Catherine Roster, Professor of Marketing, Anderson School of Management, University of New Mexico thinks it may have! Dr. Roster is a consumer behavior researcher who specializes in consumers’ decisions about getting rid of possessions and the impact of clutter on consumers’ health, safety, and psychological well-being. She graciously shared her findings from a recent project with Goodwill Industries of New Mexico.
Findings from Dr. Roster
Recently, I interviewed a group of professional organizers, experts who help people declutter for a living. My goal was to learn how the pandemic had impacted people’s motivation to declutter. Most agreed that their clients were highly motivated to clear out spaces in their homes. It was surprising to learn that people’s decluttering motivations varied widely, depending on their personal circumstances. For those who were fortunate enough to have extra time on their hands, the pandemic represented an opportunity to organize, redecorate, or transform spaces for different uses or purposes. But many people all of a sudden found their work and home were colliding. Stuff piled on the dining room table had to be cleared out quickly to serve as the children’s schoolroom. Bedrooms became dorm rooms for adult children kids returning from college, or home offices for telecommuting adults. There were not enough hours in the day as people assumed new responsibilities, like homeschooling while trying to do their jobs. For these folks, extra time did not create the decluttering. Immediate needs drove it, and this only added to the stress of the pandemic.
I also learned from the focus group that people cared less about what happened to the things they decided to get rid of - they simply wanted them gone. They no longer had the luxury of storing bags of items while deciding if they wanted to donate or sell them. Those storage spaces, like closets, sheds, and garages, were being taken up by toilet paper and canned goods!
In some ways, the pandemic may have helped people with a tendency to hang onto everything. Several of the organizers remarked that clients of theirs who formerly had a great deal of difficulty getting rid of things became more decisive and gained more clarity as to what was really valuable in their lives during the pandemic. One told a story about a client who realized “she doesn’t need 50 pairs of shoes in different shades of the same color.” Others noted that clients were more willing to be creative in re-imagining spaces. And perhaps most importantly, all of the organizers agreed that people gained a new awareness of the value of family instead of things.