Are Your Clutter Habits Inherited?

September 14, 2010

Four out of six women participants in a “Clutter Clearing is Spiritual Business!” class held months ago confessed they inherited their clutter habits from their mother.  Up to this point I had never considered my inclination to hold onto things a trait I inherited from my mother. 

My Mother, The Collector

Photo by Jo Naylor

My mother collected beautiful things like Lalique crystal, Dalton and Lladro porcelin figurines and sterling silver bowls, candelabra and flatware.  In addition to that, piles of magazines lay hidden under her bed.  Stylish clothes jammed her closet, while stacks of beautiful shoes in all colors and for all occasions found a home on their shelves and floor. 

Cookbooks lined two of the three counters in her kitchen.  Pots, pans, everyday dinnerware, containers, and all the other things that make a kitchen utilitarian filled hers to the max.  The refrigerator was always crammed full, making it easy for leftovers to be pushed to the back.

“Just In Case” Thinking  

Photo by dottygirl

I suspect what motivated my mother to accumulate her stuff was “Just In Case” thinking.  Passed down from her parents, this thinking rooted itself in the fear of not having enough.  My parents were teenagers when the Great Depression of 1929 hit.  At such a formative age they couldn’t help but be caught up in the financial panic that swept the country.  From that moment on, American culture drummed life’s tenuousness.  The only way to combat it was to save anything that might be used again.

The fear of not having enough was probably planted much earlier by my parents’ parents and their ancestors.  When the Great Depression hit, their fear, nutured and embraced throughout the generations, became a reality.

The Younger Generation Mirrors the Older

When it comes to clutter, I am my mother’s daughter.  My behavior mirrors hers!  My mother’s living and dining rooms looked good.  Really!  Maybe she had an extra plant or two, but no one would enter her home, point a finger and cry, “Clutterer!”  Her clutter was hidden from those outside the family. 

Fast forward into my time zone.  If you step inside my home, you wouldn’t point your finger at me either and cry, “Clutterer!” My clutter was, and still is to some degree, in my closets, cupboards and cabinets.  Isn’t that interesting!  That’s just how my mother stored hers. 

Nineteen years ago I drove a truckload of my deceased mother’s stuff from Ft. Lauderdale to Northern Virginia and put it in storage.  It wasn’t until I pulled my mother’s stuff out of storage and began dealing with it that I discovered I had clutter, too.  Peek into my linen closet where you’ll find soaps and creams from hotels I stayed in.  You’ll spy the ace bandage I used when I broke my wrist in 1996, makeup that friends gave me because they didn’t want it, and supplements I started taking and decided to put aside.  All this and more are clutter.

An Invitation to Accept

When I started addressing my own clutter issues, I began making conscious decisions to let go of my fear of not having enough.  This was first a choice, and slowly it became a discipline that, as I practiced, became a habit.   

I invite you to spend a few moments reflecting on whether your clutter habits mirror those of your parents.  If they do, and it may take time to admit, then sit with that awareness for awhile.  Aim to accept that you were and maybe still are a good student of your parents’ behavior.  Make friends with the notion you learned those habits early in your life.  If you can, find humor in saving things you will most likely never use again. 

When you are ready, decide whether you want to continue the pattern.  You may or may not be ready.  It took me awhile, but I know now I don’t have to stuff my refrigerator with leftovers anymore.  There is just no room in my closet to stockpile multiple pairs of shoes.  I can get my recipes online.  This feels like freedom!  How does it feel to you?

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