Are you feeling distracted? Do you have a hard time being productive or creative? Are you unable to relax? If so, you may be experiencing classic signs of stress. An abundance of clutter in your physical environment may be a significant factor.
Ongoing chronic stress can have a negative effect on your immune system, your digestive system, your heart, lungs, and many other key physiological functions.
Clutter Causes Stress
As the Mayo Clinic article, “Simplify your life to reduce stress,” confirms,
“There’s no question, being surrounded by clutter is an ongoing cause of stress. It’s more than just an irritation, though. When you’re surrounded by more things than you can manage, it sends a visual message that your life is out of control. And it can become a vicious circle, where disorder brings about procrastination, which only perpetuates the chaos. To make matters worse, when you’re under stress, cortisol, the stress hormone, short-circuits your brain leading to forgetfulness, irritation and plain old meltdowns.”
Recent research in anthropology and neuroscience supports the case for cutting clutter to reduce stress.
In the book Life at Home in the 21st Century, anthropologists studied 32 middle-class families from Los Angeles over several years. The researchers videotaped and tracked family members in their homes and took thousands of photographs. The researchers learned that “managing the volume of possessions was such a crushing problem in many homes that it actually elevated levels of stress hormones for mothers.”
Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D, looked into “Why does mess lead to so much stress?” Here’s what she found:
- Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.
- Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on.
- Clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
- Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.
- Clutter makes us anxious because we’re never sure what it’s going to take to get through to the bottom of the pile.
- Clutter creates feelings of guilt (“I should be more organized”) and embarrassment, especially when others unexpectedly drop by our homes or work spaces.
- Clutter inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brain storm, and problem solve.
- Clutter frustrates us by preventing us from locating what we need quickly (e.g. files and paperwork lost in the “pile” or keys swallowed up by the clutter).
So, if cutting the clutter can help reduce or remove feelings of guilt, embarrassment, anxiety and frustration – all of which can be stressful – what can you do to create an organized, tidy environment in your home or office?
The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) offers tips for home and office organization. In the home organization section, you can find ideas for organizing your kitchen, garage, closet and children’s space, which include the following:
Place bins and boxes on lower shelves so that a child can put away toys. Help the child label the bins and boxes.
Provide low hooks to hang up sweaters, pajamas, jackets, book bags, etc.
Take children with you when you go to donate unused items. This helps them learn to part with things.
Encourage your child/teenager to choose his or her outfit for the next day before going to bed at night.
The office organization section discusses taming your desk, managing your time, and a lot more. As NAPO advises, “You will need to invest your time to get organized, but the rewards are life-changing!”