If you haven’t noticed, tidying up has become trendy.
Netflix recently released “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” The series provides an intimate look at how the Japanese author and decluttering queen works her organizational magic with messy families. The #minimalism on Instagram has more than 13 million posts, and a slew of books and podcasts have debuted on how to declutter, organize and live more sparingly.
Apparently, as a culture our collective consumerism is peaking. So is the realization that we have too much stuff. The so-called “Kondo Effect” is prompting us to toss everything from the egg cooker we got for our birthday to the rarely worn trench coat we’ve kept hanging in the closet for 25 years despite living in sunny L.A. (Yes, I’m talking about myself.) All of it is forcing us to unload in droves and reconsider what we purchase next.
“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in interest,” says Marla Eby, director of marketing for Goodwill of Southern California, adding that robust donations to Goodwill centers helped her region save 100 million pounds of goods from entering landfills.
The decluttering trend led me to wonder about the deeper psychological benefits of sorting, tossing and reorganizing. Does mess make for more stress? And does decluttering and living a sparer, more minimalistic existence make us more peaceful?
Psychologists and professional organizers praise the benefits of getting our stuff together, saying a more ordered environment reduces stress, increases wellbeing and even improves our eating habits.
UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families studied 32 middle-class, dual-income families to research their relationship to the objects in their homes. The detailed study revealed that not only are we a culture of clutter, but having too much stuff raises the levels of stress hormones in mothers.
That being said there are missionaries of mess out there (a brewing backlash perhaps?) who argue that a certain amount of disorder leads to creativity. Albert Einstein famously said: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
Rather than rely on trends or research, a bit of mindfulness can help you better understand how your particular brand of mess affects you and what steps you might take to create the “just right” Goldilocks relationship with your possessions.
Mindfulness, the practice of paying attention to the present moment with an attitude of openness, curiosity and non-judgmental awareness, invites us to investigate our experience directly to discover what we’re thinking, feeling and sensing in the present moment. Being mindful of how we react to disarray and order and becoming more aware of what drives us to buy something new can help us better understand how to manage our mess and consume more consciously.
Does a cluttered desk, for example, make you more creative or chaotic? Do you feel content with a closet full of clothes or overwhelmed with too many choices? Are you clicking the “Buy Now” button on Amazon Prime to fill an emotional need or do you truly need what you’re purchasing.
These aren’t intellectual questions. Next time you notice that your sock drawer doesn’t close because it’s overstuffed with argyles, notice how that makes you feel. What thoughts, emotions and physical sensations does the experience prompt? Is it a shoulder shrug or a hair pulling moment?
Conversely, when you alphabetically organize your spice drawer and hang your clothes in color-coded order how does that make you feel? Do you feel blissfully calm or stifled by the uniformity? Does making sure every dish is dried and neatly stowed after dinner invite more stress or help you sleep better at night? And how do you feel after buying something new? Pleased and gratified or underwhelmed and guilty?
Personally, I’ve noticed that my mind is more settled and less anxious when things are tidy. And buying less makes my household more manageable. But I’ve also noticed that the effort to keep everything orderly can be stressful. Tidying up takes time and having too high of a neatness standard makes me grouchy. Turns out I tend to be a nag when underwear is left on the floor. Can you blame me? Also, I still want that pair of new running shoes.
Here, again mindfulness can help us find a middle way – one that allows us to discover the level of personal organization and purchasing that creates ease, but isn’t onerous. By bringing awareness to our internal tipping point around disarray and order as well as what we buy we can work toward finding a balance. We can develop habits and even a lifestyle in relationship to our possessions that brings us joy.
Doing so is a mindfulness practice in and of itself and an ongoing process. After all, life is messy.
Visit eM Life this week to learn valuable skills to help you simplify your mess and your life. Enhance your practice with a community of support, expert mindfulness instructors and the skills you need to help you be the best you. Discover a new point of you with eM Life.
About the Author
Kelly Barron. M.A., is a certified mindfulness facilitator, at UCLA and writer. She teaches mindfulness for UCLA’s Mindfulness Research Center as well as for corporations, schools and private groups. Kelly has worked as a mindfulness teacher with eM Life since 2016. She came to learn the value of mindfulness as a deadline-driven journalist. Now, she’s passionate about sharing mindfulness with others to help them live with more ease, clarity and joy. You can learn more about Kelly and read her blog at www.kellybarron.com.
Also published on Medium.