Study Shows: Our Stuff Is Stressing Us Out

July 11,2012
Cara Finnegan( )

We’re getting ready to ">put our house on the market, trying to follow all of the golden rules of selling a home: de-clutter, de-personalize … did I mention de-clutter? … and overall simplify the entire place. With two small children who require nothing short of an entire Target store’s worth of toys and gear (Not to mention clothes. Oh man, the clothes!) preparing for showings is a Herculean task. I’m endlessly searching for an inch of spare space under the bed, in the closets, anywhere out of sight to stow those stray items we simply had to have at one point or another over the past five years. I like to pride myself on being a pretty minimal and organized person, but apparently in the midst of raising two miniature people I have lost my way. How in the world did we get this much STUFF?

According to a UCLA study and resulting book, "Life at Home in the 21stCentury," I’m not alone in my overwhelmed state. Turns out, most American families are simply bogged down with all of the stuff in our houses. We can’t find a place to put it, can’t seem to part with it, and have allowed it to take over so much that it has the total opposite effect than what prompted the accumulation to begin with: It’s making us unhappy and stressed. (Meanwhile, we smugly watch the latest episode of Hoarders and think, wow, what freaks!)

How did it come to this? It is no secret that as a consumer culture, we are constantly pressured by the media, the Joneses, and ourselves to have the next best thing to somehow keep up. In our role as parents we’re especially vulnerable to the pressure, needing whatever will save our child from a) absolute boredom or b) absolute death, while educating them and enhancing their fine motor skills all at the same time (batteries included!). We feel obligated to buy (now, and in bulk), or face the wrath of other parent’s judgment, or worse, our own guilt. Problem is, no sooner have we swiped our debit card, when we notice our living rooms bursting at the seams, our countertops littered with a patchwork of wireless devices, and our garages housing anything with two, three, or four wheels, except of course our own cars. Not long after we must have something, we’re suffocating underneath it. It’s a vicious cycle.

Here’s the thing: When I was de-cluttering and un-stuffing my house, I initially suffered several small panic attacks. Determining to get rid of the 23rdteddy bear I came across, I bemoaned the inevitable deprivation I would be causing my daughter. (“But she really does love having tea parties with Gabby!”) I stressed at tossing the 10thbox of broken crayons or all those junky mini-toys from the latest birthday-party goody bag. (“What if this tiny bottle of bubbles is worth three minutes of entertainment someday? Bubbles are magical!”) But then, several recycling bins and countless bags for Goodwill later, it was done. And you know what? I don’t miss any of it. At all. In fact, I could get used to this, and I’m going to try to squelch that urge to over-accumulate as best I can. Somehow my kids have managed to stay perfectly entertained and safe and clothed, all while most rooms in my house maintain some semblance of neatness and organization (and square footage). Somehow we have enjoyed evenings in our empty backyard with just the novelty of a ball and a sprinkler. And somehow I’m breathing easier and ready for that next showing (at least for the moment).

Just don’t look in my closets.