Why Is It So Painful to Get Rid of Clutter?

A few days ago, I helped Indigo and Jade to declutter their bedroom.  Usually we do this pretty regularly, but with the new building going up at the farm, I haven’t gotten to it in a while.  So it was a pretty painful experience for the girls.

decluttering girls bedroom indigo and jade

I gave them my “usual speech” about the evil of clutter and how it sucks up your personal energy and causes you extra work and stress.  (If you’re not familiar with my clutter speech, you can listen to my podcast series about clutter.  It starts out with me talking with my friend Lori who lost her home and almost all of her possessions in an F4 tornado that hit our area.  It’s one of my most popular podcast episodes).

After listening to my speech, Indigo and Jade still weren’t impressed. LOL

So then I broke out the big guns – a new concept that they’ve never heard me talk about before.  It’s called “loss aversion” and something I’ve been reading up about lately.  It was initially discovered by Daniel Kahneman, who received a 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

The concept is pretty simple and means that people are about twice as unhappy with a loss of x as they are happy with a gain of x.  So  If I lose a $10 bill, I am twice as unhappy as I would be happy if I found a $10 bill.  Most of the articles that I found talking about it discussed loss aversion in terms of investing and finances.

But for me, loss aversion can easily be applied to the clutter we like to hold onto.

As I was researching loss aversion, I came across one definition that defined loss aversion as, “The tendency for people to value possessions far more than if the things were not yet possessed.” (http://www.businessballs.com/nudge-theory.htm)

If you apply the concept and that definition to all the clothes in your closet that you haven’t worn for 2 years, loss aversion would mean that you are twice as unhappy with getting rid of a sweater that you paid money for or might need in the future as you are happy with the satisfaction of gaining a cleaner closet and less stuff that you have to manage – or even being given a new sweater that you would regularly wear.

Indigo and Jade have an incredibly hard time getting rid of clothes they’ve outgrown – “But that’s my FAVORITE dress” – is something I hear a lot from those two.  So in their case, losing the dress (even though they’ve outgrown it and can’t wear it anymore) is more unpleasant than the possibility of making room for a NEW favorite dress.

So they listened very patiently while I gave them this new speech about loss aversion and how it should help them to understand why it’s so painful to get rid of old stuff but that they still needed to do it anyway.

You know what?

They still weren’t impressed.  But about 4 full garbage bags (headed for donation) later… their room looks great!

And they’re learning lessons that will hopefully get easier to apply as they get older.

Because any time you can understand some of the reasoning behind why you’re having so much trouble doing something (such as decluttering), it will hopefully make it just a little bit easier to convince yourself you need to do it anyway.

What are you hanging onto that you are averse to losing?




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  • RaD3321

    Aww… Jade looks like she’s about to cry in that picture, LOL!

    • goatmilkstuff

      Yeah – she definitely wasn’t happy about it. PJ

  • sandra mcgeough

    I know how they feel, it is so hard to let go of your favorite dress

    • goatmilkstuff

      Exactly!! PJ