SLR 078: Are You “in Control”? Try the Clutter Experiment!

Simple Life Reboot“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

When Sheryl and I moved from our large colonial home to smaller accommodations next door, we found ourselves faced with the necessity of reducing our possessions.  After a couple of moving sales and multiple trips to charities, we had sold or given away about 85% of our belongings.

What we did not expect from the process was the resulting feeling of self-determination and liberation.  But why?  What was it about the stuff we had accumulated around us, that over time, had begun to hold us captive?


According to psychologists, excessive clutter can be caused by or can cause flawed thinking.

Clutter can also be a symptom of seeking to control our environment.  Having more stuff sometimes gives us the false sense of having more options so as to have greater control over future events.

If you doubt this,  please consider:  How many of us have hung onto an inconvenient, unused item believing that “I might need this someday,” or “This might be worth something someday?”

According to Dr. Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., a healthy approach to letting go of unneeded items is to substitute the fearful thought with intentional action that might benefit another,  as “Somebody else could use this now, so I will give it away.”

What we discover is that retaining the unused item does not give us control or well-being, but rather hanging on to the item holds us in the grip of burden, regret, shame or fear.  In contrast,  letting go of an item to benefit another gives us a sense of  self-mastery,  greater control over our environment, and improved well-being.

If you want to find out if this is true for you,  please try the following experiment:

Clutter Experiment

1)  Start becoming aware of the things around you that do not add to your life.  These may be items you have not paid attention to or used in the past 3 months.

2)  Start placing these items in a box, one by one, as you become aware of them.

3)  Discover over time how many of the items you retrieve from the box to use.

4)  After some period of time, sell, donate or discard the items in the box you have not retrieved.

5)  Then,  please report what you discover to your loved ones, and/or to us here at Simple Life Reboot.

Note:  Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists) tackled this problem in reverse order.  He placed virtually every item in his apartment in boxes.  When he needed an item, he would retrieve it. Check out the moving TEDx talk to hear the full story.


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