HR-111515-Alice2QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Deep down, I really want to clear my clutter. However, when it comes down to it, I have a hard time. What do you suggest for people like me?

A few years back, Yale School of Medicine did an interesting study where hoarders and non-hoarders were asked to sort through random items. Some items belonged to the experimenters and other items belonged to the participants, both of whom had to decide what to keep and what to throw away. While the participants were sorting through the items, researchers tracked their brain activity.

Hoarders showed increased brain activity when they saw their own things and were told to throw them away. Whenever a hoarder said that he or she didn’t feel “right” about throwing something away, the feeling of anxiety and discomfort increased.


So to avoid pain, we sometimes choose to hold onto the things we are attached to because it makes us feel safer and calmer.

“I am my things”

Research also has shown that we connect our “things” to our sense of self. The thought of getting rid of something can be emotionally painful, just like cutting off one’s own finger can be physically painful. Our subconscious mind feeds us this information: “I am that box; I am that pile of papers; I am that piano.” Logically it doesn’t make sense, but we are talking about emotions, not logic.

“I am my piano”

I started piano lessons at age 5, and for as long as I can remember I had a piano. Almost everywhere I lived, I either had a piano, or had access to one. So, it was only natural that after moving to Hawaii 26 years ago, I bought a piano. I gradually stopped playing, but every time I moved, because I subconsciously saw the piano as an extension of myself, I moved it with me, even though in the last few places I lived, the piano was broken. Truth be told, it was only four years ago that I donated my piano. Breaking up with it was painful.


Clearing clutter is a process, and it is no different for me, as an “expert,” than it is for you. Each year, it is a huge effor for me to make the time and summon the strength to overcome the “pain” that I feel when I have to part with things to which I have become attached. I do regular clutter clearing because I know firsthand that the gains are worth the emotional pain.

Get started clearing by asking yourself these questions

Why do you want to clear your clutter? The “why” has to be important enough otherwise you won’t have incentive to de-clutter. What are your reasons? “Because I should” is not a good reason. List the benefits of getting rid of current clutter. The more benefits you can define, the more inspired you will be to tackle the project.

Also, how would you feel if you saw people having to go through your clutter after your death? Do you feel good about what they are finding or are you embarrassed? Enough said.


Do you have a question for Alice? If so, send it to Alice Inoue is the founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Happiness U, a friendly educational establishment, where you’ll find inspiring classes geared toward personal growth and self-development. Visit