Teachable Moments

Why Decluttering Can Be SO Stressful, but is SO necessary

I was 7 years old when I found out that I hate throwing or giving my things away.  I found this out because there was a book swap in my Second Grade class in which each child was asked to bring a book that they would exchange with another child.  It was a creative way to inspire literacy as well as help children share and recycle books. Sounds good, right? No! I hated it! I didn’t want to give up my book.  Why didn’t these teachers understand that and leave me alone? I liked my book – that is why it was mine. I didn’t care if I hadn’t read that “baby” book in 5 years.  It was mine for pete’s sake; leave me alone.

Today, I feel vindicated and understand why I didn’t want to give my book away.  An excellent article written in “the psychologist….” by contributing author Dr. Christian Jarrett explained why it is so hard for people to part with their things.  Decluttering is stressful! I find this research especially fascinating in regard to kids and teens and wish my teachers would have known these insights way back then.

  • By the age of 2, children possess and are attached quickly to objects and toys, especially if they “own” it first.  Not sure about this one? Just try and take something away from a 2-year-old who was the first to play with a toy truck during a playdate; a very loud, a very insistent “mine” will inevitably result.
  • The Endowment Effect happens by age 6; merely by existing and having owned it, an object has special meaning or value to a child. This explains why at my tender age of 7 giving something of mine away felt horrible.
  • Envy is a more mature emotion that occurs in later preschool, early kindergarten.  Because the child considers something theirs, they feel injustice when asked to share.  To them, it just seems wrong and they are envious of anyone who gets, plays or takes anything of theirs.
  • Back in 1932, child psychologist Jean Piaget explained that jealousy over material objects  is exhibited in very young children and they are often morally affronted if asked to share.

Recent psychoneurological research shows our brains create hard and fast connections with things we own starting at a young age.  It’s a part of our emotional make-up as humans. Knowing this is part of our intentional design, we can approach decluttering our lives a bit more wisely.

First, be self-aware.  Getting rid of things will to some degree leave pangs of sadness, envy, jealousy or anger.  We are actually breaking neural connections in our brain when we declutter. As such, expect material purging, going to GoodWill, or helping your children clean out their toys to make room for new ones an emotional task as well as a physical one.  No, not all of us will feel this pain at the same level, some of you hardly at all. But be self-aware of how you feel and manage those feelings as you declutter.

Second, attachment to our environment is a gift from God.  We would be very lonely if we felt no connection with the people, places and things we have been blessed with. However, being too attached can lead to a materialistic mindset or even the disorder of hoarding (which affects upward to 14 million people in the USA).  One way to counteract that envy and jealousy we first felt as kids is to see decluttering as a step in spiritual maturity. While giving away something you’ve enjoyed or clearing out a drawer, thank God for the use and joy you received from anything you are getting rid of, but then affirm He is first place in your life (the gift-giver) by getting rid of it.  Teach your children this as you help them clean up their rooms.

Third, and last, we know that the more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to take care of.  Any thing you possess requires a bit of your time and energy whether you realize it or not.  One of the best ways to destress is by throwing something away. Look around – what is at least one thing right now you can throw or give away?  You’re one step closer to a less stressful life.

Dear Reader, we live in a world of infomercials, trying to talk us into “more”.  Today, grow emotionally and spiritually while destressing by decluttering your life, one thing at a time.  As a popular writer of minimalism said, “The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.” (Joshua Becker)

Blessings to you as we pursue peace by taking honest looks at all the areas of our life. May the destressing by decluttering begin! Fondly yours, Elizabeth

BONUS:  Marie Kondo offers practical insights into how to embrace a streamlined life (www.youtube.com/channel/UCNaPKFA1niUFRgzkVqqhJVg). One point she makes is that by having too many things, you actually minimize the importance and beauty (value) of the things you do have.  Tidy up, value what you’ve got, and live a more peaceful, “decluttered” life.

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