Clutter stresses me out. If I walk into a room and there’s stuff lying around everywhere, I instantly feel claustrophobic and start getting panicky. It might sound crazy, but uneasiness in the face of chaos — even if it’s only a few random socks on the bed, or some open mail on the dining room table — is a real thing. If you can relate, here’s some background on the connection between clutter and stress, and some tips on how to get rid of both!
By now, we are all familiar with the verb, ‘Kondo-ing.’ If not, it comes from the author of what has now become a lifestyle, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, (Buy from Amazon, $8.58) by Marie Kondo. Basically, Kondo-ing uses something called the Kon Mari method, which is made up of six simple rules for tidying up. But sometimes, it takes understanding why something happens to fix it. External clutter and internal stress have a scientifically-proven connection. Clutter feeds into stress, and if we are stressed, we are likely to create clutter. It’s a cycle, and it stinks.
How does clutter cause stress?
Gretchen Rubin, author of the wildly popular New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project, (Buy from Amazon, $11.19) said that “outer order contributes to inner calm.” My personal clean to clutter pattern is gradual. One morning, I’ll look around at my home office and there are notebooks and library books and papers piled up on the little sofa next to my desk. My desk is now a resting place for pens, markers, random sticky notes, and even the coffee mug from yesterday’s morning latte. According to previous studies, there’s a valid connection between a cluttered outer environment and a stressed and scattered inner one. But which comes first, the clutter or the stress?
In 2010, The Center on Everyday Lives of Families at UCLA published a study conducted by a professor and post-doc researcher that proved two important things: The first was the link between high levels of cortisol — otherwise known as the ‘stress hormone’ — and a high density of objects in the home. The second was a correlation between lower moods and self-esteem levels and clutter. Those who perceived their houses as messy were recorded as having more feelings of emotions like guilt and shame. The upshot? Mess is stress. So what are we to do?
How Decluttering Helps Mental Health
I’m sure I’m not alone in the fact that as I approach the middle of my fourth decade on earth, my possessions seem only to be growing in number. And as we know, the more ‘stuff’ we have, the more clutter we end up with, no matter how cleverly we store it. By the time clutter starts to feel overwhelming, I’m more apt to throw up my hands than get to work. So what are the best ways to tidy and declutter?
- Start small. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and you owe it to yourself to declutter thoughtfully and gradually. Sentimental items are tough to part with, but first we need to determine what will always matter, and what is just junk. Go category at a time instead of by room. Clear out items such as clothes, books, and paper. Take it in five minute chunks to begin.
- Begin with no-brainers. Start getting rid of the easy stuff first. Broken things that can’t be fixed, clothes you haven’t worn in a year (or three!). Doing this first will give you a sense of accomplishment that will compel you to continue your decluttering journey!
- Keep, Remove, and Relocate. Separate clutter into these three categories. Even if you’re taking it room by room, this method helps to cut through the hesitation we all have when ridding ourselves of things we thought we’d need forever.
- Toss your perfectionism and judgment. Get rid of those things before you start decluttering. They will only hinder your progress. Be kind to yourself as you move through the process.
- Phone a friend. Ask for help if you need it! A friend can sometimes provide objective opinions on things like clothing if you feel overwhelmed by the decisions. Friends can also help us stay on task.
Be Patient With Yourself
Most of all, be patient with the process. It doesn’t have to be difficult or strenuous, and it can even be fun. Remember that decluttering your space will enhance not just your productivity, but your well-being. Ask yourself, ‘Do I use this?’ ‘Do I love this?’ If the answer to either question is yes, hold onto it. You can always throw it out or donate it later. No pressure, no stress, and much less clutter. I began this process a month ago with my wardrobe, and although I still have to tackle my workspace, I feel a lot less overwhelmed.
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This article originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.