Too Much Stuff = Too Much Stress. Duh.

by Katy on July 10, 2012 · 35 comments

Does having too much stuff stress you out? Well, Social psychologists and anthropologists from U.C.L.A. have conducted an in-depth study following 32 middle-class families analyzing the connection between material possessions and chemical stress levels. And that information has been pulled together into a book titled “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century.”

The book is described as:

“Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century cross-cuts the ranks of important books on social history, consumerism, contemporary culture, the meaning of material culture, domestic architecture, and household ethnoarchaeology.”

The NY Times recently ran a Q & A interview with one of the authors, Anthony P. Graesch titled The Way We Live: Drowning in Stuff. It included surprises such as:

“Women’s stress-hormone levels spiked when confronted with family clutter; the men’s, not so much.”

My favorite part of the study was the connection between the number of magnets on a person’s fridge, and their stress levels. You can guess that result.

All kidding aside, I am dying to read this book, and would put it on hold at the library if they had it yet. Because you know, I wouldn’t want to clutter my house up with another book. 😉 I know that there is a very direct connection between the amount of crap in my house and my own happiness. And as I’ve decluttered, I’ve felt massively less stressed.

Click HERE to read the NY Times article in its entirety.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon July 11, 2012 at 4:14 am

Yep. When the clutter goes, the stress leaves with it. Thanks for sharing the link. The book sounds intriguing.


Diane July 11, 2012 at 4:29 am

Doesn’t that book look intriguing?


Kristen | The Frugal Girl July 11, 2012 at 4:34 am

Ooh, that DOES look like an interesting book! My library doesn’t have it yet either. Boo.


Judy July 11, 2012 at 4:48 am

Katy, thanks for showcasing this facinating sounding book!Can’t wait to read it. A couple of things stood out for me- the author standing in front of his wall of books! One of my on-going goals is to decrease the number of books in my home.
Secondly the refrigerator magnet connection is so interesting. One of the early things I did when decluttering was get rid of the magnets. Now with grandkids we have the letter magnets, and their artwork, etc. on the fridge and a coinciding increase of stuff with their toys.


Elaine in Ark July 12, 2012 at 7:18 am

Books and Christmas stuff. The two hardest things for me to part with. Selling the Nancy Drew books almost did me in.


AnnW July 12, 2012 at 10:18 am

I guess it’s a balance. If you only have thirty Nancy Drew books under your bed, that’s okay. I have sweaters under my bed. I have extra clothes I am going to fit into in six months also. I am also the keeper of all my family’s photos and history. I can’t give up some of my books, but the coffee table books can all go. But those are my husband’s. Katy has been an eye opener for me. I want to get down to two suitcases of clothes. Then there are all my craft things. And on, and on.


Lisa July 11, 2012 at 5:43 am

Around here, when people start getting too much clutter, they add on to the house, knock it down and rebuild, or move. I much prefer the “when in doubt toss it out” method to a roomier home.


Jess July 11, 2012 at 6:20 am

The magnet thing is funny to me. I have a ton of magnets, they are what I buy as souvenirs on every vacation I take. I am not stressed up out by my stuff, and I have a lot of it. But I can see how being in charge of the mess of an entire family would be very stressful. I like having things that I may use again in the future. The few times I’ve gotten rid of things I thought I didn’t need, a need for them came up within a few weeks, very annoying!


Maureen July 11, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I thought the same thing about the magnets. That is my little reminder of my vacation. They are all in neat order and no one is allowed to touch them — and everyone knows it.


Pollyanna July 11, 2012 at 6:32 am

This is all so true – and my library doesn’t have it either. I am slowly working on my clutter, but I have a LONG way to go (am pre-retirement, kids are adults and out of the house now, and I am dealing with 20 years of living here). I know I’d be more at peace with LESS, thanks for the prod to keep me aware how much better off I’ll be.


Rachel July 11, 2012 at 6:54 am

My husband gets stressed out by clutter and/or messes. Worse than I ever do, actually. The difference is I will sort, purge, and organize the clutter or mess while he just gets overwhelmed, stresses out, and then sits and plays video games. It isn’t that he is unhelpful because if requested to do a specific task, he will do it without fuss or ceremony. He just can’t see where to start when it comes to cleaning/organizing.

Actually my mom is the same way which is why I spent about 12 hours helping her purge and organize 30 years worth of paperwork. It isn’t that I am this genius organizer. It is simply I am not overwhelmed. Not by clutter, anyway. Other aspects of life….whole different story.


Sharon Heritch July 11, 2012 at 7:17 am

Send your libraries an e-mail suggesting that they get the book. Libraries want to hear from patrons, and want to stock books people want to read. It’s their thang. 🙂


Karen July 11, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Another idea is to investigate a link plus or interlibrary loan (ILIAD, I think the acronym is) and see if a nearby library, or one from a nearby state, has the book.

I agree on the magnet thing. I have slowly culled our collection. And I get a bit annoyed when charitable groups I’ve donated to then send me another magnet, which I then have to donate. I get their point, i.e. to remind people to keep giving, but the waste of materials and “made in China” thing bugs me, for an item I’m just going to donate to Goodwill.


Barbara July 11, 2012 at 7:26 am

I have stuff (you should see my office – or maybe not), but I can make a comparison between the fridge magnets and a person’s keychain. M y (unnamed relative’s) keychain must weigh a few pounds. If she put her keys in her pocket, her pants would fall down! I’m perplexed when people pull out a huge keychain at the store when they probably only need a housekey and car key on a daily basis, but they carry every key they own and every VIP customer card in their purse!


Kymm July 11, 2012 at 7:27 am

I knew there was a reason those fridge magnets make me nervous!

I keep telling myself I want less, but better. It’s so hard to let go of the stuff, though.


Megyn @MinimalistMommi July 11, 2012 at 7:28 am

Thanks for the recommendation! I’m interested to see if any of the research is casual or just correlational. Another good book that looks at “stuff” is Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling, a well-known personality psychologist at University of Texas. The book is based off of research done and mainly relates to college students, but can have wider implications. It’s fascinating how you can train yourself to look for minute details like if someone has a crusty tooth paste lid to determine factors about their beliefs and personality.


Angela July 11, 2012 at 7:29 am

Well, it doesn’t surprise me at all that clutter doesn’t affect men. 😉
I hate clutter, it does stress me out. We are pretty good at keeping our lives streamlined, our house isn’t very large so we can’t have a lot of stuff anyway. As for the magnets on the fridge, I love lots of them! My grandma always had a fridge full, and if she was ever in her life stressed out I never knew about it! She’s always been as sweet as she can be. As for my other grandma who is no longer alive, she was obsessed with her knick-knacks (spell?), dusted them constantly and fussed over to the point of making people afraid to touch anything. I’d say she was stressed!


Renee CA July 11, 2012 at 8:05 am

I was in a store the other day and saw a teens t-shirt that said “Queen of Stuff.” Oh. my. goodness.


mrs.p July 11, 2012 at 11:39 am

Great timing. My house is getting to me because of the clutter and I can’t seem to get started. I keep saying tomorrow I will start and tomorrow never gets here. I can’t stand to be in my house I rather sit outside. I have two more days off work so I will at least get the enterway and living room done.


Bauunny July 11, 2012 at 1:56 pm

The older I get the more stressed and impatient I get with clutter. I totally do not want to spend my time mostly taking care of my “stuff”. Where I once took in shopping for recreation, I now enjoy simplifying my surroundings. I usually donate or consign or clean out closets and files each weekend. It has been a long haul but I have made substantial progress. While I sometimes feel an emotional tug to keep things “just in case” I usually can convince myself to get rid of it instead. I find when I have too much stuff, I can’t find things which is also frustrating. Even my wardrobe is getting whittled down to the things I truly love and that fit my current lifestyle. I am no longer a clothes hoarder and can get
Rid of my “fashion mistakes” without remorse. I think some of my “learnings” is the result of having cleaned out homes of elderly relatives and not wanting to inflict that task to my family. The saying, “If you don’t take care of your stuff, somebody else WILL” is oh so true. Clutter stresses me out….but it doesn’t ‘t seem to have the same impact on my husband 🙂


Robin July 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I have been slowly selling things on Craigslist and I have to say that with each thing gone I feel a little bit more free.
Next project is the loft in the garage. That scares me it’s so full of STUFF. I can’t wait to have it pared down and organized.


AnnW July 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm

I read as much as I could about this study yesterday. I believe it was in the Wall Street Journal and on Huffington Post. I had no idea it would be a real book. The findings of this study and what it says about our society are shocking. The most troubling finding to me was that kids only use the backyard, what, 40 minutes a week? And the parents, 15 minutes. It seems that the more stuff we have, the less we value any of it. I am almost ready to sign up for the Contract, but I may just adopt it in my own strange way. I’m buying the book. My husband can use it for work. This study just underscores my theory that we are a careless, careless society. The only thing that makes us emotional is an international tragedy.


monique damus July 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm

This looks like a great book! I have a hold posted on it from the library (although the book is still on order). Thanks for the mention of it!


PigPennies July 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm

The magnets! I don’t need to see evidence of this to already feel how true it is. My aunt collects magnets (many as vacation souvenirs) to the point that you can barely see the fridge. Never mind that she also seems to collect suitcases because on virtually every vacation she purchases a new one to tote her haul back home in. It’s like she just can’t think of enough things to buy, so she has to throw magnet collecting in to top it all off!

When we moved out of our house and rented it, I was shocked at the amount of *stuff* our tenants moved in. Stuff everywhere! I was not shocked to see that faced with a stainless steel fridge that wasn’t magnetic, they resorted to taping things all over the fridge. Whatever floats your boat, but if it had looked like that when I lived there I would have had a constant eye twitch.


Renee CA July 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I get that way at a relatives house. She doesn’t put anything on the frig and keeps things relatively neat and is very organized, but so much stuff! I sometimes feel very anxious there.


Cate July 11, 2012 at 4:49 pm

This book looks awesome! Definitely going to see if my library has it.

Thankfully, I married a man who is also stressed by clutter, so he’s a big help in that regard. Interestingly, our 3-year-old plays so much better when we’ve picked up the house recently. Having tons of toys on the floor seems to overwhelm her like it overwhelms us.


Katy July 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm

I went to my library website and recommended it as a purchase. I could probably get a review copy, but that kind of defeats the purpose.

I remember that my kids also were much more focused and willing to stick with an activity if the house was organized and tidy.



AnnW July 11, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Get a review copy if you can. Then you can write about it a few times and pass that copy along, or give it to your library. Ann


Elaine in Ark July 12, 2012 at 7:25 am

Yes, it would make a great giveaway!

(Me, me, choose me!)


gerard July 11, 2012 at 5:47 pm

lately I have been reading a lot of blogs by families who have sold everything and moved onto sailboats (40 foot or so). Interesting to see them shift from stuff to experiences.


Lorraine July 12, 2012 at 4:11 pm

When an area in my house looks cluttered, it really bothers me – I feel kind of twitchy about it. I like clear countertops and fridge fronts.


Dori July 13, 2012 at 8:43 am

Ooo, thanks for the great book recommendation! Looks like an interesting read. I just checked my library and they “have it” (on order), so I immediately placed it on hold. Thank you again!


Lisa Lewis July 19, 2012 at 6:21 am

Katy, just wanted to suggest that your local library probably takes suggestions for purchases, if you want to ask them to buy this book for you. I just requested that my library in Durham, NC purchase it – the request process is online and easy, and I have done it several times. Each time they have taken my recommendation and bought the book…


Katy July 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm

I already did, but thanks for the info!



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