Do you need to declutter?
Clutter is relative. One man’s tidy idyll is another’s jumbled hell. It’s when the mess starts affecting your life that you should start to worry. If it’s painful to let things go, either because it reminds you of your past or it’s something you feel you might need in the future, then you need to start decluttering.
Define Your Clutter
No one can tell you whether your home is cluttered or not. For this reason, you have to be honest with yourself. When you are confronted with it, how do you feel? Drained, overwhelmed, suffocated? When you realise that it interferes with your life, makes it difficult to find things and makes you feel unproductive, then you’ve identified your clutter.
Clutter makes you feel unproductive, because it is all competing for your attention, making you feel stressed and it inhibits your attention span.
Clutter can be a physical manifestation of deeper issues, too. ‘Memory’ clutter indicates a preoccupation with the past and depression. ‘Future’ clutter indicates anxiety about the future. It can also have an effect on your weight. Organisational expert Peter Walsh argues that there is a correlation between hoarder’s weight and their clutter. It may be lifestyle – hanging on to everything and consuming too much.
The Pain of Throwing Away
The Yale School of Medicine conducted some research into why some people find it so hard to throw things away. Using hoarders and non-hoarders alike, the researchers tracked their brain activity whilst asking them to decide whether to throw things away or to keep them. They found that hoarders had increased activity in two areas of the brain when confronted with their own items. These two areas, the anterior cingulated cortex and the insula, are the same two areas that are active in psychological pain. You’re not necessarily a hoarder if this sounds like you, but it does explain why you don’t want to throw things away – the more you keep things the safer you feel. Taking the sceptical view, i.e. being more mindful when it comes to your emotions, and a bit of willpower will help you deal with the anxiety of throwing things away.
How to Control the Clutter
Peter Walsh tells his clients to ask themselves ‘What is the vision for the life that I want?’ when confronted with clutter. Instead of a to-do list that becomes a chore, ask yourself what you want your life to look like after clutter, and think about the positives. Don’t avoid making the decision. This is essentially what clutter is, the avoidance of deciding whether to keep or throw something away. Try to decide when you’re confronted with it whether you’ll keep it or not. You don’t have to tackle all the clutter at the same time. Sorting out clutter is exhausting, both physically and mentally. So start small, and don’t take on too much at once. The more you do it, the easier it will become. Apply constraints to your storage. Limit yourself to throwing something away every time you buy something new, whether it’s a pair of shoes or a book. Another good trick, if you are in two minds about whether to throw something away, is to put it into storage. Leave it there and come back to it later. In this case, absence does not make the heart grow fonder – but space away from the items will help you see things more objectively. Putting them somewhere where you can’t see or touch them will mean coming to decision about them will be easier.
As the clutter slowly gets sorted out, it becomes easier to look after yourself too. You feel better in mind and body. You’re not confronted with that unproductive apathy you felt before and it’s easier to find your gym shoes, TV remote and keys. All that dust, mould and dirt that clutter collects is gone, and you feel healthier.
Got any tips for decluttering your home? If you have, please leave us a comment below.