I hesitate to share two anti-minimalist posts in a row, but that’s what popped up on my radar this week. My suggestion is to understand the views shared in these articles, but seek the truth as it applies to your situation. Also, it helps you gain perspective on what some of your friends and family may be thinking when you talk to them about decluttering and minimalism.
Today’s article is: Why I don’t buy into the anti-clutter movement
Let’s dig into some of topics shared int he article.
Decluttering Targeted at Women
The author claims that the anti-clutter movement is targeted at women. This is funny because yesterday’s anti-minimalist post claimed minimalism was primarily targeted towards men. In any case, this statement is a matter of opinion, and I have seen men and women embrace decluttering and minimalism.
Decluttering/Tidying Takes Too Much Time
I think this quote from the article is particularly funny
But there is a way forward and it doesn’t involve relegating 20 Sundays to “cleaning out the garage”.
If you need to spend 20 Sundays cleaning out the garage, then you are not decluttering efficiently. In this case I recommend working with a professional organizer or coach. If you do it right, you will declutter it once, perhaps taking a couple of days to do it. Once it’s decluttered, it will be much easier to maintain, easier to find things, and easier to get in and out of.
The article again touched on the time factor a few paragraphs lower, with a quote from author Eric Abrahamson.
If we spend all our time tidying up, there’s no time left to actually get stuff done.
This is true in a certain context. If you are constantly tidying a messy space, it will take a lot of time. To me, this is one of the best arguments to start decluttering. If you get rid of the unused, rarely used, and unwanted, you won’t have to spend as much time organizing.
Arguments against decluttering often take an extremist view. The Abrahamson quote I just mentioned is an example of this, “If we spend all our time tidying…” Another is this zero tolerance quote:
Zero tolerance of clutter is not merely unrealistic, it also sets up a kind of rigid outlook, leaving little time for improvised outcomes (read: spontaneous fun). Any woman who opted out of a delicious meal because there were no low carb options on the menu might relate.
I don’t know any professional organizer, blogger, or minimalist that recommends a zero tolerance approach to clutter. Most recognize that clutter happens, and you can address it by cleaning up after yourself or with daily or weekly 10 minute cleanups. As for spontaneous fun, I have much more time (and money) for spontaneous fun as a minimalist than I did when I was cluttered. The low carb comparison is similarly misleading. In my experience it’s more like, “Any person regularly eating a healthy, balanced diet, has more freedom to indulge on occasion.”
Beware of Studies
It’s common for those in the media to use a study to justify a position. This often results in inaccurate or misleading content. Any time you see someone mention a study, I highly recommend you review the study before accepting the statements as fact.
A study undertaken by the University of Michigan found that when students were placed in a tidy room, they became less productive. But when they were placed in a room with a bit of clutter, their input increased.
If you read the study, you will see that it is completely misquoted here. The study doesn’t address productivity. It addresses Healthy Choices, Generosity, Conventionality, and Creativity. They author replaced the word “Creativity” with “Productivity”, which completely changes the meaning.
Further, the content, methodology, and results of the study are valid under certain conditions and among certain demographics, but I’m not convinced it applies in cases outside of these conditions.
The first thing I always check in a study is the sample size. In this case there were three experiments of 34, 48, and 188 students. I find that even 188 students is too low a number to extrapolate the data over the entire world population.
Second, I check the demographics of the participants. In this case they were all students. I tend to wonder if these same results would apply across other demographics. A good study will use participants more representative of the general population.
Third I look at the procedure. In this case, they provide pictures of their “cluttered” and “uncluttered” spaces (one of the pictures is included at the top of this post). In my opinion, their “cluttered” spaces weren’t very cluttered. They were a bit messy, but there wasn’t stacks of stuff crowding the room as is the case for many of us.
I have a few other gripes about this study as well. When testing for generosity, there was no pretest to determine how generous the person is normally. With only 34 people, it’s possible they ended up with more generous people testing in the uncluttered space. Also, in the generosity experiment, the rooms were similar, but not the same. The uncluttered space had much nicer furniture, while the cluttered space had two lower quality desks and extra furniture. They also spent just 10 minutes in the room before being given the generosity test. I’m not convinced that is long enough to draw broader conclusions from, especially when you consider that many of us are living among clutter all day, every day.
I can go on, but I think you get the point. Read the actual study, don’t accept a potentially slanted interpretation of a study fed to you by the media.
The ending of this article is a little odd and part of it caught me by surprise. The author mentions middle class privilege, which we already discussed in yesterday’s post, and then ends with this:
Perhaps we should take a long look at ourselves, and then at Oprah – not for advice on decluttering, per se but on how to stay grateful for what we have. That way, we won’t feel the desperate need to accumulate all that clutter in the first place.
I assume the Oprah reference implies that you should work on your personal growth and happiness. I think that being grateful for what we have is a great practice. Combine that with some rational decision making when you are shopping, and you’ll be able to prevent new clutter from creeping into your home.