There are a number of unhelpful thinking styles people tend to fall prey to when they think about their belongings. These thinking styles are also called cognitive distortions. These distortions are ways in which our mind tricks us that something isn't really true. This negative thinking gets us into the trap of thinking biased thoughts about ourselves and our situation. These distorted thoughts often reinforce negative thinking patterns and emotions.
In my work with clients, I use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to rid people of this "stinkin' thinkin.'" I work with people to get them to recognize these thinking traps, to then come up with ways to refute them, and to replace these distortions with more rational and balanced thinking.
Here are 6 common cognitive distortions, though there are many more:
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking = "If I don't do this perfectly, I'm a loser."
You see things in black and white categories with no room for gray. If your performance is sub-par in any way, you see yourself as a failure.
In my work, I see people who will buy things for their house (a television, new decor items, baskets) but if they can't find just the perfect spot or the right way to use them, they sit in the boxes and bags they came home from the store in. Or they know how they want their pantry to look, but because they feel they can't achieve a Pinterest-worthy image they sabotage their efforts by doing nothing.
2. "Should" Statements = "I should keep this because it's perfectly good."
You try to motivate yourself with should, shouldn't, must, and ought statements. It's like you have to feel tortured before you can be expected to do something. You often feel guilty as an emotional consequence. By using should statements you are making the assumption that you are obligated to behave in certain ways.
I frequently come across people in my work who feel obligated to practice strict recycling habits. This often backfires in that they never find the time to break down the delivery boxes to put them in the recycling bin or their sinks are always full with dishes that they can't properly wash out the cans and bottles for the redemption center. These items just sit in their homes and continue to pile up.
3. Fortune-telling = "If I get rid of these magazines, I'll make a mistake and throw out some important piece of information."
You're wired so that you're always going to predict a negative outcome without realistically considering the odds of that outcome. In a way, you believe your magic 8-ball will always tell you something bad is going to happen.
I've heard countless times from folks that if they throw such-and-such away that they're going to need it, or that they won't be able to stay organized because they'll just mess it up again, or that their loved one will continue to put them down no matter the effort they're putting into getting the house in order.
4. Mental Filtering = "I cleared most of the clutter off my couch except that one cushion - I'll never finish!"
You have tunnel vision whereby all you see is negative and you filter out the positive. You dwell on a negative detail so much that it clouds your reality. It's like the red sock that turns the load of whites to pink.
In my work with clients I'm constantly pointing out the baby steps and progress being made on a project, but am frequently met with "but look at the rest of the house," "there are so many more messes," "the clutter is never-ending."
5. Catastrophizing = "If I don't save this item from my mother I'll never be able to remember her again and I'll never get over the guilt of feeling like a horrible daughter."
You either blow things out of proportion or you inappropriately minimize something to make it seem less important. You feel that if something bad happens it'll be a catastrophe of epic proportions that will be unbearable.
I have heard this sentiment countless times that if anyone knew that they lived like this they would be a social outcast, their friends wouldn't talk to them and they wouldn't be taken seriously in their career.
6. Emotional Reasoning = "I must need this object or else why would I be feeling so anxious about discarding it?"
By employing this type of thinking you turn feelings into facts. It's the "I feel it, so it must be true" reasoning. This is a tricky thought process because such thinking can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies whereby your thoughts can bring out the behavior you predicted because you changed your behavior to match the thought.
Our emotional attachment to our possessions can run deep. I frequently hear people say that they can't part with a particular item because it'll be like getting rid of a part of themselves. Or they can't get rid of something that their children made because they would be a bad parent.
I think all of us whether we struggle with a little clutter or a lot of clutter can relate to a few of these cognitive distortions. When you do recognize yourself getting caught up in one of these faulty thinking traps it's important not to panic. Acknowledge that by recognizing your own patterns of thinking you are on the journey towards changing them.
Which one resonated with you? How do you work to contradict these unhelpful thought patterns?