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Calm the Clutter Chaos Part 2- Why do we do this???

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So how did I finally begin to calm the chaos?

I had to come to terms with why we as humans own stuff. I have decided the accumulation of stuff serves 4 needs:

  1. Functionality-we need it to live, cook, stay warm, safe etc. We as Americans just plain have too much even for functionality. We don’t like to wash dishes so we own in excess. We don’t like to wash clothes and we enjoy always staying at a perfectly enjoyable temperature (thanks to modern heating and cooling) so we own much clothing to help us accomplish this goal.
  2. Memories- when we look at the item we are reminded of a time, place or person, good or bad
  3. Status- we decided some time in our life that we liked how others looked at us when we had certain things. Envy is a huge motivator and we decided we wanted to use that motivation to our advantage.
  4. Joy- it exists for fun or joy or when we hold it or look at it it lights up a part of our soul and it is sooooo pretty.

Pondering these things I deducted they are awfully similar to Maslow”s Hierarchy of needs. (See mom that psychology degree wasn’t a total waste:) For those not familiar Maslow was a psychologist who in 1943 wrote a life changing paper on human motivation. He placed all of these motivators into a pyramid to showcase how it is difficult to motivate ourselves from one area when we do not have out needs met at a lower level. Our goal as a human is self actualization.


These needs are as followed:

physiological- need for air, food and water,

safety- feeling physically safe with adequate shelter, health etc,

social -friendship, intimacy and family,

esteem- feelings of self respect,

self-actualization-a mastering of your needs and a greater desire to serve and do good for other.

In our desire for stuff and our primary physiological and safety needs are met by#1 functionality. We have to have clothes to wear, pots to cook our food, a toothbrush to clean our teeth. These are all necessary items but it is very easy to go overboard here as well. Do we really need 40 shirts or 20 pairs of socks. No but we want them. What if we run out of something? What if we can’t run to the store because of an emergency? I have had a time where I didn’t have enough food /clothes/etc and I never want to be there again. Many of these thoughts and feelings lead to an over abundance of food storage where food goes bad before you use them or keeping extra stuff just in case.

Our social needs are met when we have stuff for#2 memory reasons. We look at our things around us and they remind us that we have friends and family that love us. That someone thought enough about us to give us a birthday gift. Think of your favorite childhood toy. Most of us don’t have that item anymore but I bet you can recall where, when and from whom you received it. Most of us are unnecessarily attached to things and are afraid to let them go for fear or forgetting. Read how crazy some of these statements sound, but they are so common. Memories are there no matter what. I won’t remember my wedding if I don’t keep the knife from our cake. I won’t remember the vacation if I don’t purchase that overpriced souvenir. I won’t remember that my grandmother loves me if I don’t keep the shoes she gave me that I never liked. 

The combination of our social and esteem needs of the pyramid are often met by our acquiring of stuff for #3 status reasons. I have to sell our car that runs just fine for a newer model because our car is uncomfortable to get the baby out of the carseat. I purchased new clothes for our high school reunion because I wanted to show our classmates I have done well. I got rid of all my neon clothing in my closet because it is out of style. I own a fondue set because my neighbors do. When we say these reasons out loud we feel shallow but they are a large motivator for our excess stuff and clutter.

Things that bring us joy can fall into any of the categories other than self-actualization. Things that bring us TRUE joy are often few in number. When you hold them they almost feel a part of you. Every time I wear my favorite red shirt just beam, I do laundry promptly just so I can wear it again. This wooden spoon was my grandmothers and I use it every day to cook with just like she did. My wedding ring. These are all things that when we touch them they put a level of joy into our heart that is difficult to quantify.

So what does any of this have to do with keeping our own spaces clean? If we have to many things especially things we only mildly care for it is impossible to keep things clean. The saying goes

“You can’t organize clutter!”

I couldn’t agree more. There is a billion dollar market selling people organizational materials. A good number of these just don’t plain work. How often have you organized a closet just to find it a disaster a few weeks later?

Take a minute to ponder all of your belongings. What do you need? What do you love? You could visit my blog post on My 100 Things for some ideas of what ended up on my list.

It is important for us to master clutter on our way to self-actualization because we owe it to our children to teach them how to do the same.

Excess stuff and the inability to discern what they really need, desire or love will cost your children





They will spend time and money purchasing, cleaning and looking for things they don’t need. Not being able to identify true needs and wants verses intuition or what is right could be costly in social relationships including selecting friends and life partners or spouses. The inability to separate themselves from things or people that are not useful or even harmful is something they need to learn and have patterned for them. Overall it can cost them a sense of peace with only being surrounded by those things and people they love.

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