The Psychology of Stuff: Emotions

The next part of the wonderful mini-series by The Psychology Mum … 

Us humans have emotions that become entangled in most things, and that includes our house and the things in it. The relationship is complex, and at the extreme end may manifest itself as part of a diagnosable mental health condition, such as hoarding disorder or OCD. The relationship is also bidirectional: our emotions can impact on our home environment and our home can impact on our emotions.

A house should be a restful place to restore our energy for the next day, but sometimes our home has the opposite effect and can create anxiety. If our house makes us anxious, then it may be the environment that requires changing. Or it may be that something has disrupted our normal habits, which we can no longer adhere to (think having a baby), and this poses a challenge to our belief system.  For example, the mum who thinks because she can’t keep up her normal standards, she is failing. In these circumstances, it may be more important to challenge the beliefs than put even more energy into tackling the home environment, which just isn’t possible under the circumstances, and probably not helpful as it just serves to fuel these beliefs. 

Anxiety also has a sneaky little habit of making us want to avoid the things that makes us anxious.  And that makes sense- why would you want to feel anxious? In the case of our house, avoidance of anxiety might mean the avoidance of dealing with the mess, or avoidance of throwing things out. This can lead to the problem growing and growing, sometimes literally, sometimes in our head, so it seems unmanageable and out of control. When problems, or mess piles, are big, they can seem overwhelming and insurmountable and it can be difficult to know where to start or you can feel defeated and demotivated when you try,  as you see very little change as a result of your effort.

Shame is another key emotions that can be tied into our house. We can feel shameful about “the state’ of our house and feel that it negatively reflects on us as a person. Most people will tidy for visitors, as this is the acceptable way to present their house and how they want to be represented, rather than the usual lived in state. Similarly, social media with its squares of beautiful houses can fuel this shame, when in reality the mess pile has often just been shoved to the other end of the table. I’ve traditionally associated shame with mess and untidiness, but I’ve also recently seen people on instagram talking about feeling shameful that they are a tidy person, and feeling they need to justify this, as showing the “real side” of life becomes a measure of your ‘authenticity’.  And that shame we experience is a nasty little emotion, designed to eat away at us and tell us there is something wrong not just about our house, but fundamentally us a person.

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