The Psychology of ‘Stuff’.


Filled with the energy of the new year combined with chaos spilling out of every cupboard, it was officially time for a good clean out.   

The simple fact that I’d gotten into this mess made it clear I need help.  

Unable to get my boyfriend even slightly interested in helping out, I decided to pull in the big guns. I downloaded Marie Kondo’s much acclaimed book ‘The Magic Art of Tidying up’ and within moments I’d recruited not only Marie herself, but also the bonus of the narrator, a woman with the most proper English accent, as my Team Tidy.

Without a moment to hesitate I questioned where I should start.  

Where is it the worst?
The wardrobe.  

Given that we’d moved from the city to the country about a year ago, it seemed the easiest place to begin. I pressed play on the audiobook, and within moments I was sweeping out whole ‘suit-like’ sections, followed by shoes with heels, ill-fitting dresses, and anything I’d owned since my 20’s.

The thrill of discarding ‘stuff’ came fast and furiously.  And if you stood in my way for long enough, there was a good chance you’d be discarded too.

I’ve long aligned with the minimalist way of thinking, but like everyone else, I have either held onto things for too long, or accumulated things that no longer served me.

The thrill of discarding ‘stuff’ came fast and furiously. And if you stood in my way for long enough, there was a good chance you’d be discarded too.

But Marie Kondo has quite a unique was to approaching the stuff in our lives.  Simply (and please read the book to change your life), she encourages us to pick up each item in our homes and ask ourselves “does this spark joy?” If not, discard, and if so then keep it.

What I love about this approach is that is less formulaic than other minimalist style approaches that encourage you to discard if you haven’t recently used an item, or to dress in a monotone capsule style wardrobe – which both figuratively and literally takes most of the colour out of life.

Through the KonMari method we are left with a home of only items that spark joy.

I’m sold.

With the woman with a very proper English accent guiding me through, I glided from top to bottom of my wardrobe, into the bedroom, out through the bathroom and into the kitchen.  Masses of ‘stuff’ to be donated amounted in every room I entered. As I looked back in my wake, it was with a sense of pride and relief that I knew these items would no longer clog my cupboards, my clarity, or my path ahead.

Interestingly, the joy sparked by getting rid of my ‘stuff’ actually highlighted quite an odd relationship I have with ‘stuff’....  

You see a few years ago my home was robbed.  Not just once, but twice within a three week period.  

For most people, I imagine that this would have been a highly traumatic experience. To have every draw opened and overturned, every cupboard ransacked, and to even have had your own suitcases used by the thieves to transport your goods out of your home.  But the odd thing was, that I didn’t feel much at all.

I remember walking into my home, realizing we’d been robbed, and then fairly calmly calling the police, the insurance company, my partner and so on.  

When my partner arrived home he was visibly upset, and having what I’d view as a normal reaction to a stranger ransacking your home.  I however, met the Police and Forensic team, started noting what was missing, then popped down to the mall to replace my laptop, before heading out to see clients an hour or so later.

At the time I remember being grateful that everyone (including our dog) was ok, and not really thinking twice about my stuff.  Indeed it was just ‘stuff’. In fact, I was quite proud that I had no attachment to anything that had been taken, which after the second robbery was quite a significant proportion of my possessions.  But it was almost as if I’d gone too far in the opposite direction.  In reflection, I didn’t ‘own’ anything, I merely just ‘possessed’ it.

At the time I remember being grateful that everyone (including our dog) was ok, and not really thinking twice about my stuff.

Recently I picked up In one of my all time favourite books Let My People Go Surfing’ by Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard and to a page where he says…

“...these conditions create a society of product consumers, not owners. And there’s a difference. Owners are empowered to take responsibility for their purchases - from proper cleaning and repairing, reusing, and sharing. Consumers take, make, dispose, and repeat-a pattern that is driving us towards ecological bankruptcy.”

I found myself in no-man's land. While I had never considered myself a consumer, I also realised that I didn’t ‘own’ anything.  I’d become so unattached that I’d lost meaning, which didn’t feel good either.

Through the process of picking up each item in my home and asking ‘does this bring me joy?’, I was able to connect with each item.  To realise how it served me past or present, and to be mindful and grateful of the role it played in my life.

So as I cleaned and cleaned, reused and recycled, this process ensured that each item in my home had meaning to me.  And that’s exactly what we want in a home right? Not too much stuff, but all of the meaning.