CHICAGO — An overabundance of “stuff” can have a detrimental
effect on a person’s mental health and disrupt their sense of home, says
procrastination researcher Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul
According to findings recently published in the journal Current
Psychology, Ferrari and co-authors investigated the connection between
procrastination and clutter and discovered that chronic procrastination can
lead to problems with clutter in the home.
Ferrari, the author of the 2010 popular consumer book “Still
Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done,” has studied
procrastination since the late 1980s. His previous research determined that
procrastination has many causes and consequences and that it’s different from
delay, pausing, waiting, pondering or prioritizing.
In this Q&A, Ferrari discusses the link between clutter
and procrastination, explains chronic procrastination, and describes several
myths of procrastination.
Q: In a series of
recent studies, you led a team of researchers who looked at procrastination and
clutter. What did the research uncover?
A: I think it’s
important to first define both. Procrastination is a tendency to delay the
start or completion of a desired task to the point of experiencing discomfort. It
leads to dysfunctional ways of being, and consequently, a reduced quality of
life. Procrastination is not the same thing as waiting, postponing or delaying.
In general, delaying is not a problem, waiting is not a problem, when we do
those things we are often gathering information. To procrastinate is to avoid
something strategically and purposefully. Clutter is an overabundance of
possessions that create chaotic and disorderly living spaces. It’s not the same
thing as hoarding, it’s broader than that. It’s not a psychological disorder
like hoarding is, at least not yet.
In our research, the findings suggest that a general
propensity to procrastinate when it comes to attending to routine, everyday
tasks, such as sorting and disposing of personal inventory items, can lead to
problems with clutter. Procrastinators reported excessive clutter and that
their overabundance of possessions negatively affected their identity. The more
clutter you have, the more likely you are to be a procrastinator. Which makes
sense, because you’re unsure of what to get rid of.
Q: What is chronic
procrastination and how does someone know if they have it?
procrastination is when someone has procrastination tendencies not only in one
setting or one task, but throughout their entire life. It's a maladaptive
lifestyle. They do it at home, school or work, and in relationships or
responsibilities. They are always delaying, it's very frequent. Procrastinators
are tremendously great excuse makers. They always have a reason. They never
take the responsibility on themselves. It's why working on time management doesn't
provide relief for procrastinators. They will have their ready excuse. It's
never their fault.
Everybody procrastinates, but not everyone is a
procrastinator. If you are a chronic procrastinator — 20 percent of people are
and many are seeking help — cognitive behavioral therapy may help you learn how
to change the way you think and the way you act.
Q: Does age play a
role in procrastination behavior?
A: This is the
first time that age was looked at when it comes to clutter and procrastination.
In the research, we found no significant difference between age groups when it
comes to indecision, clutter and procrastination. While procrastination and
indecision are not surprising, the results on clutter were a little surprising.
We thought that older individuals might have more clutter due to a higher
income and a longer time to acquire items, but it may depend on what people
define as clutter. It could be a personal perception. Nevertheless, what we all
need to know is how procrastinators collect clutter through the year, which could
involve following a group of procrastinating kids well into adulthood.
Q: What’s your advice
for people who are concerned about clutter and procrastination in their life?
A: I'm very much
interested in the meaning of home. What does home mean to people? In research,
I’ve found that the more the clutter, the lower the sense of satisfaction with
home. Extending that to procrastinators, people who are more indecisive hold
onto their things because they can't decide what to keep. I would suggest for
people to focus on relationships, not relics. Life is not about me, it's about
we. It's about us together.
Q: What are some
common myths around procrastination?
A: Here are three
I’ve found through my research:
- It’s a myth that today’s technology makes it so
much easier to procrastinate. There's always been technology — think how the
telephone helped ease the need for writing letters, cars helped replace the
horse and buggy, and the snooze button helped people delay getting out of bed.
All those technologies were developed in the 19th or 20th
centuries. Technology today doesn't make it easier to procrastinate, it's all
about how you use or don't use it.
- It’s a myth that our lives are busier today.
There are 168 hours in a week, and that hasn't changed since Egyptian times.
The question has never been "do you have more to do now than in
generations past?" The question is “how do you manage your life among the
168 hours?” That's why you don't manage time, you manage yourself. There's a
saying, "You can't control the wind, but you can adjust your sails."
- It’s a myth that people work best under
pressure. I did a study in 2001 where we put procrastinators under time
restraints and they did worse than non-procrastinators. They made more errors,
took longer, and scored worse. However, they felt like they did better. The
vast majority of times, waiting until the last minute doesn't work.
Ferrari’s most recent research findings on procrastination
and clutter appear in Current Psychology, Volume 37, Number 2, in three
- “Procrastinators and Clutter: An Ecological View
of Living with Excessive ‘Stuff’,” by Ferrari; Catherine A. Roster, University
of New Mexico; Kendall P. Crum and Matthew A. Pardo, DePaul University. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9682-9
- “Delaying Disposing: Examining the Relationship
between Procrastination and Clutter across Generations,” by Ferrari and
Catherine A. Roster, University of New Mexico. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9679-4
- “Decisional Procrastination: Assessing
Characterological and Contextual Variables around Indecision,” by Ferrari,
Kendall P. Crum and Matthew A. Pardo, DePaul University. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9681-x