Are You Comfortable with Clutter?

We are a materialistic society. Americans love to acquire consumer goods. Even after purging our belongings in garage sales or donations, we tend to replace these possessions with newer, more fashionable items. Americans have a hard time gauging the extent of our belongings because of the size of our living spaces. The average size of American homes in 2018 was 2,641 square feet, about double that of Japanese homes.

Marie Kondo is the author of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” It is now a Netflix reality show directly in opposition to “Hoarders.” I only had to watch one show to become motivated to get organized. At the conclusion of the first show, I immediately organized my dresser drawers. Yesterday, I tackled my old photos. Although I love this new approach, I wonder if it is sustainable. Or, do we return to our set point after a length of time? Marie Kondo promises that you will never return to clutter again.

So the question is “Can people change?” The answer is yes, and no. We can change our habits and behaviors but our personality tends to be rather fixed. Personality is a pattern of thoughts, behavior and feelings that make up who we are. It is partly genetic, partially formed by early childhood experiences, traumatic events or from deeply held values. Once formed, personality doesn’t change dramatically.

The clean-freak will never be comfortable in a dirty house and vice-versa. Tidy people feel most at ease when their external world is organized. It gives peace of mind, helping them feel lighter and freer. On the other hand, more relaxed people might feel that a home that resembles a doctor’s office waiting room is sterile and cold. For them, Marie Kondo’s methods might increase stress, rather than inner peace.

Personality can be influenced by a break in your patterns – by new life changing experiences or trauma – but only so much change is possible. Motivation, effort and repetition are required to change. One needs motivation in order to make lasting change. You have to want to change in order to avoid negative consequences or achieve important rewards. Change requires effort to place yourself outside of your comfort zone. Repetition builds new pathways in the brain so that new patterns are more solidly formed. Otherwise, people tend to go back to their set points.

Marie Kondo would have you sort through your belongings, keeping only what sparks joy. In order for this to be a sustainable change, we need to look at the reason you are unhappy with your clutter. Is there an underlying depression, shopping addiction, or some other kind of unhealthy relationship with material things? If so, you will likely find your home cluttered again in short order.

Although you can’t change your basic personality, you can and should change the aspects of your personality that you are unhappy with. If you are not happy with your attachment to material things, give Marie Kondo’s method a try.


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