Clutter is a byproduct of choice. With every advance in technology our choices increase, and with those increasing choices comes an increase in clutter. There are several reasons why this is true.
In some cases, advancing technology produces products we’ve never seen before but are sure we need to improve the quality of our lives. Sometimes, a newer, nicer version causes us to feel dissatisfied with our existing product, so we go out and buy a replacement. Instead of actually replacing the outdated item, though, we hold onto it because “it’s still good” or “it might be worth something”. Thus, clutter is born.
People think the answer to their clutter problem is more space, but in reality, the answer is almost always less stuff. A surefire way to control clutter is to limit your choices. As a bonus, controlling clutter by limiting choices can actually lead to increased happiness. Studies show that the fewer choices we have, the more satisfied and content we feel.
Lauren Migliore explains it this way in her article “I Can’t Decide! Why An Increase in Choices Decreases Our Happiness”:
If too many choices lead to unhappiness and too much stuff leads to clutter, then a simple approach to this problem is to place limits on how much stuff we keep. The key is to make mindful decisions based on naturally (or in some cases self) imposed constraints. Such constraints can be spatial in nature, or they can be numeric.
Spatial constraints result when you let the available space determine what you keep. For instance, if you’re a book lover, but you only have space for one bookcase in your apartment, then the number of books you keep should be limited to the capacity of your bookcase. Books that don’t fit on the bookcase become clutter, and as such, they lose their identity, becoming part of the landscape.
If you are a crafter and you have a large closet available for storing craft supplies, then you must limit your craft supplies to what can be contained within that closet. Find ways to maximize the space and then minimize your supplies, keeping only those things you know you’ll actually use.
Young children are natural hoarders. They are unable to assign realistic value to things. In their eyes, the cheap plastic toy that came with their lunch is as valuable as the $50 building set they got for their last birthday. Value is directly linked to ownership. I own it, therefore it’s important to me. If left to their own devices, children’s rooms can quickly become overwhelmed with school papers, personal artwork, completed coloring books, birthday party favors, happy meal toys, bits of erasers and pencils, old greeting cards, etc.
A great way to compromise with your kids while simultaneously containing their clutter is to assign them a keepsake box. You determine the size of the box. They determine what goes inside. When the box starts to get full, it’s time to reassess its contents. This is the responsibility of the child. It is the space, and not the parent, that is limiting what they can keep, so you don’t have to be the bad guy, always threatening to toss things out. In addition, the child learns several important skills to include decision making, evaluating the true value of things, and self-limiting (because no matter what popular culture implies, we can’t have it all).
When there are no inherent restraints, you must create your own. Learn to limit yourself by deciding in advance how many of something you will own (shoes, handbags, kitchen gadgets, tubes of lipstick, video games, coffee mugs, etc.). Just because you have four functional pizza cutters in your kitchen drawer, that doesn’t mean you need four pizza cutters. Pick your favorite and part with the rest.
In order to remain within the numeric limits you set for yourself it will be necessary to purge regularly. When you find a black sweater you can't live without, go ahead and get it. Then sort through the six black sweaters already in your closet and choose one to part with.
Enjoy the Liberating Affects of Constraints
Too often we fret over things we don’t really want or need, or in some cases even like. We limit ourselves by remaining tied to things that don’t speak to our hearts or serve a valuable purpose in our lives. Instead of limiting yourself, I recommend limiting your stuff. Rather than worrying about what you spent, or who gave you something, or whether or not a thing still has value, try focusing on living comfortably within your space. I think you’ll find it tremendously liberating.