Clutter—physical, mental, or digital—is detrimental to health in so many ways. Collecting things is completely normal, but holding on to stuff from the past that no longer benefit you may be causing more harm than you realize.
A study at the Yale School of Medicine actually supports the thought that coming to terms with letting go of such material (or even digital) clutter hurts your brain. Researchers found two areas in the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex and insula, respond when a person tries to let go of things they own, especially things they feel a connection to. The study helps explain why letting go can be difficult.
Even though it may be difficult to let go and declutter, it can be beneficial to do so. Excess things in a person’s surroundings affect the ability to focus, as neuroscientists at Princeton University found. Additionally, researchers at UCLA discovered how a mother’s stress hormones spike when they spend time dealing with clutter at home.
Declutter Your Things, Declutter Your Life
Getting rid of the clutter at home or at the office can sometimes be challenging. However, one of the most important things people forget to associate it with is happiness. Overcoming this is one of the most vital obstacles to a person’s wellbeing, but it’s never too late to start today. Here are a few reasons to do it:
1. Clutter Hampers Your Home Life
Living in a space that isn’t pleasing to the eye makes a person feel like they are not at home at all – a place that should be a sanctuary from the outside world, a place to feel proud of, and a place to call your own. A University of New Mexico Study suggests having too many things, especially in a small place, leads the mind into thinking the home is enemy territory.
2. Clutter Leads to Unhealthy Eating Habits
A 2017 Australian-US Cornell University study revealed how people tend to snack more if the environment they are in when they are offered food is messy or stressful – people reach for snacks and sweets when they feel they have no control.
3. Clutter Is Detrimental to Mental Health
A 2017 University of South Carolina study found that stress in the workplace often stems from workplace dissatisfaction – a comfortable environment is vital to proper mental hygiene. Additional research points to when employees have the freedom to personalize their surroundings and they end up with a cluttered workspace, their work productivity goes down. Another study from 2009 published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that homeowners of cluttered spaces often feel depressed, especially if their visitors comment about the mess.
4. Clutter Causes Inefficient, Distracted Thinking
On the subject of mental clutter, researcher Lynn Hasher of the University of Toronto proposed how mental clutter causes age-related memory loss. When a person cannot sift through mental “material” interfering with the neural networks, they have trouble dealing with short-term memory tasks including remembering names of people.
It even affects visual processing. Based on a 2016 study from Cornell University, researchers discovered that when watching a movie, viewers find it difficult to understand and interpret characters’ emotional expressions when the background of the scene is cluttered. This is similar to the findings in a 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, where researchers concluded too many stimuli makes it difficult for a person to focus.
If having too much and very unorganized stuff makes you feel drained, there are many ways to balance things out. “If you have so much stuff it drags you into the past or pulls you into the future, you can’t live in the present,” said Peter Walsh, an organizational expert and former host of Clean Sweep.
Tip 1: Prep and Get Help
It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed, and it’s also fine to ask for help. There are professional organizers who do this for a living, but there are also plenty of available books on the subject. Ask a trusted friend or family member to help you out to make things easier, not only can they help clear the clutter but they can also provide emotional support.
Here are a few of our favorite books to get things rolling:
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
- Mind Over Mood, Second Edition: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger
- Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee
- The Complete Book of Home Organization by Toni Hammersley
Tip 2: Start Small
Often, decluttering comes with a bit of anxiety. Try to start small – declutter in short bouts of time if that works. Maybe start cleaning a relatively small area like your fridge, or start in one room for about 15 minutes a day (or once a week, whichever works).
Tip 3: Experiment and Imagine
Not every cleaning and organization method works with everybody. Here are just a few ideas to try:
- Give away one item a day. This allows you to reduce the clutter one day and one item at a time.
- Try Oprah’s Closet Hanger Experiment. Hang all clothes with hangers in the opposite direction. If you wear an item, return to the closet with the hanger facing the correct direction. If after six months, the clothes on the hangers are still in the opposite direction, discard them.
- Try the 12-12-12 challenge. Find 12 items to throw away, donate, and keep (make sure to return them to their proper storage spaces). It’s a quick way to organize 36 things at a time.
- Similarly, try the 4-Box Method. When decluttering a room, toss things in a box for trash, to give away, to keep, and to relocate.
Remember, you don’t have to do an entire overhaul in just one day. Start small and work from there.