You’ve probably already heard of Marie Kondo’s system of decluttering and downsizing: If something isn’t useful or doesn’t spark joy, it needs to go — after thanking it for its service, of course. The emotional benefits of surrounding yourself with joy are clear.
Should you resolve to declutter and downsize your space in 2022, you’ll improve your health, perhaps put a few dollars in your pocket, and even do your part to help save the planet.
The Negative Effects of Clutter
Numerous studies have shown the impact a cluttered or overloaded house has on health and well-being, from sleep quality to aggravated mold and dust allergies to how much more junk food we eat. Yes, in one study, participants ate twice as many cookies in a messy and overloaded kitchen than in a tidy one.
Relationships can be affected by disparate views on stuff: Less-is-better vs. you-can-never-have-too-much mentalities. Regardless, sorting, searching through, dusting, and cleaning around these things takes away from relationship time.
The Impact of Clutter as We Age
The risk of clutter and excess is of greater importance as we age. Trips and falls from objects in and around the house are a real threat.
Excessive clutter can cause memory impairment, as well. Our brains can only handle so much information coming in. Stuff across flat surfaces — kitchen counters, coffee tables, nightstands, floors — overloads our brains, impairing our ability to process and remember new information.
The memory and safety issues posed by a jam-packed house highlight the importance of encouraging and helping elderly people to downsize and declutter.
The Positive Benefits of Decluttering
On the positive side, decluttering and downsizing your space is empowering and provides a sense of accomplishment. Sharing your excess feels good, whether you’re giving a family heirloom to your granddaughter or donating your business wardrobe post-retirement to a charity.
Consider giving family heirlooms or sentimental objects to younger generations in your family. My mom gave special and often valuable heirlooms to us for our birthdays and holidays — items she knew were each person’s favorites. We enjoyed these gifts, and giving them sparked joy for Mom.
And we bypassed misunderstandings that may have surfaced with dispersing her treasures after she died.
While decluttering, you might unearth long-forgotten treasures of your own. If they no longer spark joy but may have value, get an appraisal or search eBay for something similar. Trends often dictate value. Vinyl records and turntables are currently popular, fine china not so much. For antiques, rare coins, artwork, and jewelry should get an appraisal.
The Decluttering – Environmental Consciousness Connection
Finally, recycling and donating what you can helps the struggling planet. The U.S. throws away 25 billion pounds of textiles (clothing, bedding, etc.) each year. That’s 82 pounds per person — only 15% of which is recycled or donated for re-use.
And the cost of making a T-shirt may be higher than you’d expect: It takes 650 gallons of water to turn raw cotton into enough fabric to make one. It’s a staggering statistic and one to keep in mind if you decide to buy a new one.
Tips for Decluttering and Downsizing
- Return borrowed items (library books, your kids’ sports trophies, etc.) to their original owners.
- Discard broken, irreparable, or too-costly-to-fix items.
- Discard outdated food and cosmetics.
- Donate gently used clothing you don’t wear or don’t like.
- Discard threadbare, holey, and stained clothes, or repurpose them as rags. Some organizations will take these textiles for recycling.
- Ambivalent about parting with a teacup just because your aunt gave it you? Take a picture of, thank it for its service, and send the teacup on its way.
- Call a professional downsizing and estate liquidation company if you need help.