The Psychology of Clutter

Reading Time – 7 minutes

Here are 5 scenarios about why people have clutter.  Clutter is different for everyone but most people have some clutter in their lives. Let’s look at the psychology of clutter.

Scenario 1 – Retail Therapy

I was talking with a friend about people who buy something when they are sad to make themselves feel better and how this can cause clutter, financial problems or health problems if it is food.  She said when she had a bad day at school her mom would take her to a store and buy her a teddy bear.  So she understands her joy in shopping.

Why do people shop and create clutter in their homes and offices? It’s the process of assigning the emotion of fulfillment, satisfaction or simply “non-depression” to an item.  You were feeling sad and now you bought something and feel better,  for a while.

 This quote is from a book called Living More with Less:

“As someone once said

  • we have bought into the foolish obsession of buying stuff we don’t need
  • with money we don’t have
  • to impress people we don’t even know.”

I think we can all relate to a purchase that we have made fitting this description.

Three ladies shopping in a shopping mall

Scenario 2 – Fear causes clutter

Perhaps it is fear that helps people to hold onto things

  • What if I need it someday – fear of scarcity
  • I’ll keep it just in case – fear of uncertainly and doubt
  • I can’t give that away it was a gift – fear of rejection
  • I can’t decide so I’ll keep it and what if it is worth something someday – fear of making mistakes

In an article by Hellen Bittigieg, she talks about: Steps to eliminate your fears and conquer the clutter

  1. As you sort through your items notice the thoughts that come up and begin to acknowledge them, say okay now you’ve got my attention.
  2. Notice where you feel the fear in your body, stomach, chest or headache?
  3. Analyze the fear and try to understand where it’s coming from then thank it and move on
  4. Replace fear with trust
  5. What if I need it someday replace it with all my needs are abundantly supplied
  6. I’ll keep it just in case – replace it with what are the odds I’ll ever need to replace it?
  7. I can’t give that away it was a gift – replace it with my real friends always love and support me
  8. I can’t decide so I’ll just keep it – replace it with I’ll make a decision and trust that everything will be okay
  9. What if it’s worth something someday – replace it with it will never be more valuable than joy, health, friendships etc

Afraid of being wrong

Scenario 3 – Sentimentality and Clutter

I have clients who if they touch an object will automatically keep it, so I hold up the object and don’t let them touch it when they are deciding to keep it or give it away.  Other clients need to touch an item before they can donate it, it is like saying goodbye to it.

The sentimentality can be associated with

  • Someone you loved gave it to you or
  • Someone you once loved used it
  • Stuff that you associate with a time when you were happy. (memorabilia)

Being able to separate an object from a person can be difficult. Make sure to keep only a few objects that are the best representation of that period in your life period or moment.  Learning that you can still have the memory and the corresponding feeling without having the object will help you to be able to donate items.

Scenario 4 – Control 

Clients will hire me and want me to do their plans.  As I work with them and make suggestions about alternative ways to organize things generally, they say no and then at my next appointment they usually say I thought about your idea, let’s try it.

People want to have control over their decisions and environment. Avoiding power struggles over decisions about what stays and what goes makes decluttering easier.

Scenario 5 – Keeping your Stuff to Sell

I have clients who want to make lots of money selling their stuff.  Sometimes it is possible and sometimes it isn’t. They will hold onto stuff for garage sales, to put on Kijiji, eBay or Facebook Marketplace.  Sometimes they hold onto it for so long that it has lost its value. They think I paid good money for it.    The reality is the money has been spent

Just because it was costly to purchase does not mean that it’s valuable today. Items change in value. What’s important is whether you are using what you have now, or if what you have is distracting you from the lifestyle you want. If you are not loving, using and enjoying your things, then reconsider their ‘value’.

I summarize these 5 scenarios into

  • Social – learning that you can’t always feel happy and that acquiring things will not make you happy
  • Psychological – trusting yourself helps you have the courage to let go,
  • Emotional – learning you can have that wonderful feeling without  the object
  • Personality – people need control over their decisions, you can’t make it for  them
  • Financial – The value of an object in the enjoyment it brings to your life

The important thing to discover is what reasons make it hard for you to let go of the things or cause you to buy more things and change those mindsets.

Which scenarios do you relate to the most?

If you need help clearing the clutter contact me 

Julie Stobbe is a Trained Professional Organizer and Lifestyle Organizing Coach who brings happiness to homes and organization to offices, in person and virtually. She has been working with clients since 2006 to provide customized organizing solutions to suit their individual needs and situation. She uses her love of physical activity to reduce clutter, in your home and office. She guides and supports you to manage your time. If you’re in a difficult transition Julie can coach you to break-free of emotional clutter constraining you from living life on your terms. Online courses are available to help instruct, coach and support your organizing projects. Get started by downloading Tips for Reorganizing 9 Rooms.

Contact her at

 TwitterFacebook Facebook group Organizing Mind and Space

The post The Psychology of Clutter appeared first on Mind over Clutter.