Clutter: It's Not Always about the Stuff

Maybe it's winter hibernation or the result of holiday excess, but lately I've had a deep desire to de-clutter my home. Specifically, it's time to sort through one very crowded kitchen cabinet and purge some bowls and coffee mugs.

The problem is, I want to hold on to the very bowls and mugs that are taking up valuable cabinet real estate because I hand-painted them with some friends. But after more than 12 years of constant use, two moves, one kitchen renovation and general klutziness, they are badly stained, cracked and chipped.

Rationally, I know their time has come and that I need to make way for newer, functional, non-leaky crockery. But emotionally, it won't be easy to toss them out.

After I mentioned this to a friend, he emailed me an article that he'd read in the New York Times. He thought of me because the article actually cited coffee mugs -- my own personal clutter issue -- as an example of how some of us struggle with the tendency to hoard things even when they've outlived their usefulness.

According to experts, hoarding may be more than a bad habit; It can be a symptom of more complicated mental health issues, and has been linked with trauma, brain injuries, ADD, depression and grief. Interestingly, experts note it's has also been linked to the struggle to lose weight. The instinct to hold onto unnecessary stuff may correspond with an instinct (subconscious, of course) to hold onto unnecessary weight.

At its most serious, the disorder is known as compulsive hoarding and experts estimate that it affects at least 1.5 million Americans. In other words, when chronic disorganization takes over a person's home to the point that it starts to harm their quality of life, experts believe that the problem won't be solved by buying yet another storage bin.

That said, however, remember that clutter has also been linked to intelligence and creativity. The article goes on to note that some people do attach some sentimental value to the certain objects (as I have) which makes it more stressful to get rid of them.

On balance, it's fairly easy for me to purge books, CDs, clothes, even shoes and handbags when needed (I do, however, confess a problem with letting go of old sweaters, even when they're tattered and moth-bitten.)

I also have a soft spot for these mugs and bowls. For years now, they've greeted me in the mornings with that first, all-important sip of coffee or bite of oatmeal.

Then again, they are just dishes.

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