Do You Own Your Stuff, or Does it Own You?

Americans, arguably, have more ‘stuff’ than any other group of people on this planet. We have plastic stuff, fluffy stuff, cute stuff, and ‘cool’ stuff.  We have too many clothes, too many gadgets, and profuse knick-knacks. Yes, even other ‘stuff’ to hold our overflowing ‘stuff.’ There’s a great George Carlin quote that sums it all up – “Your house is just a place to store your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” All this stuff is wrecking havoc on our health, though. In fact, it’s messing with our heads.

Why We Collect Stuff

To be fair, we collect things for different reasons. Maybe a rusted out old car is sitting on the front lawn because someone intended to repair it. An old sweater that we will never wear again collects dust in our closet because it is the only relic we have left of a special relationship. Even smaller items that we collect, though, add to the clutter that is starting to take over our lives, and our minds. It can be a killer pair of shoes or even an old novel that is taking up space in our abodes, but it turns out that those things are taking up precious space in our heads, too.

Physical Pain Mapped in the Brain When We Let Go of Possessions

Arguably, there is real, physiological pain experienced by many people when we have to give u pour stuff, too. Yale researchers have identified two areas of our brain that associate letting go of our things with pain. It is the exact same type of pain we experience from getting a paper cut or drinking too-hot coffee. We seem to value our possessions so much that the loss of them causes us real, palpable discomfort.

The Advertising Cult Takes Advantage

Advertisers are well aware that we like our stuff, and use that to their advantage too. Among other techniques to get us to purchase more stuff that we might not need, like mimicking our physical gestures, or being rude so that we’ll spend more, retailers also encourage us to touch products so that we will start to ‘own’ them mentally before we’ve ever even laid out cash to pay for them. This tactic is so effective we’re willing to spend up to 40 percent more for something in its physical form that we can touch and feel, rather than a product that is just presented in pictures.

Types of Stuff-Collecting

You can be a full-fledged hoarder, or ‘chronically disorganized’ as the mental health profession likes to call it, but even just a few extra things in your surroundings can cause you to be disjointed mentally, and pulled forward or back in time, making it impossible to be present and engaged with life.

Going Into Debt for More  – The Trap of Materialism

Ironically, Americans are also some of the most debt-ridden people in first world nations, too. While an indigenous tribe member in Papa New Guinea isn’t collecting more than they need, Americans collectively owe more than $700 million in consumer debt. This is a drop in the bucket in comparison to our banks and government, which have now capped the debt ceiling at around $17 trillion, while it mysteriously grows larger behind a secretive cover, but we definitely pay more than we ever dreamed to own another thing that doesn’t really bring us joy or peace. When we pay exorbitant interest on all that stuff we’ve collected, it also means we’ve shelled out around three to five times what its actually worth.

Though reduced income, unemployment, divorce, and medical expenses are among the reasons we go into debt, many of us are also financing a habit of collecting more stuff.

Don’t take my word for it. OfferUp, a mobile marketplace that traffics in used goods, conducted a poll which revealed that more than 1,300 adults surveyed, revealed that many Americans consider themselves burdened with material objects they no longer want nor need. More than half of those surveyed said they though their homes were too cluttered. Unsurprisingly, 84 percent of those people said they were also facing financial challenges. One in seven said that they had rooms in their homes that were so full of junk that they didn’t even use them any more.

What All this Clutter Does to Our Brains

Study after study has proven that excess clutter interferes with our creativity, shuts down centers in the brain responsible for feelings of joy and calm, and makes people feel overwhelmed with life.

Clutter signals to our brains that the work is never done, and therefore we never really relax. Having too much stuff can also stop new things, people, and ideas from coming into our lives. We’ve essentially got no room for them, and so the Universe doesn’t send more of what we really need. It’s waiting for us to let go of the things we don’t need, first.

From a Feng Shui perspective, too much stuff causes low, stagnant, blocked energy that drains you and lowers the quality of your life.

There has even been an association between holding onto clutter and being overweight. A mess causes stress, there’s no getting around that fact, but there are ways to get control of the clutter, and your life.

How to Clean up the Clutter

There is no reason why you can’t eliminate massive amounts of clutter, and free up lots of energy in the process. You’ll be giving your brain a well-needed reboot, and coming home will feel like entering a sanctuary again. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing changes in your personal health, your relationships, and even your income as a result of letting go of stuff. Here are some simple steps to take to get the process started:

  1. Don’t try to do it all at once – Commit to spending 30 minutes a day cleaning out the clutter. More than that can be too emotionally taxing for many people.
  2. Take it in three’s – You can take three large boxes, and label them, ‘trash,’ ‘give away,’ and ‘charity. The trash box is going to recycle or the dump. The give away box can be items you know friends and family can still use, and the charity box will serve as a way to get rid of everything else.
  3. Don’t think too hard – You can start with things that are easier to let go of – like a pile of junk mail you haven’t had time to go through or clothes you know for sure don’t fit you or are out of style. When you get to things which you are more emotionally attached to, say to yourself, “I set you free to bring someone else happiness,’ and let them go. Don’t think too much about it. You’d be surprised how little that ‘thing’ means to you once its been out of your life for a little while, and what wonderful new things or experiences come to replace it.
  4. Treat yourself – Make sure that you offer yourself a psychological reward for cleaning out clutter. If you just gave ten pairs of jeans to Goodwill that you’ll never wear again, give yourself permission to buy ONE perfect pair that fits you. Did you just dump piles of paper from your office desk? Pretty up that space with some fresh flowers, and enjoy the extra life and joy that this brings you.

Image credit: sortedbooks.com

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