In our busy lives, we struggle with endless to-do lists, chaotic schedules, overflowing inboxes and homes full of the latest material things.
You may not realise it directly, but your environment undoubtedly affects your mood. Stressful surroundings or environments that make day-to-day living more difficult have a direct impact on our mental health.
At one time or another, we’ve all looked at the sheer scale of stuff in our home and felt daunted at the thought of tackling it. It makes us feel tired and anxious before we’ve even started.
At the risking of sounding like a cliché, having a physically cluttered home leads to a cluttered mind. Reducing the ‘clutter’ in our lives – be it physical, digital or otherwise – allows us tackle stressors head-on, which ultimately benefits our mental health.
What does decluttering mean?
It’s not just about removing that massive pile of clothes that has been gradually growing on that corner armchair in the bedroom. Decluttering means taking back control of your life.
Clutter can be physical, like said armchair, it can be digital, like the overflowing inbox of unanswered emails, or it can be emotional, like worries and anxious thought patterns that hold us back.
By taking time to declutter these three areas of your life, you can take back the control and have a clearer mind. Think about the extent to which your sleep could improve if you turned your bedroom from dumping ground to ‘sanctuary’, for example.
It’s also about recognising how buying more ‘stuff’ won’t make us happier. At least in the long run. Which is hard to accept when the media is convincing us of the contrary, and that new Gucci handbag is just to die for.
Why is decluttering hard?
Our ‘stuff’ is our memories. Physical or digital representations of our past (younger and less wrinkled) selves. Sometimes ridding ourselves of stuff feels like saying goodbye to a part of yourself.
Often, though, we buy things because we think it will make us appear more attractive and successful. It’ something to share on Instagram and before the guilt kicks in, it uplifts our spirits.
To get rid of things we have purchased can seem like you are admitting your failings.
If you bought a new wardrobe when you got dumped by a boyfriend/girlfriend, to declutter and minimalise could bring back that pain and mean you no longer have anything to show for it. Or throwing away your old work suits could make you feel you failed in that law career.
How does decluttering help?
Angela Betancourt, owner of ‘Simplify, Home Organizing’ says “people who declutter and live with a minimalist outlook tend to feel; less stress and anxiety, more inner peace and self-confidence, stronger decision-making skills and improved health habits, like better sleep.”
There are tonnes of ways that decluttering helps:
1. A stronger mind:
The human brain is wired to respond positively to order. And whilst we can’t have the house clean and neat all the time (and a little disorder is completely healthy!) order does feel good and is calming for the mind.
When entering pleasing, uncluttering environments our minds sharpen and we increase our ability to concentrate and focus.
‘Mental clutter’ (holding onto irrelevant information) has also been linked to age-related memory loss.
2. Less stress:
Wouldn’t getting ready for work in the morning be much easier and less stressful if you could find your mascara without tipping out the full contents of your make up bag, if you could find your skirt from its rightful place in the wardrobe instead of under a mound of jumpers and if you could easily pack up your lunch without searching for the correct Tupperware lid…etc..etc..etc..
These might seem like simple things that you expect to happen in the manic of your daily morning routine, but it doesn’t have to be that way. All these little moments of stress add up. It’s using unnecessary energy.
A University of California study found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol were higher in mothers who lived in homes they described as "cluttered" or full of "unfinished projects."
As we all know, stress contributes and leads to many other things such as bad sleep, poor eating habits and general poor health. By creating clutter-free environments and allowing your daily living to be more efficient, you are reducing all of this.
3) 'Let go' and boost your self-esteem:
Although we initially buy things to make us feel good about ourselves (retail therapy anyone?) Our belongings can also make us feel bad about ourselves. Equipment from sports and hobbies that we gave up, pre-pregnancy clothes that we used to adore that will never fit again…we don’t need to be confronted with these things.
Get rid of it, even if it’s bit by bit, and notice how not having what you don’t need can boost your happiness.
This is especially apt in relation to things we need to let go of. It’s great to keep memory boxes. But you don’t need things that evoke unpleasant memories. Be mindful of items bringing up bad feelings and consider getting rid of it. Even if it’s something as simple as an unwanted Christmas gift from a relative that you feel bad about chucking, but you wince whenever you look at it.
4) Sense of achievement:
Walking into a clutter-free environment can really boost your mood and make you feel proud of what you’ve created and where you spend your time. It gives you an uplifting, lighter feeling.
This feeling of achievement also provides us with a sense of control. We’re organised, we’re efficient, we’re in control of how we are living.
5.) Beat procrastination and boost productivity:
If you get into the habit of living a decluttered life, or rather break the habit of living a cluttered life, you’ll be less likely to feel overwhelmed by growing list of chores on your to-do list.
When things are out of control, physically and emotionally, it’s often too overwhelming so we do nothing, or we do the minimum to get by. Washing clothes when we have nothing left to wear or taking the bins out when we can’t balance anything else on top.
Clutter is visually distracting. The number of objects in your field of vision can affect your ability to concentrate on one thing at a time, even if you think you're multitasking efficiently.
Without clutter you can think more clearly and each task you do is, therefore, completed more efficiently. This boosts your productivity and means you can spend more time with family or resting.
6) Paying it forward:
Your clutter could be somebody else’s necessity. Regift unwanted gifts, take your items to a charity shop, or give things to family and friends who may need them.
This will make you feel good for decluttering, and for doing a good deed. You could also earn money from decluttering if you can sell some of your things…hello eBay!
7.) Financial rewards:
Not only could you earn a little bit of cash by selling your items, but when you live a decluttered life you know what you have and where it is. You are organised and are less likely to buy multiple similar earrings, for example.
You also know that you don’t need a lot of stuff to make you happy, so you could spend your money on investing in yourself instead.
8) Sleep better:
Decluttering reduces stress, which should generally give you a better night’s sleep. Your mind has less ‘mental clutter.’
Moreover, by staying more organised during the day you won’t have as much to distract you in the evening.
Keeping your bedroom free from clutter, and even making your bed each morning (super simple and really effective) will improve your sleep quality.
There are SO many positive reasons to live a life with less clutter.
Remember though, we're not saying your house has to look like a Pinterest board. Of course the kids are going to play with everything they lay their hands on, and the dog will get muddy paws on the freshly washed rug - that's life!
But having a place for everything and only having what you need (or that makes you feel good) helps dealing with these daily activities.
Enjoy the joy of less and see how it works and feels for you.
In part two, we look at tips to help you declutter.