The Modern Albatross

Is your home a burden? Do you look around and feel defeated? Sometimes, the very spaces which are supposed to refresh us end up weighing us down, like an albatross around our neck.  Many people today are overrun by “stuff” in their spaces. For perspective:

  • 74% of families can’t park their cars in their garage because it is filled with other stuff.
  • In 2013, the self-storage industry generated $24 million in revenue, more than twice as much as the NFL.
  • Almost half (48 percent) of American couples who are married or are living with a partner argue over clutter.
  • The average American burns 55 minutes a day looking for things they know they own but cannot find.  (Source: Boston Marketing Firm)
  • 23% of adults say they pay bills late (& thus incur fees) because they misplace them. (Source: Harris Interactive)

We are seeing a modern “crisis of clutter” that is causing grief in homes across the nation. In the past century, a general reduction in the cost of manufacturing has made it easier for us (and our friends and loved ones) to buy more. I sometimes remind my clients, “Cleaning up toys on the prairie was not an issue. Kids had a doll or a ball and that was about it.”

On the one hand, products enrich our lives and make our daily tasks easier. Unfortunately, we often keep items for different reasons than we acquire them. When we keep items for the wrong reasons, they become a heavy burden! Here are a few common examples…

Why We Originally Got ItWhy We Keep It
We bought it to meet a need, such as...
- hobby supplies
- clothing for a job
- tool for a project
We think we might need it in the future, even if we aren’t sure exactly when.
We splurged, such as...
- a fancy outfit
- a designer bag
- a new golf bag
We feel we can’t get rid of it because we spent so much money on it.
It was a gift from a loved one, such as...
- a piece of antique furniture
- a piece of jewelry
- clothing
- artwork
We don't want to upset the giver or imply we don’t love him/her.
Our child brought it home, such as...
- from a party
- from school
- from church
- from an activity
We feel guilty getting rid of anything our child made.

The result is a two-fold rationale for why our homes and spaces are so full of stuff: we bring items in at a face pace, and then we rarely move them out. The best reason to keep an item is because it is enhancing the life we are leading now. It’s fine to keep a few items for emergencies/changing circumstances/memories, but not to the extent that they suffocate life in the present day.

If you were in a boat that was filling with water, you would first plug the leak, but then you would also quickly bail out the water. This is what we need to do with the accumulated clutter in our homes. If we don’t start letting go, we will continue to drown under an unnecessary burden. If you are struggling, know that you aren’t alone and that there is help available. You can start by reading a post like this one.

Shedding the albatross of clutter is empowering and freeing, rendering immediate and tangible benefits. Have you recently gotten rid of something you had been holding onto?

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34 thoughts on “The Modern Albatross”

    1. I love decluttering in spring because you can get stuff out of your house easily. And I just feel in the mood to “lighten up” in all areas of life in the spring!

  1. I often get rid of clutter, that only months earlier, I decided was too important to me. It’s funny how that happens. I just got rid of 90% of our baby clothes. I was just holding onto them for sentimental reasons, but.. we don’t have a baby! I don’t even miss them now that they’re gone.
    I’m a photographer so I’ll just remember every outfit that way.
    Tamara recently posted…My Writing Process – The Sequel!My Profile

    1. I absolutely love this comment, Tamara. I wish I could convince people that they aren’t going to miss their stuff once they shed it. I believe the statistic on regretting getting rid of something is 1/2 of 1%! That means the vast majority of the time, we just feel better:)

  2. I appreciate the statement, “The best reason to keep an item is because it is enhancing the life we are leading now.” The key word is NOW! If it doesn’t support who you are, let it go!

    1. So much of organizing is limiting the time/space/energy we give to either the past or the future. Keeping the “now” as our top priority can be very helpful as we make decisions about what to keep and what to let go:)

  3. Hey there Seana!!! Wow…interesting and eye-opening facts! I’m so glad I make it a point to constantly keep on top of clutter. It’s amazing how people collect and hold on to stuff. Not realizing they’re two moving boxes and a garbage bag away from being on an episode of “Hoarders”. 😀 Have a good one my friend!
    Michell recently posted…Mastering YOU Monday…the power of encouragement!My Profile

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Michell. Clutter is just one of those struggles that some people have… we all have our struggles, right? I want people to stop being embarrassed or ashamed (which is a waste and unnecessary) and just start working on it. This is fixable!

  4. I always get rid of clutter too. I have to throw things away before my 4-year old sees it and deems it important. LOL. He always keeps boxes and boxes of toys aside from the toys themselves.

  5. Great post Seana, very clever to liken it to an albatross, because that is exactly what clutter is. I have dealt with a very sad case lately, where an elderly couple in grave health are putting their stuff above spending the last few months together stress free. Because it was “worth something” when he collected it, he can’t just let it go.
    However neither of them are in good enough health to deal with selling it, and they can’t make a decision on what they want to do. Their albatross is stealing their last precious moments together.
    Jill Robson recently posted…Are you at the end of the roll?My Profile

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about this. I find that the reality of value can be especially difficult for older clients, as the market has changed dramatically since they invested in their treasures. How many of us run into clients with sets of china that nobody wants? My heart goes out to them… glad you are there helping them out, Jill!

  6. Seana, thank you for the facts at the beginning, the storage unit one is really compelling. When do you think we’ll be able to get the 2014 number? Great post, I saved this one for my library!

    1. I’m not sure when we will get the 2013 number, Ericka. Not all of the surveys are done each year, but I am constantly scouring for data because I think it helps us gain perspective and make good decisions! Thanks for stopping by:)

    1. We all have things that are harder for us to let go of, so part of the story is just having grace with one another. But shedding things that are not contributing to our quality of life is always a win!

    1. That’s the whole idea, right? We seldom go back and look at items we own with that fresh eye… trying to determine if it is still adding value. Just because it did once doesn’t mean it still does:)

  7. What a powerful way to help people start new perspectives on their stuff. It’s emotional to let go, but after that initial emotion, it’s empowering. When we let go of attachment, new vistas open up for us. It takes a chart like this to help us step away from our emotional attachment.

    1. One of the best feelings is seeing a client move from a painful struggle to let go of item to being able to easily shed the clutter. I bet personal trainers feel the same way as their clients get stronger, we are just training different muscles:)

    1. I so agree, Nacho. It is all about our priorities, and they change over time, so reevaluating is exactly the right advice. Things play a very small role in true joy, but that can be hard to see… thanks for reading!

  8. Wow! Some great statistics, Seana. I’ve read some of them before, but love how you folded them into the reasons why we collect, hold on, and how that pattern can turn into overwhelming clutter, or as you called it, “a crisis of clutter.” This struggle between holding on and letting go is probably the biggest challenge my clients face on a regular basis.

    It’s a process to find the right mix. And it’s not a process that can be rushed because change in thought, habits and attitudes changes along that journey.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…Two of the Most Powerful Clutter ConceptsMy Profile

    1. That’s so true, Linda. Our priorities are always shifting, so the process needs to be reconsidered and our relationship with individual items reevaluated over time… both of which take a bit of intentionality and time. The end result is always so freeing, though, so worth the effort!

    1. I love clearing out a garage – it is a GREAT place to start! Not only does it give you a newfound, workable space, but it clears a place to “stage” other items from the rest of the house that you may want to move out. Motorcycle sounds very cool!

  9. I go through cycles of buying gadgets and then wanting to be a total minimalist. Currently I’d like to junk everything in my garage so I can paint a mural. No, I’ve never painted a mural before. I recently learned I love the beach….but live no where near the ocean. I love the idea of coming home to a beach scene. Really, why don’t more people make their garages look more welcoming? I mean that’s the first thing you see when you come home….and it always looks like a heap of junk OR a very organized heap of junk. …..maybe in my next house….
    ♥ Jill
    ♥ Jill recently posted…Periscope 101: ImageMy Profile

    1. I have to admit the beach is about my favorite place in the world. I would love a beach mural in my garage!! The garage is a great place to start, because it gives you immediate functionality, but also frees space for future organizing efforts, giving a place to ‘stage’ items you may wish to sell/donate. Thanks for stopping by:)

      1. The biggest problem with cleaning out the garage, is that most of the stuff in there belongs to my hubby. I guess I contributed by banishing it from the house – tools, rock collections, camping gear, food storage, boxes and boxes of his friends’ gift-wrapping business…..there’s even a big pile of lumber. Seems like a waste to throw out lumber. Yet, it’s not like we’re gonna build anything with it….so…..
        plus now that I want a big mural, I don’t want to install overhead bins or shelving.
        ♥ Jill
        ♥ Jill recently posted…Periscope 101: SoundMy Profile

        1. Yes, sounds a bit tricky. And if you want to hold the wall for a mural, you have limited options. The first step in any project is clearing the clutter, though, so maybe start there and see if you can get your husband to release anything. Or maybe move it to a shed or other place so you can have your mural. These things, like so many in marriage, need to be negotiated:)

  10. That’s a handy little table there. We do have lots of excuses for hanging onto STUFF. For me, my albatross is paper. I absolutely loathe the stuff, but it’s surprising how much of it seems to drift around here every day. If I were to focus a little attention on it, I’ll bet I could get rid of 80% of the paper that comes into this house every day! I’m just so busy and my attention is pulled in so many directions, it just doesn’t end up on the radar!
    Adrian recently posted…Headshots and Business Cards, Oh My!My Profile

    1. I agree that the paper just seems to be EVERYWHERE. We’ve added a lot of digital complexity, but there is still paper! It’s all a matter of priorities. And we are lucky if we have a busy life, right Adrian?

    1. I worked with a client today who really struggled to let go. I don’t minimize how difficult it can be! But the reward is always there. Many worthwhile things can be a bit painful, but when we focus on the result, it helps us:)

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