In my last year of college, as I painstakingly x-actoed apart the tiny paper pieces that would come together to become my senior art show, I binge watched all five seasons of Hoarders that were on Netflix at the time.
I grew really familiar with the format of the show. There would be a pretty scary introduction to the hoarder or the messy family. The camera crews would arrive, uncovering even more horrifying levels of crap. There would be an ultimatum of some kind: clean up or she’s leaving you. Clean up or you are getting evicted. Clean up or you lose your kids. Etc. The hoarder(s) would make some tough decisions, part with decades of stuff, and in the end, hopefully, the cameras would reveal a home that is finally livable.
Having grown up in a messy home (though nothing quite the level of that show, usually), I have come to appreciate orderliness. My weekend just doesn’t feel quite right if my beau and I don’t clean the bathroom, vacuum, and empty the sink of dirty dishes.
You don’t have to have Hoarders level clutter for your junk to start infringing on your quality of life. If clutter can negatively affect us, it stands to reason decluttering can help us make progress on the road to happiness.
Clutter = Stress
Clutter raises our stress levels for a variety of reasons.
Clutter brings an overload of stimuli, especially visual stimuli. Overstimulation affects everyone to some degree, but there are many who are particularly sensitive to visual stimulation. Clutter’s stimuli competes for our attention, making it harder to concentrate on the tasks, problems or people at hand. It disrupts our focus and makes it difficult to process information.
Clutter prevents us from accomplishing both simple tasks and larger goals by taking up physical room or mental focus that should go to other priorities. It often prevents us from finding important documents or possessions and distracts us from our work.
What’s more, clutter also causes embarrassment and guilt. We may even go so far as to stop hosting friends or family to prevent them from seeing our mess.
While we shouldn’t hold ourselves to unreasonable expectations of tidiness, decluttering is a key step to reducing stress and regaining a measure of focus, productivity and happiness.
It’s one thing to say “I’m going to declutter,” and it’s another thing to do it. There are hundreds of decluttering methods, and it’s important to find one that fits your personality, lifestyle and clutter-containment goals. However, there are a few general tips that will help regardless of your method.
Before decluttering can begin, it is important to get everyone on board. Those with partners, spouses and children need to make sure everyone is committed to the same goals. Otherwise it won’t matter how much you purge or how much you organize if your housemates are stuck in old habits.
Be aware you’ll have to overcome emotional guilt trips in order to truly get rid of clutter. You’ll have to break free of the “but I paid good money for that,” “but it was a gift,” “but it’s tied to a good memory” and other clutter-friendly mindsets.
Since there are many methods there are also many first steps.
The First De-Cluttering Steps
One good way to start is by quickly going through your house and returning items to the room or closet they currently belong in. Keep a laundry basket or other container handy to help and don’t worry about purging or organizing. Return shoes to your bedroom, toys to the playroom, cookbooks to the kitchen, etc., until everything is in the right zone. After that is done you can go room by room to declutter and organize, without worrying there are more items left to trickle in and disrupt your flow.
When going room by room it is important to tackle major problem areas first in order to get your home in working order. Extras like fashionable storage baskets and labels can come later.
The kitchen is a great example of a major problem area. It’s not only the heart of the home but also one of the biggest clutter culprits. Kitchens are usually filled with duplicate items, never-been-touched tools and space-wasting one-use-only items. When sorting your gadgets, ask whether a staple appliance could do the same job. Do you need a hot dog maker when you have a pot and a stovetop? A cupcake maker when you have an oven?
Kitchen clutter is important to tackle because it can make it difficult to motivate ourselves to create healthy meals. The effort it takes to find what we’re looking for often sends us running for the simplest solutions, which often means grab-and-go or premade meals. What’s worse, many of our one-use-only and never-been-used appliances constantly fill us with guilt because they represent a fantasy of the cook we wish we could be.
You may think you need to be the kind of person who makes their own juice and bread, but if you’ve never touched your juicer or bread maker, it’s time to let them go and set more realistic, clutter-free goals. Start by substituting your white bread for whole wheat and syrupy juices for low-sugar substitutes. Let go of the guilt by letting go of the clutter. Remember, you can always invest in another specialty appliance later, when you’re really ready to use it.
The most important thing to remember when decluttering is to find organizational systems that fit your lifestyle rather than changing your lifestyle to fit a system.
Your favorite blogger may have a beautiful front-entry organization system for mail, bills, etc., but if you enter your home through the back door and drop your mail on the kitchen counter, that system will end up going unused. Instead, try a wall file filled with tabbed folders above your normal drop zone. This will keep things organized and off your counter.
More importantly, this system fits your current habits.
Cutting clutter cuts stress and increases your productivity and happiness. Don’t undo that positive progress by trying to change your life to fit someone else’s Pinterest page. Once you declutter, commit to organizational solutions that will help you maintain your newfound happiness.