Decluttering seems to be fashionable these days, especially for people who are sheltering in place because of the you-know-what-virus. When I get around to it, decluttering does wonders for my life, leaving room for more important things. Unfortunately, clutter afflicts many of us, and it’s making us miserable.
The average household in the U.S. holds over 300,000 items . Many of the things we amass in our homes end up getting in the way and taking up valuable space. Over time, excess clutter takes its physical and mental toll.
Do you suspect that clutter is making you miserable? Here’s how to know for sure and what to do about it.
A Vicious Cycle
What does clutter have to do with how you feel? Well, it creates a vicious cycle . When we’re depressed or anxious, we let things go, and then clutter builds up. Clutter makes us feel guilty, depressed, and anxious. When we feel this way, the last thing we want to do is clean. As the clutter gathers, we feel increasingly worse about ourselves and our living situation.
This vicious cycle is like water in a slow-boiling pot. We don’t realize it when it’s happening. Over time, however, the mess eventually evolves into chaos and gets out of control. But you still might not understand what this vicious cycle looks and feels like.
Extra things around the house constitute added stimuli for our senses—visually, through touch, and even smell and taste. Excess clutter means overstimulation, which causes our senses to work overtime to take in the things lying around. This can be mentally exhausting.
Lack of Focus
The overstimulation from clutter can make you feel unfocused. When all these visual stimuli are vying for your attention, it’s hard to focus on what’s important. Some people swear up and down that a cluttered desk is a sign of intelligence. However, smarts are overrated if you can’t focus on one thing long enough to get it done or do it well.
I often feel frustrated when I can’t find something I need, such as keys, phone, glasses. They usually get lost in the clutter. There might be a link between frustration and the tendency to be messy. Furthermore, clutter-related frustration tends to increase with age . Among older adults, clutter problems might be connected to life dissatisfaction.
Stress and Anxiety
It’s much more difficult for me to relax when there’s stuff piled up; it reminds me of the cleaning and picking up I’m not doing. People who have cluttered homes tend to have heightened levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Too much cortisol puts us in a fight-or-flight response, which is exhausting and contributes to unwanted weight gain.
Guilt and Embarrassment
For the first six months of dating my boyfriend, we never hung out at my place. He never brought it, but I knew why I never had him over. My home was a wreck, and I was too embarrassed for him to see it.
Clutter conjures up some awful emotions, including guilt. Also, the embarrassment of clutter makes us feel isolated because we don’t want anyone to see it. These negative feelings can spiral into thoughts: “I’m such a slob. I can’t have anyone over. I’m so unorganized!”
Clutter can inhibit productivity, leaving one feeling sluggish and inactive. When there’s a mess on my desk, I’m less able to brainstorm or think. I’m not alone in feeling the clutter funk. Clutter can result in financial loss. For instance, cluttered workspaces can cause a company to lose the monetary equivalent of 10 percent of a manager’s salary.
Eliminate Your Misery
Clutter can take its physical, mental, and financial toll. But we can do something about our clutter funk. Yes, it actually requires getting off the couch. But instead of pouting and feeling like I’m asking you to clean your room, just try one of these suggestions:
The More the Merrier
Who says you have to declutter alone? If you have family or at least one roommate around, get them involved in the pick-up. It doesn’t have to be the whole house. Just start with the room that everyone uses the most. When you finish, you can stop there for the day or keep going. Either way, it’ll feel like a small win.
Everything in Its Place
Clutter happens because the stuff we leave out doesn’t have a designated spot. Take a few minutes and focus attention on one pile. Assign a box, drawer, or surface where each item in that pile needs to go–permanently. It’s best to have “closed” or “out-of-sight” spots like drawers and cabinets, so you reduce the amount of stuff that’s in plain sight.
Get Rid of It
If you don’t use it, toss it or give it away. You know that sandwich holder you bought on Amazon that you haven’t used in 6 months? Gone. But you might ask, “What if I throw it out and all of a sudden I need it because I’m now eating more sack lunches?” Just go to that cabinet with all the recycled plastic containers and use one of those. If you forget it’s there and it has only one use, get rid of it.
Avoid the Paper Pile-up
Be mindful of every piece of paper, you bring into the house. Junk mail can pile up quickly. Never toss aside a paper with the intent to deal with it later. On the spot, decide what you’ll do with it. Will you: throw it out, act on it, or tuck it away in a labeled folder for your records? Never toss it aside and tell yourself that you’ll deal with it later . . . because you won’t.
Clear Off the Workspace
Create an end-of-day ritual by clearing off your workspace. This can be especially effective if you work from home. After you’ve pulled out multiple things, like notepads, pens, paper clips, etc., to do your work, now’s the time to put it all back. It’ll only take a few minutes, and you’ll return to a cleaner, less chaotic work area the next day.
Have Fun with It
Yeah, right. I’m sure your mom tried to fool you into cleaning your room by saying, “It’ll be fun!” Mine knew better. At least take the sting out of cleaning up by putting on some lively music. Maybe have the TV on in the background. I like to put in my AirPods and listen to Ear Hustle, one of my favorite podcasts. Or try an old classic (I get a kick out of the corner-cutting squirrels.):
Decluttering should be a lifelong habit, not just the latest lifestyle fad. A few minutes a day can make a difference in removing the harmful effects of clutter in your home or workspace. See which of these strategies works for you. If you have another suggestion, please leave a comment below.