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Delaying Disposing: Examining the Relationship between Procrastination and Clutter across Generations

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Abstract We explored how two types of procrastination (indecision and behavioral), contribute to problems with clutter across three adult U.S. samples differing as generational cohorts. An online survey was administered to college students (mean age = 21) and younger adults recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk; mean age = 31), plus older adults recruited with help from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (mean age = 54) (http://challenging disorganization.org). Hierarchical linear regression revealed that behavioral procrastination contributed significantly to an increasingly larger percentage of explained variance in clutter problems across the generational cohorts in a series of separate analyses. The addition of indecision as a variable led to a significant incremental increase in explained variance for the younger and older adult samples, but not for the student sample. Clutter problems led to a significant decrease in satisfaction with life among older adults. Findings suggest that general procrastination tendencies may enable a lifelong pattern of responses to one’s environment that become increasingly maladaptive throughout the life cycle - simultaneously delaying disposal decisions.
1 23
Current Psychology
A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on
Diverse Psychological Issues
ISSN 1046-1310
Curr Psychol
DOI 10.1007/s12144-017-9679-4
Delaying Disposing: Examining the
Relationship between Procrastination and
Clutter across Generations
Joseph R.Ferrari & Catherine A.Roster
1 23
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Delaying Disposing: Examining the Relationship
between Procrastination and Clutter across Generations
Joseph R. Ferrari
1
&Catherine A. Roster
2
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017
Abstract We explored how two types of procrastination (in-
decision and behavioral), contribute to problems with clutter
across three adult U.S. samples differing as generational co-
horts. An online survey was administered to college students
(mean age = 21) and younger adults recruited using Amazons
Mechanical Turk (MTurk; mean age = 31), plus older adults
recruited with help from the Institute for Challenging
Disorganization (mean age = 54) (http://challenging
disorganization.org). Hierarchical linear regression revealed
that behavioral procrastination contributed significantly to an
increasingly larger percentage of explained variance in clutter
problems across the generational cohorts in a series of separate
analyses. The addition of indecision as a variable led to a
significant incremental increase in explained variance for the
younger and older adult samples, but not for the student
sample. Clutter problems led to a significant decrease in
satisfaction with life among older adults. Findings suggest
that general procrastination tendencies may enable a lifelong
pattern of responses to ones environment that become
increasingly maladaptive throughout the life cycle - simulta-
neously delaying disposal decisions.
Keywords Procrastination .Clutter .Indecision .
Disposition .Well - b eing
Procrastination, or the voluntary delay of an intended course of
action despite negative consequences (Ferrari 1998,2010;
Ferrari and Tibbett 2017), is a problematic behavior that leads
to dysfunctional ways of being, and consequently, reduced qual-
ity of life. A large body of research examined academic procras-
tinations detrimental effects using student populations. Studies
with student populations have shown that academic procrastina-
tion (a situational tendency to delay academic-related behaviors)
is related to poor academic performance (e.g., Ferrari et al.
1995), greater engagement in avoidance behaviors that under-
mine academic goals (e.g., Pychyl et al. 2000), higher stress and
anxiety levels (e.g., Rothblum et al. 1986; Tice and Baumeister
1997), and lower self-efficacy (e.g., Ferrari 2010; Wolters 2003).
Alternatively, a body of literature exists examining the causes
and consequences of chronic procrastination, the negative life-
style crossing life-domains outside of academia and among non-
academic populations (i.e., older adults; see Ferrari and Tibbett
2017). Chronic procrastination affects between 20 and 25 per-
cent of adults, from western and non-western cultures (Ferrari
2010). However, there are untapped opportunities to explore
how chronic tendencies toward delaying and avoiding unpleas-
ant tasks (such as de-cluttering ones possessions) might culmi-
nate over the life cycle, creating dysfunctional circumstances
threatening ones well- being.
The present study examined how chronic procrastination
may lead to clutter, which has been defined as Ban overabun-
dance of possessions that create chaotic and disorderly living
spaces^(Roster et al. 2016). Procrastination and clutter are
remarkably common problem for many people. Virtually all
adults have spaces in their homes filled with unused, unwant-
ed, or neglected possessions waiting for the possessor to find
Portions of this paper were presented at the 10th Biennial Meeting on the
Study of Procrastination, July 13 and 14, 2017, Chicago, IL.
*Catherine A. Roster
roster@unm.edu
Joseph R. Ferrari
jferrari@depaul.edu
1
DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA
2
University of New Mexico, Anderson School of Management, 1924
Las Lomas NE, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
Curr Psychol
DOI 10.1007/s12144-017-9679-4
Author's personal copy
an opportune time to take action, whether that action is to keep,
sell, donate, give-away or dispose of those objects (Belk et al.
2007; Hirschman et al. 2012;Jacobyetal.1977). Disposition
of possessions can be an unpleasant task, one that if left undone
can create a distressing amount of clutter. Research has shown
that people avoid disposal decisions for many reasons, includ-
ing a desire to avoid wastefulness (Haws et al. 2012)andloss
of self-identity associated with disposal of possessions harbor-
ing close personal meanings or attachments (Frost et al. 2007;
Roster 2001; Young and Wallendorf 1989). Even disposal con-
templations that involve seemingly ordinary, mundane posses-
sions can induce feelings of uncertainty and ambivalence
(Kleine et al. 1995). As adults age, they typically amass more
possessions, making clutter more problematic for individuals
who dont routinely take time to purge.
Some degree of procrastination and clutter is adults of all ages.
It is only when these behaviors become chronic and extreme that
they begin to suggest an underlying pathological disorder, such
as compulsive indecisiveness (Frost and Shows 1993)orhoard-
ing disorder (Frost and Hartl 1996; Frost et al. 2012). Both
chronic procrastination and clutter by the individual or others
their life sphere might seem just an innocuous Bbad habit,^until
the consequences of inaction begin to disrupt a persons quality
of life and well-being. Therefore, it appears useful to examine the
nature and trajectory of the relationship between procrastination
and clutter among adults at different stages of life.
The Present Study
A few studies linked indecisiveness (i.e., decisional procrasti-
nation) and behavioral (i.e., neglect in everyday routines and
obligations; see Tibbett and Ferrari 2015) procrastination ten-
dencies to OCD and hoarding behaviors (e.g., Ferrari and
McCown 1994; Frost and Shows 1993). However, previous
research has yet to explore how different forms of
procrastinatory behavior may contribute to clutter problems
across a lifetime. The present study explored how two every-
day types of procrastination (indecisional and behavioral),
contribute to problems with clutter using three adult U.S. sam-
ples representing different generational cohorts. Decisional
procrastination is defined as a maladaptive tendency to post-
pone decisions when faced with conflicts or choices (Ferrari
and Dovidio 2001; Tibbett and Ferrari 2015). Because dispos-
al decisions can be stressful, especially for individuals who
form close attachments to their possessions (Roster 2015),
indecisives may avoid disposition tasks because they are
afraid of making the wrong decision or regretting their actions
later. On the other hand, individuals who chronically put off
organizing and purging tasks may find that their failure to do
has created a situation so out of control that they cannot bear
the time and effort needed to start the process. We predicted
that both forms of procrastination would account for some
variance in the extent to which clutter posed negative conse-
quences for a persons life, but not necessarily in equal degrees
across the various age cohorts. Prior research has shown that
both the quantity and nature of possession-self meanings can
change over the life span (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-
Halton 1981; Kamptner 1991; Karanika and Hogg 2013),
which may influence the need to engage in disposition prac-
tices on a routine basis as well as the emotional intensity and
sources of conflict associated with disposal decisions.
Method
Procedure and Samples
The present study explored the relationship between types of
procrastination and clutter using three different adult U.S.
samples selected to represent different generational cohorts.
Hereafter, we refer to these separate samples as BCollege
Students,^BYo u n g e r Adu l t s , ^and BOlder Adults.^The data
collection method for all three samples was a Qualtrics
Internet survey that utilized common measures for the key
study variables. Participants for all three samples were recruit-
ed using convenience sampling that employed different re-
cruitment methods. IRB approval was obtained prior to
conducting studies for each round of data collection.
Participants
College Student Sample A total of 60 students who complet-
ed all measures was drawn from a larger pool of 346 students
responding to different online surveys that included procrasti-
nation, relationships with possessions, and clutter. All students
were enrolled in psychology courses at a private mid-western
university and received course credits for their participation.
Seventy-five percent were female. The average age was
21 years (SD = 2.90). Most students were in their second or
third year of schooling (54%). The majority were Caucasian
(57%), 15% were Hispanic/Latino, 12% were Black, 8% were
Asian/Pacific Islander, and 8% reported Bmixed/other.^
Younger Adults Sample We also recruited from Amazon
Mechanical Turk (n= 197) and compensated monetarily for
their participation. Eligibility was based on age (between ages
18 and 44) and resident of the U.S., with the average reported
age being 31 years (SD = 6.28). Gender was 46% female and
54% male. Most were Caucasian (79%), 8% were Black, 6%
were Asian/Pacific Islander, and the remaining 7% reported
Bother.^Forty-eight percent were single, 34% were married,
15% were partnered/cohabitating, and 3% reported Bdivorced/
separated.^The median income was $35,000 to $49,999.
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Older Adults Sample Participants in this group (n= 1393)
wererecruitedwithhelpfromtheInstitutionforChallenging
Disorganization (ICD) as part of a larger study on home environ-
ments and clutter. ICD is a non-profit organization whose mis-
sion is to benefit people challenged by chronic disorganization by
offering education, research, and strategies for overcoming dis-
organization challenges (see http://challengingdisorganization.
org). ICD posted an invitation with a link to our survey on
their home webpage. Eligibility included adults age 18 or over
who lived in the United States. The mean age was 54 years old
(SD = 11.28), with a range of 21 to 84 years. Most were female
(94%). As for ethnicity, the majority (88%) were Caucasian, 6%
were Black, Asian, or Hispanic, and the remaining 6% reported
Bother.^Fifty-eight percent were married, 16% were single, and
15% were divorced/separated. The median income was $50,000
to $74,999.
Procedure
After viewing the consent form, consenting respondents an-
swered the eligibility questions (i.e., age and country of resi-
dency, for Younger and Older adult samples). Each of the
substantive study measures were presented in separate blocks.
Blocks were randomized in appearance to avoid order effects.
The survey concluded with the demographic questions.
Psychometric Measures
Two scales were used to measure different forms of everyday
procrastination (see Ferrari et al. 1995 for the actual items).
Decisional Procrastination (DP) was measured using the 5-
item scale developed by Mann (1982). Each of the five items
in the scale was measured on a 5-point scale ranging from
1=Bnot true for me^to 5 = Btrue for me.^The 15-item
Adult Inventory of Procrastination (AIP) scale (by McCown
and Johnson 1989; found in Ferrari et al. 1995) measured
everyday procrastination related to routine tasks and obliga-
tions. Items in this scale were measured on a Likert scale
where 1 = Bstrongly disagree^and 5 = Bstrongly agree.^
The negative impact on clutter on an individualslifewas
measured using the Clutter Quality of Life Scale (CQLS)de-
veloped by ICD, which was designed to measure the degree to
which clutter creates negative consequences for a personslife
and well-being (found in Roster et al. 2016). The unidimen-
sional scale contains 11 items that assess cluttersimpacton
various aspects of well-being, including emotional, social, and
livability of home spaces. Items were measured on a Likert
scale ranging from 1 = Bstrongly disagree^to 7 = Bstrongly
agree.^To measure overall life satisfaction, we used Diener
et al. (1985)Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS), which con-
tains five items. Items were measured on a 7-pt. Likert scale
ranging from 1 = Bstrongly disagree^to 7 = Bstrongly agree.^
Results
Preliminary Analyses
Descriptive statistics for all four study variables of interest
across the three samples are provided in Table 1. Table 2pro-
vides Pearsonsrcorrelations for all study variables across the
three samples. Some observations can be drawn from these
preliminary analyses:First, the descriptive meansillustrated in
Table 1show that, relatively across the three samples, self-
reported problems with clutter (CQLS)tendtoincreasewith
age. The mean increase is most dramatic for the older adult
sample, which we attribute at least partially to our recruitment
methods, as this sample was recruited on a webpage for adults
seeking help with clutter problems. Nevertheless, means for
our measure of problems with clutter (i.e., CQLS) trend up-
ward across the generational cohorts. Table 2, the correlation
analysis of variables across samples, reveals that the strength
of the relationship between DP and AIP increases with age, as
do their significant association with clutter problems.
However, the relationship between clutter issues and overall
satisfaction with life (i.e., SWLS) was not significant except
for our older adult sample.
Impact of Procrastination on Clutter Problems
The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of two
everyday forms of procrastination on negative life
Tabl e 1 Descriptive statistics for scaled variables, all samples
Scaled Variables MSDRange (possible)
Min. Max.
College Students (n=60)
AIP 36.93 10.32 15(15) 60(75)
DIP 14.02 4.72 5(5) 25(25)
CQLS 25.74 14.37 11(11) 62(77)
SWLS 23.69 5.16 7(7) 35(35)
Younger Adults (n=197)
AIP 37.87 16.53 15(15) 64(75)
DP 12.61 4.98 5(5) 25(25)
CQLS 37.87 16.53 11(11) 77(77)
SWLS 22.12 7.98 7(7) 35(35)
Older Adults (n= 1393)
AIP 41.02 12.22 15(15) 75(75)
DIP 13.74 4.75 5(5) 25(25)
CQLS 50.28 20.19 11(11) 77(77)
SWLS 20.74 7.80 7(7) 35(35)
AIP Adult Inventory Procrastination scale, DIP Decisional
Procrastination scale, CQLS Clutter Quality of Life scale, SWLS
Satisfaction with Life scale
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consequences arising from clutter. Hierarchical linear regres-
sion (see Table 3) was used to determine the strength of the
procrastination variables in predicting clutter problems for
each generational cohort, in separate analyses.
In step one, we entered the scores for AIP, everyday routine
procrastination for routines and life tasks. In step two, we
added DP, decisional procrastination, to the model. For each
model within the samples, we examined the increase in R
2
(amount of additional variance accounted for) and its associ-
ated Ftest to test for significant improvement in the model.
Results appear in Table 3.
At the first step, the overall model indicated that AIP ex-
plained a significant percentage of variance in clutter prob-
lems across all three samples; College Students (R
2
=.11),F
(1,59) = 6.92, p.01), Younger Adults (R
2
= .20), F
(1196) = 48.34, p< .001), and Older Adults (R
2
= .54), F
(1,1392) = 570.88, p< .001). The percentage of variance in
clutter problems accounted for by AIP also increased across
the age cohorts. At the second step, the incremental increase in
explained variance from adding DP to the model was signif-
icant for both Younger and Older Adults; Younger Adults
(incremental R
2
=.03),Fchange (1195) = 6.67, p.01) and
Older Adults (incremental R
2
= .07), Fchange
(1,1391) = 150.99, p< .001). The step two overall model
was not, however, significant for the College Sample (incre-
mental R
2
= .006), Fchange (1,58) = 0.40, p= .53). An
examination of standardized betas for step 2 shows that the
separate influence of DP on clutter increased across the age
cohorts, significantly so for younger and older adults, and
became nearly equal with the influence of AIP on clutter prob-
lems in the Older Adult sample.
Discussion
We regard these results as Bexploratory^and acknowledge
limitations that may have impacted the findings we obtained
from the data. Foremost among these is that our data was not
longitudinal, and instead represented a cross-sectional exami-
nation of procrastination and clutter across age cohorts obtain-
ed using different sampling methods. Our convenience-based
sampling methods rendered samples that were not necessary
comparable, nor representative of their respective generational
cohorts. Two of our samples, the College Sample and the
Older Adults Sample were primarily female, therefore, the
influence of gender or other cohort-related personal factors
on procrastination and clutter issues remains a topic for future
research. We utilized a sample purchased from Amazon
Mechanical Turk (i.e., MTurk) to collect data from Younger
Adults. This sample was more equally balanced in terms of
gender. While MTurk samples cannot be regarded as repre-
sentative of adults within the general U.S. population, con-
sumer research has recently witnessed a shift to the use of
MTurk samples as opposed to college student samples for
studies involving adult decision behaviors, citing support that
Tabl e 3 Hierarchical multiple linear regression models for predicting
clutter with procrastination variables, all samples
Predictor variable R
2
ΔR
2
(p)βtp
College Students (n=60)
Step 1 10.5%
AIP .32 2.63 .01
Step 2 11.1% .53
AIP .31 2.36 .02
DP .08 .63 .53
Younger Adults (n=197)
Step 1 19.8%
AIP .45 6.95 <.001
Step 2 22.4% .01
AIP .32 4.03 <.001
DP .21 2.58 .01
Older Adults (n= 1393)
Step 1 29.1%
AIP .54 23.89 <.001
Step 2 36.0% <.001
AIP .34 12.49 <.001
DP .33 12.29 <.001
AIP Adult Inventory Procrastination scale, DIP Decisional
Procrastination scale, CQLS Clutter Quality of Life scale, SWLS
Satisfaction with Life scale
Tabl e 2 Correlation matrix for study variables, all samples
Variables1234
College Students (n=60)
1. AIP
2. DP .27*
3. CQLS .32* .16
4. SWLS .09 .13 .01
Younger Adults (n=197)
1. AIP
2. DP .61**
3. CQLS .45** .45**
4. SWLS .24** .25** .07
Older Adults (n= 1393)
1. AIP
2. DP .61**
3. CQLS .54** .54**
4. SWLS .35** .38** .50**
AIP Adult Inventory Procrastination scale, DIP Decisional
Procrastination scale, CQLS Clutter Quality of Life scale, SWLS
Satisfaction with Life scale
*p<.05**p<.01
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they are less idiosyncratic than student populations and can,
provided the researcher exercises appropriate targeting
criteria, validly represent their target populations and produce
generalizable findings (e.g., Goodman and Paolacci 2017).
Last, we acknowledge that recruiting participants for our
Older Adults Sample from ICDs webpage likely garnered a
sample that overrepresented those in this age cohort with clut-
ter problems. However, this sampling procedure allowed us to
expose more fully the effect of different types of procrastina-
tion on clutter problems among this hard to reach population.
Despite these limitations, this study offers important con-
tributions to the procrastination literature and methodology
and presents clear avenues for future research in this area.
Theoretically, this study contributes to Klingsiecks(2013)
call for more research to differentiate procrastinationscharac-
teristics in various life-domains other than academia. While
both types of procrastination examined here fall within the life
domain of Beveryday adult tasks and routines,^our findings
suggest that these forms of procrastination may exert differ-
ential influences across the life span, at least in terms of the
particular negative life consequence we investigated, that be-
ing the negative impact of clutter on a personswell-being.
Thus, this study contributes to a growing body of literature
that examines how particular types of procrastination can dif-
ferentially impact negative consequences under different con-
texts and circumstances. Overall, our 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. Clutter, while often regarded as a seemingly in-
nocuous and common problem among adults, can esca-
late as people accumulate more possessions, and fail to
routinely review their burgeoning inventories. At the
extreme, clutter can reduce a persons general satisfac-
tion with life, as evidenced among our Older Adult
sample with clutter problems.
From a methodological perspective, our study demonstrat-
ed the usefulness and validity of measuring decisional pro-
crastination (DP) in varied non-college adult samples
(Ferrari et al. 1995). There are a number of contexts in which
procrastination involving decisions as a special form of pro-
crastination revealing insights not captured by typical general
procrastination measures. Our results suggest that DP might
exert unique influence on negative consequences of procras-
tination, especially in contexts wherein choices becomes more
emotionally challenging and complex. The AIP scale mea-
sured procrastination in non-college samples (Ferrari 2010).
Our results demonstrate that everyday procrastination as mea-
sured by the AIP scale produced insightful and differential
results from other measures of procrastination in both college
and non-college samples. Findings from this study suggest
that general procrastination tendencies may enable a lifelong
pattern of responses to ones environment that become
increasingly maladaptive as circumstances change and pres-
sures to act mount.
Last, our results are consistent with the few extant studies
that have examined the relationship between indecision, pro-
crastination, and hoarding tendencies (e.g., Ferrari and
McCown 1994; Frost and Shows 1993). However, our study
suggests that there is a relationshipbetween everyday forms of
procrastination and everyday clutter among non-clinical pop-
ulations that might escalate as one ages, resulting in not-so-
everyday forms of distress and consequences for a persons
well-being. Future research should explore how other distinct
forms of procrastination may contribute to clutter problems in
conjunction with everyday forms of task delays, and how
these different types of procrastination manifest themselves,
and under what circumstances, throughout the life span.
Future research also is needed to examine how socio-
economic factors, gender, ethnicity, and personal values such
as materialism impact the relationship between clutter and
procrastination tendencies.
Conclusion
Procrastination is more than a bad habit or being lazy.
Chronic, pervasive procrastination is a maladaptive behavior
that if perpetuated across the life span, may lead to serious
negative consequences, depending on the behaviors or actions
the person chooses to continually relegate to the future. For
researchers to fully appreciate the maladaptive nature of pro-
crastination and its cumulative impact on an individualsl
ife,
it is necessary to clearly delineate the nature of both what and
why an individual chooses to delay.
Acknowledgements The authors thank the Institute for Challenging
Disorganization (ICD) for their assistance with data collection for the
older adult population in this study.
Funding This study was NOT funded by any grant.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Ethical Approval All procedures performed in studies involving hu-
man participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the
institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964
Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical
standards.
Informed Consent Informed consent was obtained from all individual
participants included in the study.
Conflict of Interest JR Ferrari declares that he has no conflict of inter-
est. C Roster declares that she has no conflict of interest.
Curr Psychol
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Curr Psychol
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