The Real Reason You Can't Stand Clutter, Explained

Photo: Lumina

When I'm feeling crazy, I find that an organizational frenzy calms my mind. The more cluttered my mind, the more peace I feel when my environment is harmonious. I feel less stressed when I pick up, clean off, put away (neatly), and get rid of what's no longer necessary—in the trash, the recycling, or a donation box.

I recently went through my closet like a madwoman. I kept only what I really loved or needed, clearing the rest out. In the end, I got rid of at least 75 percent of my stuff. I felt relieved, oddly cleansed, and free…and a bit chagrined for collecting so much stuff in the first place.

What science says about clutter.

Clutter commands our senses—we can't help but see it, possibly trip over it, and not see what we're looking for. It creates distraction that draws us away from the tasks we want to complete, from focused contemplation, or creative inspiration.

Clutter is muddling. Like multitasking, it requires our attention, taking up precious space and energy in our brains. We become less focused and efficient and experience more stress.

Clutter is stressful.

The sensory impact of clutter drives stress (think overwhelm, anxiety, and higher cortisol levels) by overwhelming our senses, making us less useful for other tasks. It can create anxiety and confusion, causing us to lose things but, more importantly, lose our energy. Under a mountain of stuff, most people are less productive and creative. Plus, not cleaning or organizing—especially if you're a person who likes both of those—is like the opposite of self-care.

Here are five simple ways to deal with clutter in your home and workplace and to reduce stress. Tackle them one at a time or all at once; it's up to you:

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1. Review every object.

One room at a time, one space at a time, one drawer at a time—scrutinize every object. Do I need it? Do I love it? If the answers are "no," out it goes. On the spot: trash, recycling, donation box. Ignore sentimentality or worries about what it cost—only what you love and truly need gets to stay. The rest is distraction. Pass your unneeded stuff on to someone who can really use it.

2. Deal with unwanted gifts and family heirlooms.

Be honest with yourself about how you truly feel about them, despite the love with which they were offered or the value they were to your ancestors. In the end, they are just things. Extricate yourself from the worry—the assumption—of hurt feelings by those you love, dead or alive, and remove these items from your life if they aren't precious to you.

3. Tidy your workspace, too.

Find yourself unable to launch an important project? Look for clutter in your workspace (whether it's in your home or at an office). Spare papers, receipts, shopping bags, coffee mugs. How does it make you feel? Start there. Schedule decluttering time before all else. Clear it out, clean it, organize it. And don’t forget to declutter your calendar!

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4. Rearrange your stuff.

Sometimes it's the arrangement of stuff rather than the stuff itself. Can you make the room feel more open? Is there a place where you sit or stand that needs reconfiguring?

5. Consider color and texture.

These can be distractions as well if they're unpleasant or irritating. Which colors and textures help you feel calm, invigorated, happy? You can paint the whole room, though adding just a few small objects with colors that inspire you can make a world of difference in your frame of mind.

With these tips, you should regain your time, energy, and peace of mind.

Can clutter ever be a good thing? This feng shui expert says yes, which bodes well for our senior wellness editor, who recently confessed her decluttering regrets.

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