I Didn't Expect to be Hugged!
Don't worry I'm not being hugged at the moment, well not by people who don't live in my house anyway, this comes from pre corona times. Remember that time? Hopefully we'll be back there soon.
When I started my Decluttering & Organising business two years ago, it would never have crossed my mind for a moment, that my clients would hug me! Of course they don't all hug me, not everyone is a hugger, but quite of a large number of my clients spontaneously hug me when we finish work for the day! It's so nice to be able to make that much difference to people.
I had no doubt that people would be very happy with the results of our clutter clearing sessions, that being organised would make a real difference to them; but when they frequently started to tell me that the sessions had "changed their life" and the hugging, I was curious to delve a bit deeper...
I knew from personal experience how freeing yourself from clutter and learning to live with less brings huge benefits. Benefits in terms of freeing up time, increasing calm, improving relationships even having positive effects on your bank balance, but what about the science around it? Is there any evidence to back this up?
Just by chance I came across an online course via Coursera. It's run by Yale University and is called The Science of Wellbeing, delivered by Professor Laurie Santos. It's actually turned out to be Yale's most popular course, ever (I wonder what it could be that so many people are searching for 😉). I enrolled in order to find out if my gut feeling about buying and owning stuff has been right all along and sure enough it has.
David Myer's research on the correlation between life satisfaction and income published in American Psychologist concluded that, "compared with their grandparents today's young people have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology", do you think that sounds like us?
The course picks apart all of the things that we grow up conditioned to think make us happy.
One of these, Buying and owning more stuff (and more expensive) stuff does not make us happy!
Instead it provides us with a quick "happiness hit", similar to taking a drug and the novelty that the new item provides wears off, very quickly. This is known scientifically as hedonic adaptation. Put very simply, as new stuff hangs around, over time it's not new any more and we get bored of it. There is a common misconception that "If only I had X, I'd be happy", yet as soon as you have X, in order to be happy, you need Y. It's a trick of the brain, as it moves to focus on new reference points and it's a phenomenon exploited by clever marketing.
If we continue on this purchasing pattern from our early twenties, when we first start to own our own money, through buying our own home, having kids, it's no wonder that by our mid forties we find ourselves unable to move for stuff!
We grossly underestimate the extent to which changing our behaviours can significantly increase our well being.
Joshua Millburn talks about "Reducing possessions to a level that sets us free."
By reducing our possessions we:
Free up our time - the time it takes to care for stuff, look for stuff, not to mention the time we spend pounding the pavements, or surfing the internet sourcing stuff.
Increase feelings of calm - we are better able to focus and be grateful for the things that we chosen to give space in our homes to.
Improve our relationships - through creating are calmer, more organised environment, through being able to lay our hands on things easier and through having more time to dedicate to people rather than things.
Become more intentional with our money - through using it to help other people (which has been shown to have produce far longer lasting positive feelings for the giver, than buying for oneself), to share experiences with the people that are important to us.
In 1976 Nickerson et al (2003) asked12,000 US college freshman about materialist attitudes and surveyed them again about life satisfaction 20 years later. Those that had expressed non materialist attitudes when first asked, were happier twenty years on.
You don't have to take my word for it, the science is there. Professor Santos goes on to explain that prioritising spending money on experiences over stuff is one way that we can make ourselves happier. It also makes those around us happier, because people are for more interested in hearing about our new experiences than our new stuff. Think about that. Isn't it so much more interesting if a friend tells you about their recent holiday, than if they tell you about their new car?
So why do people hug me at the end of their sessions?
Could it be that I help them get to the point where they realise that they have all the stuff they need right there, already, in their own homes? The realisation that it's not just OK, but better for your wellbeing to aspire to having less, but doing more?
If you would like to sign up to the free online Science of Wellbeing course, you can do that here
If you do, please let me know, I'd love to hear what you think of it.
Jo Hall is a Berkshire based Declutterer & Organiser (who is in no way associated with Coursera or Yale University)
For help with decluttering & organising your home (in person and online consultations) Less Is More
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