People develop attachments to other people, to places, and to things. While the personal and intimate attachments between people and places are rarely questioned, attachment to things is an entirely different matter. Those who save the majority of their possessions for long periods of time, either for sentimental reasons or frugality, can easily earn the label of “pack rat” – while others live in the opposite extreme, throwing things away right after (or even before) they have served their purpose.
The majority of people go through cycles of accumulation and dispersion. Attics, garages, and basements become the retirement centers for all the stuff we no longer use. At some point, these storage places need a good cleaning out, which can be a daunting task for some and a relieving exorcise for others. What makes some people more attached to their stuff than others?
We wanted to find out, so we asked our readers to agree or disagree with the following statement: “You find it hard to throw things away.”
A slight majority of all people (58%) agreed with the statement, showing that most people become attached to their belongings to some extent. The most significant influence came from the Identity aspect, with Turbulent (68%) personality types agreeing 19% more than those with the Assertive trait (49%), although all trait dyads showed interesting differences. By looking at the Role groups, we can uncover the different reasons that some people have a harder time throwing things away than others.
Diplomats (68% agreeing)
As Intuitive personality types, Diplomats can see many options and possibilities, which makes parting with things difficult since they believe they can find the need or use for something later on. The presence of the Feeling trait increases the difficulty in throwing things away because Diplomats often form sentimental attachments to their belongings. The Prospecting trait in Mediators (INFP) (74% agreeing, the highest score of all personality types) gives them a gift for creatively repurposing old or used things into useful or decorative knick-knacks.
Explorers and Analysts (60% and 58%)
The Prospecting trait in Explorers also gives them the ability to picture how something used or old can be useful in the future, which makes throwing things away seem wasteful. However, because of their Observant trait, Explorer personalities are less sentimental than Diplomats and are less likely to get attached to the things they own.
The Intuitive trait in Analysts has a similar influence as the Prospecting trait in Explorers: they are more likely to keep things for a long time, because they anticipate needing them again in the future. Their other core trait, Thinking, makes Analyst personality types more cautious and frugal than the spontaneous Explorers. Logicians (INTP) (64%), with their combination of Intuitive and Prospecting traits, are particularly prone to becoming pack rats, finding it difficult to throw away things that may come in handy later on.
Just over half of the Sentinel personalities agreed that they find it hard to throw things away. Sentinels are the least likely to form sentimental attachments to things, and they are more likely to throw away things that contribute to clutter or are no longer useful. The influence of the Judging trait is evident in how close the scores are among the individual types of the Sentinel group: Defenders (ISFJ) (55%), Logisticians (ISTJ) (51%), Executives (ESTJ) (45%) and Consuls (ESFJ) (48%) all agreed at similar rates. When choosing to throw something away or keep it, Sentinels tend to base their decision on its value and their need.
Constant Improvement and Social Engagement (69% and 66% agreeing)
Personality types with the Constant Improvement Strategy had the highest agreement scores, meaning they find it difficult to throw things away. Introverts have a slightly harder time doing so; they may develop stronger attachments to their personal belongings, since they enjoy solo activities more than social ones. Turbulent Mediators (INFP-T) (77%), for example, may collect things related to their interests, like cards, memorabilia, pictures, stamps, and magazines. Even when their interests change, it becomes hard for Constant Improvers to throw things away, because they worry about missing those things later on or throwing away something that might be worth a lot of money in the future.
Extraverted personality types have a less difficult time throwing things away than Introverts, although the Turbulent trait significantly increases Social Engagers’ agreement scores. For example, 55% of Turbulent Executives (ESTJ-T) agreed with the statement, while only 39% of Assertive Executives (ESTJ-A) agreed. Social Engagers face indecision when it comes to throwing things away, as they worry about needing them later or throwing away something important by mistake. When facing this indecision, they usually choose to keep stuff rather than throw it out. It helps that their busy social lives protect Extraverts from stressing too much over their clutter.
Confident Individualism and People Mastery (51% and 48%)
Personalities with the Assertive trait are more decisive when it comes to throwing things away, likely because they worry less about needing those things later. Those with the Confident Individualism Strategy, like Assertive Logisticians (ISTJ-A) (43%), are task-oriented and focused, finding excessive clutter and disorganization an unwelcome distraction. Cleaning out their junk drawer, garage, or basement leaves them feeling refreshed and energized.
People Masters don’t struggle with throwing things away either. Focused on relationships, networking, and social interaction, Assertive Entrepreneurs (ESTP-A) (44%) rarely keep things long enough to build up clutter. These personalities are more likely to enjoy shopping and buying new things than collecting and repurposing old ones.
Most people have a hard time throwing things away, especially when something has sentimental value – and our personality has a lot to do with it. Introverted and Feeling personalities become more attached to their belongings than Extraverted and Thinking ones; Intuitive and Prospecting people picture new uses for their older stuff, which motivates them to keep things longer than most. More than any other reason, however, people hesitate to throw things away if they think they may need those things later. Assertive personalities worry about this less and tend to be fine with “crossing that bridge when they get to it,” whereas Turbulent personalities are afraid of “disposal remorse” or throwing away something important by mistake. Luckily, there are no rules when it comes to clutter: you can have as much or as little of it as you want.
How about you? Do you have a hard time throwing things away? Let's talk about it in the comments section!