“Liberty, not the daughter of order, but the MOTHER of order” said the French philosopher Pierre Joseph Proudhon. And the truth is that he was not mistaken because the order, or the disorder, influence significantly our mood and our productivity.
A study conducted by the University of Princeton revealed that disorder and chaos limit our ability to concentrate, while limiting the ability of the brain to process information. These researchers analyzed the responses of people’s brains when they performed an activity in tidy or untidy environments.
The conclusions were unequivocal: if we want to concentrate and process information as efficiently as possible, it is better we order the workplace. The disorder absorbs our attention and even if we are able to concentrate, the hassle ends up wearing down our mental resources and will probably generate frustration.
Another study conducted at the University of New Mexico showed that the disorder generates more negative experiences in environments. These psychologists explain that what we call “home” is not simply the physical environment, but the set of experiences, situations and feelings that we live within those walls and that are, ultimately, what makes us feel good or bad when we get home. The disorder complicates our daily life, makes it difficult to find things, which generates increasingly negative experiences.
One of the most interesting results of this research was that the attachment to meaningful goods could predict the level of satisfaction of people in their home, but the disorder and accumulation of objects did not favor the attachment, but generated psychological distress. In part, this is due to the fact that the disorder prevents us from enjoying those things that give us pleasure or that generate good memories and sensations, which are buried under a sea of objects that tell us absolutely nothing.
Marie Kondo is a Japanese writer who has spent years deepening the world of order and chaos both in life and at home. According to Kondo, which in 2015 was rated by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, often the external chaos around us is an expression of inner chaos or can end up generating a sense of bewilderment. Therefore, she proposes a method for reorganizing our homes and, at the same time, putting some order into our inner life.
The first step: avoid the rebound effect
This scenario is likely to be familiar to you. One day you decide to tidy up one of the rooms in the house. Select all that you do not use and need anymore. When you finish, you find yourself with a small mountain of things you should get rid of, but a sense of nostalgia that makes you feel connected to those things prevents you from doing it. Then you look for another place in the house where to store them. It is also likely that you decide to buy new furniture because you do not have enough space to store all your stuff.
This behavior, in which we all fell sooner or later, is what Kondo calls “rebound effect“. In practice, we organize some spaces to disorganize others, moving objects from one place to another at home. At the end, we find ourselves with the whole house full of things we do not need.
Kondo explains that her method is not to store things better, but to order and eliminate all that is not necessary. In fact, the most important step is to overcome the attachment to objects that we no longer need.
Kondo proposes to organize the house with a different perspective, preserving those things that make us really happy, those that transmit to us a special memory and have a deep emotional meaning. All those things that are not useful and do not convey anything special must simply disappear because their only function is to occupy space.
How to know what to throw?
The answer is very simple: if you have to think for too long whether to get rid of something or not, throw it away, donate it or give it away. When it comes to useful objects or those that make us happy, there is no hesitation. Doubt appears right in front of those objects we know we do not need, but we cling to them because in that attachment we find a bit of security.
Kondo explains that a simple way to get rid of the objects is to thank them for what they did for us. At first it can be difficult or even you think it’s stupid, but this little ritual helps you get rid of what you no longer need and is an excellent antidote to the guilt that usually appears when you throw away something.
The main rules of the Marie Kondo method
1. Throw everything that is not useful, not necessary, does not make us happy or does not have a special emotional meaning. Those things occupy only space, creating chaos and disorder.
2. Keep only functional objects and/or that give us joy and make us feel something when we see them. In general, if an object does not have a special meaning, it should not occupy a place at home.
3. Sort by category and not by location, which means that instead of deciding to order a room, you should concentrate on ordering the books, for example. Kondo says it is advisable to start by ordering clothes because it is easier to know if we use them or not.
4. Do not postpone. At the time of getting rid of some items we might be tempted to postpone, which means postponing the decision to get rid of them to an unspecified date. It is essential to be able to overcome this temptation.
5. Do this cleaning yourself because when you have someone next to you, that person will perhaps try to persuade you that you should keep most things. Make order at home can turn into an act of introspection.
How to organize the house can help us order our inner life?
It all depends on how we take the process. You can simply throw away everything you do not use or you can take advantage of that cleaning to improve your self-knowledge and free yourself from certain ties. To do this, it is essential to start from the idea that the disorder is transmitting a message to us. To get started, you can ask yourself some questions:
– How is it possible that you have accumulated so many things? Were you trying to fill an emotional void with those goods? People who feel lonely often compensate by filling their home with objects. It is not something that is done consciously, rather it is a projection of one’s own solitude, so they try to fill all the empty spaces of their home.
– Why is it so difficult for you to get rid of the objects? It is likely that after all, the attachment depends on the need to feel safer and you believe that these objects can give you that security, so that throwing them would mean renounce, in some way, to the illusory tranquility that they transmit to you. After all, the disorder is created from certain habits, the same habits that can keep us in toxic relationships, just because we are familiar and, even if harmful, we cling to them because changing them would take us out of our comfort zone.
Marie Kondo does not simply offer us a method of organization, but encourages us to relate with objects from a different and detached position. By getting rid of things we free ourselves from some mental chains and make room for new experiences, so that we can build new memories rather than drown in the past.
This process of organization can lead us on a curious emotional journey if we have the courage to look inside ourselves. No doubt it is an interesting exercise, especially for compulsive accumulators and eternal nostalgic. If undertaken in this way, everything you get rid of can have a profound liberating effect.
Roster, C. A. et. Al. (2016) The dark side of home: Assessing possession ‘clutter’ on subjective well-being. Journal of Environmental Psychology; 46: 32-41.
McMains, S. & Kastner, S. (2011) Interactions of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in human visual cortex. J Neurosci; 31(2): 587-597.