Stress, depression and clutter
My teen-aged daughter claimed that if she tidied her bedroom she no longer knew where things were – the clutter, at least according to her, was ‘organised’. But she appears to be in the minority. According to a study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, clutter does more than take up space in our homes and workplaces. It actually limits our brain's ability to focus and process information.
And UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) says that a lot of clutter can be linked with depression, low self-esteem and high levels of stress and anxiety. They found that:
- Women are more affected by clutter than men – their cortisol levels tend to be higher in a cluttered environment, indicating higher levels of stress
- Women feel are also more likely to feel that a tidy home indicates a successful or happy family
- People who want to de-clutter often find the idea overwhelming and find it hard to let go of the things they have accumulated around them
That last point is important if you’re planning to de-clutter. If you’re not a naturally tidy person, or if you suffer from conditions such as stress, anxiety or depression, reducing clutter might be a daunting task. But if you take it one step at a time it is possible to get things back under control.
Getting the clutter under control
If you've been living with clutter for a long time, it’s probably too much to think of removing it all at once. 'Baby steps' is the way to go.
- Set yourself a reasonable daily time slot for de-cluttering. During this time, don’t allow yourself to be distracted. Switch off your phone, Facebook and anything else that might attract your attention, although if playing calming music in the background helps, go for it.
- Get four large bags or boxes and label them. You need one for rubbish, one for recycling, one for useful but unwanted things that can be ‘rehomed’, and one for anything you can’t make a decision about within a minute or so. We’ll come back to what to do with this last box later, but having it will speed up the sorting process in the short term.
- Start with one specific area. It’s often best to start with storage cupboards so when you get to the floor, you will have already cleared somewhere to put the things you want to keep. But don’t spend long stressing about where to start – just pick somewhere at random or that feels the most approachable. Take everything out, and clean the area before you start to sort.
- As you sort, handle each item only once. Either put it back tidily or put it into one of the boxes.
- Be ruthless in deciding what to keep – get rid of duplicate items, and anything you haven’t used or worn for at least a year. Get rid of all those things you have put aside in the hopes that you’ll get around to mending them.
- Empty the rubbish and recycling boxes into the appropriate bins at the end of each sorting session.
- Deal with the contents of the ‘rehoming’ box as soon as you can after each sorting session. Don’t leave them around as you’ll be tempted to take things back out. Donate them to a charity shop, sell them on eBay or free-to-list sites like preloved, or give them away via websites like freecycle and freegle.
Once you've established order in one place, start a new area in the same room. Carry on, clearing and organising until that room is done, then repeat in each room in your home until everywhere is clear.
As each room is finished, deal with the things you couldn’t decide about. You might find it easier to know what to do with them. If you are still undecided, seal the box with lots of sticky tape, write the date on the top and put it somewhere you are not going to see it much – an attic or garage is perfect for this. After a year, if you haven’t needed any of the things in the box, get rid of it without looking inside.
Don’t let areas you’ve already cleared refill with clutter from the places you are still clearing. Use the tips below on keeping the clutter under control as soon as an area is tidy.
It might help to motivate you if you plan a treat for yourself at specific milestones – each hour spent on clearing, or each room you complete, earns you some time with your favourite TV box set, for example.
Keeping the clutter under control
- Once things are tidy, have a place for everything – small items can be put into labelled storage boxes to keep them all together.
- Spend ten or fifteen minutes on a quick tidy around the main living areas of the house every day. Wash the dishes or stack them in the dishwasher; wipe down kitchen work surfaces; put newspapers etc. in the recycling, and rubbish in the bin; return items you’ve been using to where they belong. Some people prefer to do this before going to bed so they wake up to a clean and tidy home, others like to set the tone for the day by doing it at the start of each day.
- If you don’t live alone, make up a rota and ask others to do their share.
- When you get changed, put your dirty clothes straight in the laundry bin and not on the floor.
- Think twice (at least) before bringing anything new into the house, and plan where you will keep it before buying.
- Keep your cupboards and drawers organised by adopting a ‘one in, one out’ rule. Get rid of one old item each time you buy something new.
- Having too much stuff is visually distracting and it adds to your stress levels. Following these simple steps will contribute to greater feelings of serenity in your life as you say ‘goodbye’ to clutter.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.