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What Icky Things Physical Clutter Can Do to Your Mind

The Connection Between Mental Health and Clutter

Acknowledging the fact that physical clutter can do some serious disruption to your physical health is step one. I have been preaching the importance of decluttering forever to anyone willing to listen. 

I’ve seen firsthand how physical clutter can wreak havoc on the mind and by extension, the body. People don’t always relate a cluttered home environment with negative emotions and stress levels.  

The good news is I have a simple process you can start today to rid yourself of this burden.

My definition of the word clutter is simple – clutter is anything that stands between you and your dreams and goals. When clutter stands in the way between you and the important things you wish to accomplish it is time to address the negative effects of clutter

Head clutter was was my obstacle. Troubleshooting and moving beyond head clutter was the thing that lead me to become an expert in this field. This was not easy and it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever achieved.

Clutter-free

When people think of clutter they generally think of a cluttered space with contents spilling out of overflowing closets and drawers. This is physical clutter.

If you want to achieve a clutter-free environment there are two ways to do this.

One way is to discard everything you view as clutter. When the clutter builds up again toss it again. Keep doing this on a regular basis.

The other way to achieve freedom from physical clutter is to learn why you have too much stuff and learn and practice habits that will change your action of bringing more stuff into your space.

First things first

Let’s talk about how visual clutter affects your ability to focus. When you’re in a messy home and surrounded by a sea of stuff, it’s hard to stay focused on any one thing. Your brain gets distracted by what I call a ‘visual explosion’.

Before you know it you’re off on a tangent thinking about that piles of papers on your desk, the laundry piling up, bills to be paid, kids need to be picked up etc instead of the task at hand. Worse yet you can’t stand looking at the clutter so you get up and go to the kitchen for a snack! 

Clutter causes stress

Here is a transcript of a discussion Joseph Ferrari, PhD, of DePaul University had about why clutter causes stress and solutions he and others are working on. 

Plain and simple. When you’re living in a cluttered environment, it’s like your brain is constantly under attack. Clutter causes stress. You’re constantly reminded of all the things you need to do, but can’t seem to get done. 

There are the clothes that need to be ironed (do people really still iron!) the stacks of dishes, the overflowing inbox – it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin! For many this signals snack or whine time. 

Clutter impacts our mood

But that’s not all. Did you know that too much clutter can also have a negative impact on your mood? And our mood has an impact on our levels of emotional health. Sadly this is true. Studies have shown that people who live in cluttered spaces are more likely to feel anxious and depressed than those who live in tidy environments. 

Let’s not forget about frustration. I hate the feeling of frustration! All frustration reminds me of road rage, a subject I am always on the watch for. The overall feeling of frustration and road rage is powerlessness. You can’t find your keys and you are 10 minutes late or the car in front of you abruptly slams on the brakes and makes a quick turn and you nearly miss hitting the car. Powerlessness. 

The best ways to to guard again powerlessness is to be prepared and organized. I put my keys in the same exact spot when I enter my home. There is never an exception to this rule. I do not want to have to search for my keys and run the risk of being late.

The connection between physical and mental clutter

There is a connection between physical clutter and mental clutter.

A cluttered physical environment can lead to feelings of overwhelm, stress, and anxiety, which in turn can contribute to mental clutter. I would find it impossible to relax surrounded by clutter. When I see piles of clutter I feel like I am listening to really loud music on a list I would not have chosen.

Decluttering with or without family members

Feelings of anxiety are unpleasant. There is a fix and many different ways to get to your goal of having less clutter in your home environment. 

Everyone’s circumstances are different. Some live alone, others have family members and house mates. Don’t let other people rain on your parade when you set out to declutter. 

It is not uncommon for one spouse to be dead set against decluttering their living space. What happens regularly, especially with older adults, is the spouse that refused to help declutter started quietly decluttering after seeing what a big difference a decluttered home is.

Get Rid of the clutter

So what’s the solution? It’s simple, really. Get rid of the clutter! Over in our Declutterbuzz Facebook group we did a 40 day challenge for Lent. Our goal was to declutter at least one item a day for the 40 days of Lent. We also wanted to donate as much as we could so others could benefit.

The results of that challenge were astonishing! In just 40 days people were seeing such a big difference in their physical space. Piles of clothes began to disappear and someone reported her allergic reactions to pet dander minimized because with less stuff around she could clean easier and did so more often.

Chain reaction when decluttering


Decluttering can set off a positive chain reaction like the example I just mentioned. I have see such positive effects in people’s lives from decluttering, including me!

Start small – tackle one object at a time that may be in your way or no longer serves you.  Don’t be afraid to let go of the things you don’t need or use anymore. 

Remember the 20/20 rule! If you can replace the object for under 20$ or remake it in less than 20 minutes get rid of it.

Habits

The people in the Declutter for Lent challenge are still decluttering one item a day because the habit became ingrained, people saw what great progress they were making and how relatively easy this method is.

Just do it

I know how overwhelming a long overdue task staring you in the face every day can feel. I can tell you unequivocally I usually spend far more time whining about having to do something, than actually the time it takes to do the darn task.

5 things to keep in mind

What do you wish to achieve? 

Keep your goal(s) simple. This will set you up for success. Is your goal to get rid of stress? Have more space? Having a clear and concise intention will make your goal doable. Write your goal down, make a plan. Schedule your plan.

What does mental clutter look like to you? 

Is it constant chatter in your head? Self deprecating thoughts? Overwhelming to-do list? Constant distractions? Write it down. What one little habit can you introduce to work at changing this?

Be mindful. 

Sometimes I just stop and breath. Big long breath in. Big long breath out. On my out breath I visualize breathing out all the yucky stress. On the in breath I visualize peace. Stress is going out. Peace is coming in. This small act energizes and refocuses me.

Decluttering is not a one time thing.

Decluttering requires maintenance unless of course you never bring another object into your home, which is pretty doubtful. To make clutter maintenance easy set up great organizational systems. Spend a few minutes a day or 10 minutes a week, a time frame that works for you. 

Do a quick scan in the rooms you are in to find where clutter is building. Clutter is insidious. It seems like one minute the space is bare and the next there are a bunch of new items leading to an overabundance of possessions again. 

How did this happen? It happens because there are no organizational systems set in place. Everything you own needs a dedicated place to live when not in use. 

An easy maintenance plan simply requires you go around and find the things that have not been returned to their rightful storage space, get rid of food that has gone by and almost empty containers of things, hang clothing in closets etc.

Be good to yourself! 

The clutter did not fill up your space and head overnight. It will take time to sort through this process. Applaud yourself for taking the first step! How to be good to yourself? 

Set up a reward system, like we give kids sticky gold stars! My go to reward is taking the pups for a walk down the beach to play! It feels so freeing to have finished the dreaded task and get out in the fresh air with my puppies. Watch for the lightness you will feel when you start discarding some of your old unwanted things.

Visual Explosion or Peace?

I opt for peace above all. I am type A over active person and can get caught up with ‘too much’ stuff going on. I need to unplug for a few minutes a day and walk.  Long ago I made the connection some of my best ideas and design ideas come to me when I am unplugged and walking by the sea or in the woods. 

I love this feeling and no matter how busy I am finding time to unplug and be outdoors for a few minutes is very important to me.

If you can identify with feeling constantly stressed out like I was, keep in mind, the stress caused significant damage to my immune system. I talk about the connection between mental health and clutter hoping I can help other people avoid the unpleasantness of a compromised immune system.

I feel grateful too, because I have learned that stress can do some pretty horrendous things to our bodies, and I have escaped some of these things.

Read my 7 step guide to ease your decluttering journey.

By approaching decluttering as a holistic process that addresses both physical and mental clutter, you can create a more peaceful, fulfilling and productive daily life. If I can do this anyone can!

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