The psychology of holding on and letting go

Bringing order to the chaos of our home and lives

Periodically, Western society experiences a renaissance of desire for organization. From decluttering to minimalism, we love to learn about new ways to bring order to our (perceived or real) chaos. Home seems to be the most popular space to declutter, likely because it is where all of our roles converge: person, employee or entrepreneur, parent, friend, partner, roommate, and so on. It makes sense that our residences would be a place where everything comes home to roost.

Let’s look at the stories we tell ourselves about our amount or kind of possessions, and where we learned those stories. How did or do your caregivers or parents organize their spaces? How often—or not—did they get rid of things they no longer needed? Whether we follow in their footsteps or do the opposite, the environments we grew up in strongly influence the environments we create for ourselves.

Psychological research has demonstrated that people find it harder to work or relax in spaces that they perceive to be cluttered or disorganized. However, organization looks different for everyone and while some may panic at overflowing towers of books, others find it comforting.

Organization is different for everyone. | Pixabay

Marie Kondo’s compassionate approach is particularly appealing: her acknowledgement that organizing can be an emotional experience is quite powerful. It can be difficult for some people to let go of items with sentimental value, especially if they were given by someone who is no longer around. However, if an item interferes with the use of your space or your ability to organize, it’s likely time to ask yourself what purpose it is serving for you and if it’s really necessary. While organizers on television manage to declutter and organize in handy time-lapse footage (and don’t have to keep everything organized as regular life continues), the rest of us are stuck with the dirt, sweat, and tears of the process.

One option for letting go is to take a picture of the treasured item, then—per the KonMari Method—thank it for being of use to you and put it in the donation pile. If the thought of letting go is too distressing, there is no obligation to do so. Much of the panic and fear people feel with regard to decluttering or organizing seems to stem from a feeling of being forced to part with treasured items before they are ready to do so.

Some struggle to let anything go (even if it’s of no use or broken). Such hanging on crosses the line from dysfunction to disorder, and is commonly referred to as hoarding. Hoarding can contribute to increased likelihood of accidents and injuries, as well as pests if food is left out.

As Marie Kondo herself says, “If it sparks joy, keep it.” The idea of organization is to provide a comfortable space where you feel at home. Helpful suggestions only go so far: you are the one who has to live in your space, so ideally, it must work best for you and your needs. Are you OK with clutter, but your partner isn’t? That requires healthy, open communication in order to achieve a middle ground. Again, looking at the stories that we grew up with and the stories we tell ourselves about our possessions and their meaning is a necessary first step. Once we know the why of our environment, it becomes easier to think about making changes.

Whether you choose to let go or hang on, the important thing is to have a space that works for you. You can follow Marie Kondo’s series on Netflix and gain inspiration for your spaces by watching her sort the closets of others. I myself found that after using her method of folding clothes, I had so much more space that I reorganized my closet without having to get rid of a thing!


HOARDING RESOURCES

Canadian Mental Health Association

780.414.6300

edmonton.cmha.ca/programs-services/hoarding-support

The Edmonton Hoarding Coalition

780.482.6561

gefcommunityconnections.com/the-edmonton-hoarding-coalition

This Full House

587.773.1764

mysage.ca/help/this-full-house


Featured Image: Letting go of things can be a stressful process. | Pixabay

Franki Harrogate

Franki is an active volunteer and has recently completed a masters degree in counselling psychology. They and their partner live in Eastwood, which is a great place to raise two small humans.

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