There’s no shortage of stress and anxiety in our modern lifestyle, but did you know that a cluttered environment is probably making it worse? Whether at the office, your work from home space or your home environment in general, research is showing that living or working around clutter reduces your ability to focus and process information and ultimately leads to stress and anxiety. According to researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute[i], clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered organized and serene environment. The clutter competes for your attention like an annoying noise constantly going in your environment. Like a screaming toddler vying for your attention, the annoyance wears down your mental resources.
According to Sherri Bourg Carter[ii] in Psychology Today being surrounded by clutter overstimulates your senses which inhibits your creativity and productivity and makes you feel as though you aren’t getting enough done. The constant stress makes it difficult to relax or feel satisfied and fulfilled with what you’ve accomplished. Adding to anxiety, are the feelings of guilt that clutter creates, especially when others visit unexpectedly.
Clutter is related to hoarding and holding onto things you don’t want to let go of. The conflicting feelings of stress due to the overwhelming presence of clutter and the need to hold onto things adds to the anxiety and ultimately threatens quality of life as well as mental and emotional health.
University of New Mexico’s Catherine Roster and colleagues (2016) examined how clutter compromises an individual’s perception of home, and ultimately feelings of satisfaction with life. Roster concluded:
“Clutter is often an insidious and seemingly harmless outgrowth of people’s natural desire to appropriate their personal spaces with possessions … when [clutter] becomes excessive, it can threaten to physically and psychologically entrap a person in dysfunctional home environments which contribute to personal distress and feelings of displacement and alienation”[iii]
So what to do? Well luckily the solution is fairly straight-forward. Declutter, one step at a time. Experts suggest starting with one room or area and proceed in bite-sized chunks. Take your time and honestly asses each item and decide if you care about it, if you need it and what value it really adds to your life. Throwing things out can be hard, but many items can be used by others or create value for charities. Knowing that an item can bring value to someone else makes it easier to part with.
For the items you are keeping, make sure they all have a designated space, and start the discipline of making sure they always go back to that space when you are finished. It’s fairly straight forward: work supplies in your desk, hair products in the bathroom, cooking supplies in the kitchen and so on.
Piles of paper are often the biggest culprits, so taking the time to do filing, organizing and prioritizing the paperwork is a great step toward to a more serene state of mind. And recycle all the paper you don’t need!
One of the most important things is to make it fun. Taking the time to decorate and bring your personality into your spaces makes for a rewarding and pleasurable experience. You can turn it into a game, and get the kids involved putting their own stamp on their spaces, while getting rid of thigs they don’t want and organizing what they are keeping.
Once you are in a better space, it then becomes about the habit of keeping it that way. The pride in your new space will help, but remember to keep disciplined about decluttering your spaces when you are finished with them.
So give it a try! Take a weekend or a holiday to make a start, you’ll be amazed at how great you feel, how much more productive and creative you become and how much more you get done.