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We're All Struggling With Tidiness And Clutter. Here's How You Can Handle It

Aricia LaFrance, right, a psychologist and organizational consultant, advises Elphey Israel, 12, about cleaning and organizing her room at the Boulder Colo., apartment Elphey shares with her mother, Karen Lowe,  Aug. 21, 2005. (Sammy Dallal/AP)
Aricia LaFrance, right, a psychologist and organizational consultant, advises Elphey Israel, 12, about cleaning and organizing her room at the Boulder Colo., apartment Elphey shares with her mother, Karen Lowe, Aug. 21, 2005. (Sammy Dallal/AP)

Do you ever feel more than just a bit of anxiety when you head home at night? From all that clutter?

Papers, books, toys, laundry, kitchen junk?

You're not alone. There's a whole de-cluttering industry out there. One of its brightest lights of recent is Japanese de-cluttering guru Marie Kondo, who now has a popular Netflix series. She says de-cluttering is less about just getting rid of belongings and more about finding joy in the possessions we do cherish.

Thursday, Hour 2, On Point, we took stock of the emotional toll of clutter, with Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University, where he’s studied the causes of clutter and its impact on emotional well-being, and Nicole Anzia, owner of Neatnik.

Interview Highlights

On the success of Marie Kondo, who recently received a new Netflix series, "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo"

Nicole Anzia: "There's a lot about her method that is really important. She's trying to change the way people look at their possessions, and to cherish the things that they have, and to simplify their lives. And I like how she breaks the whole organizing process down into categories and smaller pieces. Also, a good lesson for those of us who may be looking at a New Year's resolution of organizing our home. It's best to break it down into little, smaller bits.

"The other thing I love, actually, is she doesn't tell her clients to go out and buy a bunch of bins and pretty organizing items to organize their homes. She's not going for perfection, she's just going for people to appreciate what they have around them, and be able to find what they need when they need to."

"People can decide that they want to get rid of something, but the way to get rid of it is paralyzing to them."

Nicole Anzia

On the psychological components of parting with items

Anzia: "There are people who just have an insanely hard time parting with anything. But, that's sort of a different category. However, the decision overload that Dr. Ferrari talked about — women, in particular, feel so bogged down with making so many decisions every day about so many things, that then, when they have to make a decision about having to get rid of a toy or clothing or something in the house, it's like this it's almost too much. They cannot make so many decisions about where everything should go, and they feel responsible for everybody's stuff in the house, so that's one problem.

"With Amazon Prime, the problem is not only that it's coming in. The problem is that we're never returning anything. So people always buy things, and they say if it doesn't fit, it doesn't work, I don't like it, I'll return it. But they never do. Amazon Prime is a blessing and a curse. You can get things you need easily and in a timely manner, but you can also then be stuck with things that you cannot decide what to do with."

On whether to hold your stuff or not when you are thinking of getting rid of it

Anzia: "I think it just depends on the person, and that individual. I find that it's not as much a question about whether or not they hold it and can decide whether or not it sparks joy. For a lot of my clients, it's about pulling all of the like-categories in your home together and assessing what you have first, and then making decisions. And this is what Marie Kondo advises people to do. My biggest thing that I see, is that people can decide that they want to get rid of something, but the way to get rid of it is paralyzing to them. They can decide, 'OK, I'm ready to get rid of 10 pairs of pants.' But then, 'Where's that going to go and how do I do that?' And then they just stop, because they can't answer that last question.

"I think, you know, the holding and not holding, that's something we can all sort of debate, and I think that probably most people are not going to pick up every possession in their home, and hold it, and ask themselves whether it sparks joy and say 'thank you.' That may not be doable for everybody, but what I see as the biggest problem is people just buying.

"So, yes, it's important to ask whether or not it sparks joy, but thinking about why you are actually buying it in the first place."

"Amazon Prime is a blessing and a curse. You can get things you need easily and in a timely manner, but you can also then be stuck with things that you cannot decide what to do with."

Nicole Anzia

On whether people are getting more anxious about clutter than ever

Anzia: "I don't know that I'm hearing more of it necessarily this year, although Marie Kondo's show has certainly brought it to the forefront. I mean, I've been doing this for 12 years, and I've been busy. So I don't know that it's new. I think it's constantly on people's minds. I thought that with the finding in Dr. Ferrari's study about how older adults and their clutter problems were actually causing them life dissatisfaction."

"We often think when we're buying things, they're making us happy for some reason. We're buying, we're looking forward to having this, we're buying it to remember something. We think they are going to bring us happiness. But in the end, they end up making us unhappy."

On if women gain a desire to de-clutter their homes from the female figures they encounter growing up, trying to keep an organized household

Anzia: "I don't necessarily think it's that, as much as how women operate in the household. Often times, they are the ones making the meals. ... They are with their children more, they're in their house more, they may be working out of their house. I feel like it has to do with how women operate in the house, and the time they spend in the house.

"I would just like to add that some of my clients — I mostly work with women, however, some of them call me because their husbands have asked me to do that. So I do see that a little bit, but I think in terms of who's seeing it, and who's not seeing it, it affects everybody's psyche, whether or not a man wants to admit it's clutter."

"They say it's the closet, it's the kitchen and books, are the three target areas of clutter that people have."

Joseph Ferrari

On what has caused the decluttering "trend"

Joseph Ferrari: "I'm unsure about whether it comes and goes. This current phase, with this author, I just want people to understand that this is nothing new that she is coming up with. There's an organization called the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) that I was associated with; that's how I first got involved with this topic, maybe a dozen years ago.

"What [Marie Kondo's] saying is nothing new. You need to strategize, you need to organize. I like to give credit where credit is due; I don't like it when people take other people's ideas and run with it. And there's a difference between joy and happiness. I think what she's saying is these items bring people happiness. But joy, joy is a very different emotion. It's a much deeper emotion. You know, Christmas time, we don't sing "Happiness to the World." We sing "Joy to the World." It's a deeper feeling that you get, a deeper sense, then happiness. Smiling and being content is very fleeting.

"What I want to see is whether items give people a deep sense of joy. I tell people, 'Don't look for relics, look for relationships.' It's really much more important, the relationships that we create."

On the view that Marie Kondo is asking people to look beyond whether an item gives you casual happiness and to only keep the stuff that gives you meaning

Ferrari: "That's a contrary suggestion that she offers then what I have heard from the ICD de-cluttering experts. They say, 'Don't hold the item, never touch the item.' Because once you touch something, you have a tactile sense, and it's going to be much harder to get rid of. Instead, let somebody else hold it, and ask you if you need this."

"But basically, they claim, organize yourself. Go through and see what you have. Do you really need 18 spatulas? Do you need 24 pairs of black pants? So you organize everything. They say it's the closet, it's the kitchen, and books, are the three target areas of clutter that people have. And so, organize everything; don't' go run to the containment store yet. First, organize. And then look to see, 'Wow I have so many of these books, that I've never read. Wow, look at all these pairs of pants. Wow, look at all these gadgets that I have.' So there are some interesting differences that she offers."

On impulse buying

Ferrari: "Studies have shown that people will spend about $5,000 a year on impulse buying, just buying stuff. And they have up to $7,000 worth of clutter, items in their home that they never use. That's a lot of wasted money, resources, if you would. And I agree with Nicole. Re-gift, re-use.

"This year for Christmas, my wife decided to shop our home. What we did was we found unused or gently-used items and gave that away to people. Or it was something new, but we were able to re-gift, re-use kinds of things. That's great. Think about the use of other people.

"Studies have shown that people will spend about $5,000 a year on impulse buying, just buying stuff. And they have up to $7,000 worth of clutter, items in their home that they never use."

Joseph Ferrari

"The problem is we focus too much on 'me'. We need to help people. Maybe you can't use the set of old china dishes that your mother had and your kids aren't interested in, cause they don't use china like that, but find some transitional housing that's beginning to emerge. Maybe there's a Habitat for Humanity new house that is being built, and give it to a new family."

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