Goods for life have long given way to throwaway products designed to spontaneously combust the day their warranty expires. Overnight queues for iPhone upgrades or celebrity clothes ranges highlight the epidemic of shopping till you drop. With all these possessions ending up in landfill sites or the bottom of the oceans, we don’t need David Attenborough to warn us about the dangers of excess waste…

On a more local level, the ill effects of consumerism can detract from our quality of life. Many of our homes are bursting at the seams with the obsolete souvenirs of our existence. Clutter can slow us down. Not only does its sheer quantity dilute the value of things that really matter, but living in a disordered environment distracts us from a simpler more harmonious relationship with the world.

This growing problem is reflected by the popularity of books and TV shows devoted to decluttering. In Tidying up with Marie Kondo, the Netflix star cuts swathes through the accumulated junk in the cupboards of those she saves from over-consumption. She asks which possessions ‘Spark Joy’. So if they Spark Apathy, Indifference or Revulsion, throw them in the trash! Simple common sense rules – such as throwing away rarely worn or forgotten clothes – help people appreciate things they once cherished. Under her twinkling eye, no object is spared from Paper Mountains spilling down over groaning shelves to dusty boxes daring to be unpacked.

We can reduce the physical footprint by harnessing the wonders of digital storage. Books, records, and CDs can be replaced by subscription services that rival the great museums and libraries of the world. But even digital can overload those spaces in the back of your mind. Inboxes crammed with thousands of unread emails rarely bring peace of mind. A simple but effective way to digitally detox may be to Select All and press Delete.    

The thin line between cluttering and hoarding

Many of us can recognise aspects of this behaviour in ourselves and others. The psychological benefits of a Spring Clean can free physical space and re-assess changing needs. Passing unwanted possessions onto the needier is one way of countering waste. If you don’t know someone who would benefit, our high streets are well provided with charity shops to help those struggling financially. Meanwhile, the growing emphasis on recycling allows us to return our waste back to its original form.

Some messes may need more than a broad brush to sweep them away. Hoarding is often linked with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) but is now recognised as a specific disorder significantly impacting the quality of life of its sufferers. Hoarding is often exemplified by storage spaces swollen with inaccessible contents, dust encrusted surfaces, and stacks of dirty dishes. Bath tubs filled with strange foreign objects leave no room for the bodies for which they were designed. Unlike some mental health issues, hoarding is usually blindingly obvious. It often affects people living alone – the absence of a partner often allowing the mixed tide of stuff to flow unimpeded.

Many victims of hoarding don’t recognise the problem – perhaps because the situation has worsened gradually by degrees over the years. An outsider’s perspective may be needed to encourage and help them into clearing up. Letting go of a lifetime’s possessions may need to be a collaborative effort where the hoarder confronts and relinquishes the emotional ties binding them to redundant objects.

Hoarding is usually more than a material issue. Anxiety and depression is often implicated. To break this cycle, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is often recommended to help householders reduce clutter and reset habits to make a new start, while anti-depressants may relieve these underlying symptoms during the transition. Similarly, counselling can reveal the real reasons behind behaviour that makes some cling to objects symbolising lost parts of past lives or attachments that may be more healthily replaced in the world outside. Social Services can sometimes offer specialist home help to sort through belongings and bring order to chaos.  Decluttering is the first step towards learning that less is almost always more.

Useful Links

https://www.hounslow.gov.uk/info/20115/supporting_you_through_difficulty/1150/mental_health_support

www.becomingminimalist.com/creative-ways-to-declutter

www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/feb/25/seven-ways-to-declutter-your-life-and-clear-your-mind

www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/may/01/do-something-decluttering

https://twitter.com/TheMinimalists

www.nhs.uk/conditions/hoarding-disorder/

www.ocduk.org

www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/hoarding/#.XRIAyJNKjOQ

Or to visualise a life with less stuff, check out this video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgBpyNsS-jU