Americans have more possessions per household than any other society in history. Although abundance may seem like a blessing, a lot of us feel like our stuff is making us stressed.
Welcome to the age of clutter
We live in an age of “hyperconsumerism.” Americans are able to buy more than any other generation before us — and we do.
Our growing piles of stuff are evident in corners of rooms, garages, attics and basements. Twenty-five percent of people with two-car garages can’t even park their cars inside. And 10% of households rent a storage unit to stash the things that won’t fit in their garages.
Essentially, our possessions are taking over our lives and spilling out of the spaces that were designed to hold them. This is especially true for homes that were built in the 1950s or 1960s. But modern “McMansions” average a full 1000 sq. ft. larger than homes built in 1982 — we need the extra space to store all our stuff.
Our large refrigerators, pantries and freezers are overflowing as we flock to big-box stores like Costco and B.J.’s. Why buy just one tube of toothpaste when you can buy 10? Even this type of hyperconsumerism — cloaked beneath a “good deal” — contributes to our cluttered lives because we have to find a place to store the goods we stockpile.
So we have a lot of stuff. What’s the big deal?
Finding a place to store possessions can be stressful. Research shows that people who complain about clutter in their homes experience increased cortisol levels (the stress hormone). At the end of the day, the burden of managing all of our stuff is making us stressed.
You also have to question whether we can justify using so much of the world’s resources. For example, even though the U.S. is home to 3.1% of the world’s children, American kids consume 40% of the world’s toys. If you’ve raised a child in last 30 years, you’re familiar with the mountains of plastic that clutter our homes.
We’ve done a great job training the next generation of hyperconsumers.
At any given moment, we’re either planning our next purchase, stressing about how to pay for it, coveting what we can’t afford or feeling overwhelmed about what to do with what we already have.
With so much attention focused on material goods, how can we find space in our minds to be quiet and find God?
It’s time to declutter
There are plenty of websites and “organizing professionals” who are ready to offer advice about decluttering. But here are just a few of the basic steps you can take to live more simply and limit the clutter in your home:
- Limit bulk purchases and take inventory before you shop. Sure it might be nice to have a backup bottle of ketchup, but do you really need three?
- Sort through your mail every day as soon as it comes in the house. Recycle the junk mail and put the bills in a designated place.
- Limit newspaper and magazine subscriptions. We get most of our news online and generally don’t have time to read magazines, so we’ve stopped those subscriptions. I used to get the paper just for the coupons. But I found that the coupons seldom got used and just created more clutter.
- Use an e-reader and/or your local library. Books can take over your living spaces. We’ve dramatically downsized our hard-copy library by donating books we’ll never read again and by buying any new books electronically.
- Manage your closets. We have a 1960s home, so our closets aren’t that large. If our wardrobe starts to exceed that space we get rid of items that we haven’t worn in over a year.
- Make your souvenirs meaningful. When my husband went to Africa he brought back a basket that was woven out of U.N. food bags in a refugee camp. It’s meaningful because it reminds us of the poor and what they are able to do with very little. Skip the kitschy shot glasses from Vegas, and choose things that will enhance your life instead.
We need to declutter our minds, too
Physical clutter leads to mental and spiritual clutter. As you reduce the clutter in your home, here’s how to start decluttering your mind:
- Do one thing at a time. Despite all the bragging people do about multi-tasking, psychologists tell us we are more productive when we focus on one thing at a time. Focus is good for productivity, but it’s also good for our relationships — including our relationship with God.
- Take time out from technology. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone when they are constantly checking a cell phone. Don’t be that guy. Give your family and friends the attention that they deserve.
- Meditate. Meditation is a discipline — one that I haven’t mastered. It’s a quieting of your mind so that you can be fully present in the moment. Set aside the planning, the worry about tomorrow (or guilt about yesterday) and just be. Focusing on breathing is helpful because it is rhythmic and reminds us that we are embodied souls.
- Pray. Meditation is good for quieting your mind, but prayer enhances your relationship with God. Scripture tells us to cast all of our cares on God because God cares for us. When we find ourselves stressed and at the end of ourselves, it is comforting to know that there is someone greater than us who has things under control.
How do we get beyond the fact that our stuff is making us stressed? In the end, we need to be able to possess our stuff instead of allowing our stuff possess us. Living more simply means reducing and reusing more often, rather than consuming and buying whenever we feel like it.