How Clutter Impacts Your Mental Health and What You Can Do About It

Buff Donovan, a licensed social worker, is a bit of an anti-clutter commando. “I do like things neat,” she admits. “But I’m reasonable!” she laughs. “I de-clutter my storage room every six months – if I haven’t used something – out it goes.”

Managing clutter makes Donovan feel less chaotic. “It’s like taking a heavy weight off,” she says. The director of Coordinated Behavior Health Management for HAP is on-point. Research shows that surrounding yourself with excess stuff actually makes it harder for your brain to process information and maintain focus.

Cortisol – the hormone associated with stress and anxiety – tends to spike in cluttered homes. Homes that are more organized are, in researchers’ words, “restorative.” Some studies suggest that people sleep better in uncluttered rooms, and that less-cluttered homes are likely to lead to healthier eating choices.

To cut clutter, professional organizer Daryl Traver, owner of Oasis Organizing in Clarkston, offers some easy, practical strategies to leave you calmer and more serene.

There’s no place like home

“Every object needs a home; put it back or find a place for it,” says Traver. When you buy something new, figure out where it’s going to go before you purchase it.

Paper, paper everywhere

If it seems like paper breeds, consider the main source: mail pouring in every day. “Begin with what’s coming in now,” Traver says. “The mail never stops coming, leading to ever-growing stacks on your dining room table.” But once you’ve found a home for each type of mail – ads, charity pitches, bills, statements and so on – you can make quick work of those stacks.

Closet chaos

Even those of us who keep our public spaces tidy may harbor “skeletons” in our closets – or at least significant disorder. If gathering things for donation feels like a chore, says Traver, “keep a bin on the floor of your closet. Each time you come across something you know you’ll never wear again, toss it in the bin rather than ignore it.” Then donate it when the bin is full.

When in doubt, throw it out

“Clutter” is often a code word for “trash” (yes, we said it). “Just because you spent hard-earned cash on it doesn’t mean you need to keep it,” Traver says. “If you cherish it so much, why has it been in your attic?” Think of it this way: You’re using your mortgage to pay for storing that unneeded object.

Change your perspective

Traver helps people see their stuff with new eyes. “I do what I call ‘in-home shopping’,” he says. “I take an object from one room and repurpose it in another.” That helps reset the way we see our stuff and figure out what we actually need, and why.

5 fast clutter-busters

You don't have to clean up the entire house to feel less stressed. Small projects can make a difference, including making your bed. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Make your bed. It’ll start your day on the right note – and finish it well, too. “It looks better and feels better,” says Pro Organizer Daryl Traver.

  • Involve your kids. Give them a basket, set a timer, tell them to gather their toys, and let them compete. “Make a game of it,” suggests Traver. You’ll get a cleaner living room and teach them to take better care of their things.

  • Clear the counters. “This is a great place to start because everything’s right there on the surface,” says Traver. If you have five minutes, you can make the entire kitchen feel tidier just by focusing on the counters.

  • Use commercial breaks. Watching TV? When ads come on, that’s your cue to go through a stack of papers. Place each item into a pile to be filed, recycled or shredded. At the end of the commercial you’ll have three neat piles and a little more order.

  • Complete a task. Pick a shelf, a corner or a room. Then focus on it. “It’s important to finish one project before you start another. Stay on task,” he says. “Get to the next room when you get to it.”

Categories: Get Healthy

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