Clutter Hurts, Less Things Make You Better

Out of control clutter.

Clutter increases anxiety, anger, and depression. Studies prove stress spikes living in a messy environment. Reducing things increases happiness.

Life Is Already Stressful

A while ago, I was researching the effects of clutter and how it can affect your life. What I discovered surprised me. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), nearly 2/3rds of people are stressed at their jobs. Most working persons spend roughly 8 hours at their place of employment, not including another estimated 2 hours traveling from and to home. In total, we’re exposed to mental and physical strain approximately 10 + hours a day. 

And that’s just earning a living.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has found that over 35% of people experience anxiety in social settings. The American Psychiatric Association reinforced that study, discovering that about 2 out of 5 feel some stress and or fear around others.

It seems wherever we go, there’s some kind of emotional turmoil. 

Stress Doesn’t Like Us

Losing energy and the will to do anything.

If you do the math, the average person functions under stressful conditions 12 – 14 + hours a day. Constant duress has been shown to trigger a body chemical called cortisol. It’s responsible for keeping each of us in a state of alertness. Short bursts of energy (like adrenaline) are released to help you and I escape from attack or danger.

This isn’t a bad thing in small doses, but when the tension doesn’t stop, over a long enough time, cortisol can damage the body.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that stress affects the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, reproductive systems, and more. Neck pain, muscle strain, shortness of breath, rapid heart contractions, upset stomach, loss of energy, and poor sexual performance are some of the commonly linked effects of lingering cortisol. 

Most People Are Unhappy After 40

Unhappy after 40 years old.

As if stress wasn’t enough, the National Bureau of Economic Research issued a report revealing that people after 40 are universally unhappy. 

Age and how it affects our bodies is a significant contributing factor.  Best Life published the article, 40 Incredible Ways Your Body Changes After 40. It details hair loss, height shrinkage, worsening of sleep, digestion problems, drop in mental acuity, and loss of energy. 

Mental health is also affected as we grow older. Scientific American published an article describing how depression is a serious problem after 40. The finding was supported by a data study of more than 2 million people from over 80 nations. 

It also appears that stress, along with the affects of aging, may affect family life. Forbes cited a study explaining how 70 – 80% of Americans see their immediate families as dysfunctional.

Clutter Can Be What Pushes You Over The Edge

Dysfunctionality, mental illness, psychological pressure…and then there is clutter.

Clutter can become the “straw that breaks the camel’s back”. 

I’m not sure exactly where it came from, but it’s an idiom used for years. It describes how an everyday routine or simple action can spark this explosive, behavioral reaction. The idea is that the outburst is the result of smaller, deceptively unrelated, sequential events. 

Clutter Caused Me To Lose It

Stuck in traffic.

I go to work. On my way there, I sit in traffic longer due to a minor car accident. Eventually, I arrive at my job, but I’m 45 minutes late. My manager lectures me about how I should have left earlier. He reminds me that auto collisions are this thing that happens a lot. I should have anticipated the chances of one.  

Next, my calendar shows a number of meetings scheduled for the day. Because I’m late, it pushes what I need to do by an hour, if not more. This, of course, interferes with a lingering report due by the end of the week. I now have less time than originally thought to finish it. 

After rushing through the day, which indirectly affects my sales performance, I leave for home. I’m on the road later than normal and now stuck in congested traffic. While navigating through, I get a call from my roommate.  It’s my turn to grab dinner. 

As I drive, I order food using my phone’s assistant (hoping this will save me time). Finally out of gridlock, I arrive at the restaurant to pick up our meal. It’s crowded and takes longer to bring out the food. Once I have it, I try to pay for it, but there are problems with the cash register. It’s eventually fixed, dinner is paid in full and I make my way home.

Arriving at my house, I hand my roommate her food, only to hear a complaint about how late it is. I vainly explain why, getting a little agitated as I describe the earlier events. I then wonder if I should change my clothes, or eat first. I decide to wear something more comfortable. 

As I go to take off my clothes, I can’t find the sweatpants I like. During my search, I stumbled over towels left on the floor from this morning. Finding a different pair of sweats, but not my favorite, I put those on. There’s a noticeable hole on the left side. 

My phone suddenly rings. It’s my manager. One of my colleagues called out sick, and I’m told to come in to work early tomorrow. This means an hour of less sleep. 

I finally go to eat my food. Not only is it cold, but it’s also not what I ordered! In fact, it’s the kind of food I absolutely hate! That’s when I scream profanities and throw the plate into the trash (like an idiot). My roommate tells me to calm down. I yell more profanities and retreat to my bedroom.

My room is littered with papers on the night desk, piles of clothes I’ve been meaning to wash, console games out of order, loose coins on the carpet, shoes out of place, and a laptop somewhere. My head is pounding, I’m hungry but don’t feel like making anything, my heart is racing and all I want to do is end the day. 

Welcome to my straw.

Clutter Is Our Enemy

Clutter is like an enemy attacking you.

Maybe we’re all behaviorally fluid, but that’s a topic for another post.

If we are to believe the public record, history demonstrates that work related stress, aging, and dealing with other people has always been a thing. It’s most likely not going to change, or at least not any time soon. We might not be able to control the emotional and mental weight of the world, we can, however, have some influence over it.

I’m referring to clutter.

Back to the example above, yes, my day was pretty crappy. Sure, I could have potentially changed my attitude by will alone. However, when living through stress, with no adequate break, it’s tough to think clearly. When I did pull myself through, I came home to a place that didn’t make me feel any better.

Sure, stuff are just inert objects. Piled dishes, old newspapers, clothes hung over chairs, unmade beds, junk on the floor, and whatever else are not conscious (as far as we know). These items can’t choose to interfere in our lives, yet, what I owned caused me to stumble. 

In my mind, my things were indirectly mocking me. All I wanted to do was rest and recover from the day, but I couldn’t.

Clutter was interfering.

WebMD lists a study where participants experienced a cortisol increase while surrounded by excessive and disorderly things. Dr. Susanne Whitbourne in a Psychology Today article explains how clutter negatively affects mental health and eating habits.

Clutter can be toxic.

Your Home Should Support And Heal You

This is an inviting home to love and nourish you.

Our home should welcome and care for us. That feeling of being in your own, safe and peaceful world rebuilds a person. It strengthens and reminds us that while stress may roam outside, it doesn’t have to in here.

Most people have about 2-3 hours available before going to bed.  It’s during those evening and night hours, we should be recovering. By morning, we’re supposed to feel ready for the new day.

According to Dr. Michael Ungar’s article, The Psychological Benefits of Building A Home, shaping our immediate environment positively affects our mental health. A personalized and properly arranged home provides a sense of control and security. 

Dr. Alice Boyes‘ research has found that just decluttering our homes creates a sense of confidence, increases energy levels, reduces anxiety, improves mental acuity, and reduces relationship and family tension.

Decluttering Can Rejuvenate People Over 40

Rejuvenated and ready to be great again.

The process of decluttering goes beyond just organizing physical spaces; it extends to the emotional and mental, giving a profound sense of liberation, especially for those of us over 40. 

A clutter-free home reduces stress, while also acting as a cathartic experience to let go of items and sentiments that no longer serve a purpose. Often, this can reach beyond things and include outdated beliefs, unfulfilling relationships, self-imposed limitations and more.

Emotionally, decluttering can also bring about a sense of release, bordering on peace. The mental load associated with excess possessions and unresolved emotional baggage can be very burdensome. By systematically decluttering, we can release ourselves from the weight of the past, allowing for a renewed focus on the present and future.

Remove What You Haven’t Used In 2 Years To Declutter Fast

Things to start going through when decluttering.

There are many ways to start the decluttering process. Some suggest getting rid of whatever you haven’t used in a year or more. Others recommend eliminating anything that isn’t crucial for survival, almost starting over with little to nothing. Some have found that how you feel the moment you touch the object determines whether you keep it or not.

Here is what I did.

I wanted to improve how I felt quickly. The goal was to get as much open space as possible, but doing the entire home can be overwhelming.

Step 1: 

Decide Which Rooms To Start

The first room to begin decluttering.

I always recommend the bedroom, then the kitchen. Why? Those, in my experience, are the rooms usually where the most time is spent. The average person does about 7 – 10 hours in the bedroom and then 3 – 4 in the kitchen. 

Of course, you don’t have to do it this way. Start with wherever you find yourself hanging out most.

Step 2: 

Methodically Reduce And Release

Organizing and sorting things to get rid of.

Initially, I tossed or donated anything that didn’t fall under the Rule of 2. Haven’t used it in 2 years, it’s gone. Have 2 of them, one is out. Unsure about an item, if I can’t give 2 reasons why I have it, out it goes.

If for some reason I’m still hesitant about an object, I put it aside, but outside of the room I’m working on.

Step 3:

Hide The Remaining Items For Another Day

A door to a room where excess things can be stored temporarily.

Some might call this cheating. I do not. Letting go is a process. It’s easier for some than others. For now, don’t worry about.

The room you’re working on should be looking far more spacious. In the adjacent room or area to your working space, take those items and put them into closets, an unused space, or wherever they’ll be out of sight. 

Return to the room you were working in and congratulate yourself. You did it. You’re on your way to a much healthier, rejuvenating life. 

Step 4: 

Repeat Steps 1 – 3 For Another Room

Starting round 2 of decluttering.

Repeat first 3 steps for another room you feel is important to you. Eventually, there will be only so much that can be stored away and hidden. Good. That’s when it becomes time to face those things and dig deep. 

Step 5: 

Go Through Your Remaining Things And Get Rid Of One Item A Day

A methodical way of continuing the decluttering process.

Now go through the closets and rooms designated for hiding your excess stuff. Give it your full attention, methodically removing one object a day. It doesn’t have to be huge, just be consistent.

A little warning. This usually takes a lot of time. I suggest not rushing it. 

You may want to consider turning it into a game. Every night, when you arrive home, spend no more than 30 minutes. Find one item to either sell, donate or trash. Don’t worry about how much there may be remaining. You’ll get to it. Try to have fun.

Once you count 10 items gone, reward yourself. Do something you normally don’t, and be glad with what you have accomplished. It’s a big deal. Remember…

Just doing it, even if only by a single item at a time, is what makes the difference.

While decluttering is an excellent start with quick results, you may want to look into the art of Feng Shui. It will add even more to the benefits of decluttering. Feel free to check out an article I wrote on Feng Shui here.

Enjoy and cheers.

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