The correlation of clutter and procrastination — and what you might do about it

Much research has shown that, individually, a tendency to clutter and a tendency to procrastinate negatively impacts a person’s relationships and emotional well-being. But do the two behaviors go together? At least one study points to the connection in young and middle-aged adults.

“Clutter is an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces,” according to Joseph Ferrari, a DePaul University professor and co-author of “Delaying Disposing: Examining the Relationship between Procrastination and Clutter across Generations.”

In interviews with subjects of three age groups (college students and adults in their 30s and 50s) the researchers assessed their tendency to procrastinate, as well as how much clutter impacts their well being. The study found a significant link between the two. In other words, people who procrastinate tend to delay making decisions about what to throw away. The study also found a general decrease in life satisfaction as a result of ongoing clutter problems. (Previous research had examined the correlation between clutter and stress as measured by elevated cortisol levels in adult couples with school-age children.)

Much practical wisdom has been written about how to deal with clutter, but the DePaul study suggests that procrastination can play a major role in sabotaging the disposal of unneeded possessions.

Ferrari defines procrastination as the “voluntary delay of an intended course of action despite negative consequences.” It manifests in two ways: indecision and behavior. The former is the avoidance of making a tough decision; the latter are the tactics that delay taking action. Both together is what experts call “dysfunctional procrastination.”

Everyone procrastinates from time to time–especially when it comes to cleaning and tidying up the house! Here are some tips for dealing with delay:

  • Don’t think or plan too much ahead of time. Sometimes it’s best to dive in to the task.
  • Don’t exaggerate the time and effort needed to complete the task. This will only prompt more delay.
  • Take the first step–any step–even if you don’t see all the following steps at the beginning.
  • Start with the hardest task you’re faced with. You’ll feel better and more motivated once this is done.
  • Make a decision–any decision. It’s better than not making one at all.
  • Face your fears, both of failure and success. To fail is to risk looking inadequate. To succeed carries with it the demand for more responsibility.
  • Finish the job. Once started, follow through. You’ll feel the best when the task is completed.

Below is a brief, animated video explaining a practical three-step process for tackling that unavoidable job.

Comments are closed.