Now, more than ever, we are faced with our clutter every day, especially as many of us spend our days working from home. Our clutter is literally around us throughout our workday and our personal lives. Following World War II, we were conditioned in North America to consume and shop. To buy bigger houses and fill them with stuff. Then, the digital age pushed us to be more productive and busier than we have ever been before. Physical and mental clutter have taken over our lives.
Do you sometimes feel like your brain is in overdrive, and you can’t keep track of things, projects, or your life in general? This is normal for everyone at times, you do not even have to be the busiest person in the room to feel this way.
There is research that states there is no correlation between mental clutter and how much personal responsibility or work a person has. The busiest person with a decluttered mind can seem more in check with his or her mental space than someone with significantly fewer responsibilities. The amount you have on your plate is not the problem. It’s how it is organized.
If your mental space is a chaotic mess, then you should probably declutter your mind and hone in on some key tactics to help you keep focused on the tasks at hand. My number-one tip is to use a timer in short blocks of 30 minutes or less to keep your focus. This has worked wonders for myself, my clients, and anyone who follows this simple tactic.
Delving deeper on the effects of clutter on mental health, I should mention that although I don’t have a psychology degree, I’ve done a lot of research on the topic to inspire myself and my clients to get motivated about decluttering in all aspects of our lives. I know the feeling I get, the peace and satisfaction from being in a decluttered space, both physically and mentally. Remember a time when you were surrounded by clutter and think about how it made you feel. It could be a cluttered closet, a stuffed drawer, or your mind full of so many tasks you didn’t know where to start. You don’t need a psychology degree to understand that when you think back to these times you get a bit stressed—or in medical terms, your cortisol levels rise. Clutter can affect your physical, mental, and emotional energy.
Clutter can also reveal insecurities that can also affect our mental health. For example, if you operate with low self-esteem, you may own more expensive clothing than necessary if you use retail therapy as a means to feel happy. If you are worried about money, you may keep items that you don’t necessarily need. If you’ve dealt with loss and grief, you may be more attached to sentimental items than someone who hasn’t gone through similar experiences. The bottom line is that clutter is a symptom of deeper things going on in your psyche, and when you deal with clutter, you can transform into the person you are meant to be for both your personal and professional life.
Once you understand the negative effects that clutter can have, it is important to note that in a fast-paced life, it’s impossible to avoid all stress. You’re stimulated by stuff and people who want your attention. Friends, family, and colleagues might automatically assume we are available to complete specific tasks, because we are in our homes almost all day, every day, due to the pandemic.
While avoiding all stress may not be a viable option, how you deal with this stuff can help manage one aspect of your stress. The more stuff you have, both physical and mental, the more your stress is triggered. Therefore, if you want to feel less stress, decluttering your life is a good start, so you can focus more on the other areas of your life. The process can even be therapeutic once you start eliminating other stresses.
Here, are a few strategies to help relieve decluttering stress:
- Focus. Find a way to eliminate distractions when you are working on priority work.
- Schedule shopping trips. Otherwise, you end up with unnecessary stuff.
- Keep your bedroom minimal and decluttered. Where you wake up has a big impact on how the rest of your day goes.
- Rework clutter traps. Entryways can typically accumulate clutter, so assign designated hooks or bins, and don’t let what does not belong outstay the welcome.
- Go through your closet. My mantra is the closet is one of the first places in the morning you can start saving or losing time and that can affect our confidence.
- Remove unwanted apps on your phone. If you’re like most people, your phone is with you at all times, and you spend hours staring at the screen. Delete what you don’t need.
- Deal with physical mail immediately. Manage what comes into your house, and deal with it before it becomes clutter.
- Unsubscribe to emails. The less spam mail you get, the less stress you feel. Unsubscribe to what you don’t need.
- Don’t save computer files if you don’t need them. Often, we save files on our computer, because we think it does not take up space, but our computer is also valuable real estate.
All of us are victims to having a cluttered mind at some point. The key is to recognize it. Just like your messy closet and over stacked cupboards, your mind can also benefit from tidying and decluttering from time to time.