Is Your Clutter Your Proof of Life?

August 16, 2011 | By | Comments (18)

One of the reasons mental health professionals and social psychologists believe people struggle with clutter is because humans are always trying to be immortal. This explanation is referred to as terror management theory (TMT), and is certainly one of the reasons I struggle with parting with some of my clutter.

From the book Stuff by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee:

“Many collectors think of their collections as a legacy to pass on to their heirs or even the world. Some, especially art collectors and collectors of historical artifacts, donate their collections to museums or create their own museums for posterity … Thus a collection offers the potential for immortality.”

Have you ever thought about keeping an item, like a wedding dress, to give to your daughter one day? (Even though you don’t have a daughter or your daughter isn’t the same size as you are or the current style is nothing like it was in 1975 when you were married or your daughter doesn’t have plans to ever be married?) Are you keeping other mementos, not because you’re enjoying them, but because you want there to be proof of your life? Do you equate your stuff as being an extension of you?

A good question to ask yourself is if the people in your life will actually value the items you’re collecting, or if your things will create a burden for them. Boxes and boxes of mementos in a basement covered with dust will most likely look like trash to others instead of a valued collection. If you truly value something, it should be honored in a way that conveys that respect to others.

Do you keep clutter or extraneous possessions because of a desire to live on through your things? Is simply being aware of TMT helpful for you to keep in mind when sorting through your objects to decide what to keep and what to purge? Or, do you think the whole theory is bogus?

Accompanying image by Anna Williams.