, “that which is on the outside, closely resembles that which resides on the inside”. Our external surroundings act as a mirror of our internal state of being. As our physical environments become cluttered and disorganized, so do we feel lost and scattered in our thoughts and ideas. It’s as though we have a finite number of mental energy cells available for use. When most of these energy cells are tied up dealing with the clutter in our lives, there are few left over for use in those areas needed to be happy; enthusiasm, zest, creativity, etc.
In 1956, George Miller extended his “Magic 7” research which stated that human beings have the ability to juggle 7 (plus or minus 2, depending on the individual) thoughts or ideas at a time. Once those 7 “slots” are filled, either nothing more will fit or one of the original 7 is replaced. I believe that as clutter and disorganization abound in our lives, we spend far too much time fretting about what needs to be done, what hasn’t been done, things we’re overwhelmed about, things we want, etc. The 7 slots stayed filled to capacity, closing off other options – opportunities to feel happy, satisfied, content, creative, etc.
I once read that a home to the family is the equivalent of an aquarium to fish. If the water is dirty or too alkaline, or if the pH is out of kilter, the fish will suffer. So it is with us when our surroundings are cluttered and dusty. You can free up energy that is currently being wasted on stuff that’s in the way, out of place, and not needed. Clearing your external environment of unused and unwanted clutter, and sorting through the accumulated mess around you, will psychologically help you attain a healthier life style and live a happier life. Are you suffering from Chronic Disorganization Syndrome?