Binge Decluttering - Inspired or Illogical?

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

We are a generation of bingers.

Forget the other categorisations for us:

Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials-

I believe that future generations will look back and define us by our tendency to binge. We binge-eat, binge-drink, binge-watch our favourite shows, binge-shop, binge-exercise, binge on social media. And the latest binge phenomenon - binge-declutter.

The Oxford dictionary defines the term binge as, 'A period of excessive indulgence in an activity’.

Quite often that excessiveness seems to lead to some form of regret. Even something that was fun at the time. Why is that? Do we regret the indulgence itself or do we regret the lack of balance? Maybe the answer alternates, or maybe it can be both. I don’t regret binge-watching the entire first series of Stranger Things in two days- that show was awesome! But later I did regret not doing exercise or housework on those days, in favour of getting through the entire season as fast as possible. I regret the lack of routine that existed while I was mid-binge.

And who hasn’t woken up with a pounding head and pasty mouth seriously regretting the binge-drinking from the night before or regretted the credit card bill after a binge-shop, or the feeling of indigestion after Christmas lunch? Even though the drinking, shopping and eating was enjoyable at the time.

Why as a civilised society do we feel the need to binge on anything? Why do we compartmentalise our behaviours to be all or nothing? Where did we lose our ability to balance? What happened to restraint? What happened to adding something to our routine life without throwing everything else out of harmony? Wouldn’t it be nice to stretch out the enjoyment rather than overindulging initially and then being devoid of it altogether?

It is believed that bingeing has three main sources: psychological, chemical and sociocultural.

Psychological causes including depression, anxiety and stress commonly lead to binge-type behaviour as a way of pacifying the feelings of dissatisfaction or distress. Chemical origins for the same behaviour relate to the surge of dopamine (the feel good chemical in the brain) when we eat sugar, buy something shiny and new or drink alcohol. This feeling or ‘high’ becomes addictive and so we seek it again and again. Socioculturally, we are told that consuming is good. Advertising tells us that more you consume the more successful/ beautiful/ fashionable you’ll be. We come to believe that more equals better.

And, regrettably, I have been touting that same message recently. My message was about bingeing on something I perceived as healthy or helpful- decluttering. Letting go of the excess. But the message was the same-

"The more you do = the better you are."

Is it healthy to binge on decluttering?

Gulp. Was I adding fuel to the Gen Binge machine with my message?

You see, in August I was an advocate for binge-decluttering via the 30-Day Minimalism Game phenomenon. The challenge, referred to on social media as the minsgame, is the brainchild of the lads (who I wholeheartedly applaud and respect)- The Minimalists. The minsgame requires you to get rid of items, which no longer add value to your life. On day 1 of the month you part with 1 item, day 2 is 2 items and you see how far you can get through the month. By day 30 you have parted with 465 items. It is an inspired way of challenging people to let things go. The game resonated with some of my followers and motivated people to reduce their clutter way beyond what I was achieving with my inspirational quotes and suggestions. So why did I feel uneasy about advocating it?

My passion is helping people to declutter both physically and mentally. Not just once in a bulk lot, but to learn the reasons why they were holding onto things, learning how to let them go and then creating systems and processes in their homes and lives that keep them clutter-free. In hindsight, this seems at odds with my push to have people binge-declutter. By parting with things at such a great rate and in the spirit of a competition, I was concerned that like all binge-type behaviours there was the chance of regret later. It seemed that people were not letting go intentionally. They were letting go inadvertently.

I mused, “Will people doing the minsgame get so focused on beating their competitors that they part with things impulsively and lament their decisions later? Will restraint disappear because they’re mid-binge? Will they forget to make time for their daily routines because they need to find an additional 15 items to hit their target? Will they be so fixated on success that they don’t consider why they are doing it, how it will liberate them and indeed how they came to have such excess?”

I worry that the same feeling of emptiness or dissatisfaction that society tried to fill by bingeing on stuff, we are now trying to fill with bingeing on the joy of getting rid of stuff.

I certainly get a feeling of delight when I part with things. I feel less burdened. Is relinquishing my things giving me the same serotonin release as I get from eating a sugary treat? Could purging stuff be as addictive as consuming stuff?

Maybe binge-decluttering seems a useful tool to get people started on their decluttering journey but it is certainly not a behaviour I want to support anymore. I think people need to be cautious of the minsgame and move towards being both intentional with their purchases and their decisions to let things go so that their patterns of behaviour are changed and are sustainable. I want people to take the time to consider the how and the why rather than get lost in the excitement of a binge. I want to advocate for consideration, thoughtfulness and moderation in all areas of life, including letting go.

I want us to be Gen Balance not Gen Binge.

At the time of writing this #minsgame has been used over 68000 times.

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