Clutter and Poverty Mentality

According to a recent survey, the average American home is over 2600 square feet. Mine is less than half that, especially when you consider that our square footage includes our basement which is a utility basement. It has a washer, dryer, and storage but no livable space. While I love my small home, it can be challenging to be clutter free with two kids and two dogs.

And, if you’re like me, you also have to overcome poverty mentality when it comes to clutter. Poverty mentality can be anxiety-driven, and hoarding is often anxiety driven. While I believe it’s important to be prepared, and to be a smart spender with my household budget, being too frugal can actually be counterproductive.

poverty mentality and clutter

What is Poverty Mentality

There are various definitions and terms for this, including poverty mindset. Please note, that I am not talking about people who are currently living in poverty.

Poverty mentality is the internal feeling that you’ll never have enough money even if you have enough household income to live comfortably and safely. This affects not only the financial decisions you make (and not necessarily in a positive way) but how you run your household. Including material possessions and clutter.

Many people with poverty mentality either grew up with very little, or went through a period in their life that shaped these feelings. For me it was both–we had times of financial insecurity when I was a kid, in addition to being raised by alcoholics. And I was raised by a grandmother who lived through the depression and never shook off those practices that were essential for survival then.

How Poverty Mentality Manifests Itself

Everyone is different, and we all bring different past experiences into present day decisions. But these are some common ways that poverty mentality may look.

  • Buying things that are super cheap, even if you don’t need or use the item, because you think “I’ll never see this item at this price again.”
  • Same scenario as above, but if it’s an item you use, you overbuy the quantity you need.
  • Having to buy the same items repeatedly because your organization is so poor, you cannot find what you have.
  • Having clothes in your closet that you never or rarely wear, are not your style or color or size, but were a “fantastic price.”
  • Hanging on to broken items because you might “fix them and use them, someday.”
  • People with poverty mentality tend to think small and short tem as far as their budgets, which can be counterproductive to true financial independence and success.
  • You find yourself saving stuff because you “might need it someday” even though you’ve never used that item (or rarely).
  • Not learning to invest money, because you’re afraid your money will be tied up and you won’t be able to access it. (and I do recognize that the investment world has long and purposely excluded marginalized populations)

But, make no mistake, overcoming the poverty mindset is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty. And that’s what makes this so important, and so hard to do.

How to Overcome Poverty Mentality

It’s a learning process. My Depression-era grandmother raised me. Let me tell you, she threw away nothing. And I mean nothing. Because “you might need it someday.” I mean it, the woman reused aluminum foil and wax paper and washed plastic utensils.

And, when she passed away, her home reflected this. So did my Dad’s stuff when he passed away. He had used my home as a dumping ground the last 20 years of his life. And, yes, I allowed it. This is all part of the internal work that I am doing.

But the first step is to acknowledge two things:

  • your current mindset and resulting behaviors has to change
  • your current mindset and behaviors can change

And honestly, I believe clutter in the home is the first step of this. For several reasons:

  • Decluttering is something anyone can do, and you have total control over it.
  • It’s immediate action with immediate results. You can start this today and see results today (unlike applying for a new job, or trying to learn how to invest your money)
  • You will see immediate results and feel immediate results (more on how clutter negatively affects our mental health below)

Clutter may seem like a small thing, but it takes a toll. Clutter can cause stress, anxiety, loss of focus, and even mental health problems. Don’t let this scare you. Instead, let this motivate you to tackle the problem once and for all.

Mind you, clutter is only one step in the process. In addition to the internal work and self-examination, you’re going to have to rethink and relearn how you earn, how you save and how you spend your money.

Get Rid of the Clutter and the Mentality

It can be very difficult to ‘get real’ when it comes to heirlooms and family items like that. I keep jewelry, pictures, anything that my mom made (she was really into ceramics in the 60s and 70s) and anything that is handwritten by the person. I’ve found that to be a good starting point and the rest is on a case-by-case basis.

My point is: I don’t keep every little thing from my grandmother’s house “just because it was hers.” Same with my Dad’s things. Not every single item was important to her. They just happened to be in her home when she died.

You know what else helps? Reminding myself that many families shop at Goodwill, and will be happy to find my item.

We all make purchasing mistakes or fall victim to impulse buys. But keeping it around the house “just because you spent the money on it” doesn’t help.

Keeping items that are like-new, just because I bought them, is not a good reason. Also, doing this has helped me become a better spender.

Tips to Getting Rid of Clutter

Use Transition Times-Every few months, you’re more than likely switching out fall and winter for spring and summer or vice versa. This is a great time to purge your home. As you go through your clothing, purge anything you no longer love. The same goes for home decor and holiday decorations. I also go through both my boys’ rooms twice a year-right before their birthday and right before Christmas. Those are times of the year when there is an influx of toys and clothing, and purging beforehand keeps it manageable.

Join Facebook Groups-There are many Facebook groups dedicated to de-cluttering and minimalist living. I find these to be motivating. In one, the group leader posts a monthly challenge and every day we have a task. Sure, I don’t do every task, every day. But it’s enough to keep me chipping away at it and stay motivated.

Have limits, set goals and have a system-Decide what your limits are. If the kids have not played with this toy in X amount of months, it goes. If I have not worn this item in X months, it goes. And so on. I have two bins in the basement for consignment salesone for the fall sale and one for the spring sale. I keep another shopping bag with the bins for Goodwill. When I’m purging, I just quickly evaluate each item: consignment sale, donate, or trash.

Getting real with why I wanted to keep items-I held on to our TMNT stuff for far too long. Then, one day I realized I wasn’t emotionally attached to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was wistful for the years that Brian played with that stuff. But realizing that, and remembering that I have a ton of photos from that time period, helped me let go. I kept one TMNT shirt that was his favorite, and the rest got sold or donated.

Get Creative: Repurposing things is all the rage right now. No, I don’t listen to many of my CDs anymore. But guess what? We have them hanging around our trampoline to keep birds away. I’ve seen them over gardens too. A quick search of “how to repurpose (name of item)” will bring you some interesting suggestions.

Sell What you No Longer Use

Believe it or not, there are things around your home that may be worth more than you thought. And, you have so many selling options.

clutter into cash

If the item was a gift to my children, I let them keep the money that we get by selling it. This can be a huge motivator for them, and begins to teach them financial responsibility.

How to Resell Your Clutter

You can sell through:

  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Mercari
  • Craigslist
  • Poshmark
  • Amazon
  • Facebook groups
  • Facebook Marketplace and your own personal profile post
  • Look for free classified listings online; many community sites have them
  • Community Bulletin Boards at grocery stores

For me, I use Facebook groups and consignment sales. And, for Facebook groups, I won’t list an item that’s under $20 and I’m very specific about how far I will go to meet a buyer. This is something I’ve learned through trial and error.

Sell or Donate?

Keep in mind that original price, brand name and wear and tear are all going to factor into how much money you recoup on your items. In my post about consignment sales, I have pricing guidelines from a national re-seller. But generally, for decent stuff, you can expect to recoup about 15-35% of what you originally paid for the item.

The clutter in your home can be turned into an emergency fund or even fund a family vacation.

Clutter and your Mental Health

Those piles of mail at the front door or clutter on your desk can bother you more than you realize. Whether it’s a loss of focus or being overwhelmed, clutter shouldn’t be ignored. Clutter is excess information. So if you or your child struggle to process excess information, either verbally or visually, it makes sense that clutter would affect your well-being.

But, a lack of organization skills shouldn’t keep you from trying to make your home a more peaceful place.

Negative Effects of Clutter and Stress

Distraction and Loss of Focus-How often do you have trouble focusing on a task at hand because your mind keeps drifting back to the clutter around you? Do you often have thoughts about how you need to do something about it? Do these thoughts interrupt your work? A cluttered work area makes it almost impossible to focus on the task at hand. It is harder to complete a task if you spend excess time finding the supplies that you need.

Stress-Do you find yourself feeling stressed out when you look at the pile of mail in the entryway or paperwork covering the dining room table? If the clutter is eating you up inside, it needs to be dealt with. Clutter and disorganization can lead to late payments on bills, which can create even more stress. Perhaps you’re just not a big cleaner. I get it. We all have our priorities. However, it still weighs on you. An unkempt household serves as a visual reminder of an ongoing to-do list. And unfinished projects or tasks weigh on you and prevent you from relaxing.

Being Overwhelmed-Clutter can make you feel overwhelmed to the point that you feel helpless. You may think, “There’s no way I’ll ever tackle this mess.” Those feelings can eventually make you physically sick. The key to not being overwhelmed. Don’t focus on the entire mess. Choose one small area to tackle. Pretty soon the job will be finished. When a part of my home gets out of control, I remind myself that it didn’t get that way in a day so it won’t be fixed in a day. (Basement, I’m looking at you!)

Anxiety-Do you find yourself having trouble falling asleep because you’re thinking about all the clutter you need to take care of or misplaced items you need to find? Do the thoughts of dealing with it send you into a panic? Believe it or not, clutter can cause anxiety. Not only do you worry about how it’s affecting your life, but you also worry about how others perceive your home or work space.

Difficulty with Visual Processing

Do you stare at the clutter surrounding you and find it impossible to process what you’re seeing? Do you sit down to work or read and can’t process what you’re trying to accomplish? Not only does clutter take away focus, but you may even find yourself unable to function when it comes to the simplest of tasks, such as writing out a grocery list or reading a novel.

Does your child’s IEP have accommodations for visual clutter? For example, are they supposed to have only one or two test questions per page, so that they can focus? If they struggle with visual clutter with school work, it’s only natural that it would affect them at home as well. Take a look at your home environment from their point of view.

Dr. Krauss-Whitborne of Psychology Today points out that clutter in your home can actually lead you to eat more junk food! Any time of year is a great time of year to commit to ridding your home of the excess.

Good luck and remember, Dr. Phil says that “Home should be your safe place to land.” Before you know it, your whole family will be more at ease and relaxed in your home.

Note: I am not a psychologist nor do I play one on the internet. As a blogger who has shared lots of frugal living tips, I feel obligated to share some of the negative aspects of frugal living.

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