Do you feel less productive, more distracted when your desk or house is messy? Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute published the results of a study they conducted in the January issue of The Journal of Neuroscience that discusses the effects of cluttered and unorganised living. The study determined that environmental clutter restricts your ability to focus. They found that clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information and makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organised, and serene environment.[i]
I personally have experienced the frustration of trying to write an essay or study for exams whilst sitting in a messy cluttered home and I just could not do it. I don’t know about you, but when my home gets cluttered and out of control, I feel personally out of sorts. The state of my home really affects my emotional wellbeing and my productivity. Clutter and mess doesn’t often happen overnight, therefore if we set good habits in place, our environment should be easier to manage.
Here are a few tips to help you put in place some clutter-busting habits into your life and home!
Make a list and schedule for de-cluttering. Making lists is a mind clearing exercise as well as a first step to addressing clutter. Create a list of areas in your home to de-clutter beginning with the easiest. Don’t forget to include digital space as well, de-cluttering your computer is just as important as your kitchen or bedroom. Add each space to your calendar and schedule in a fun relaxing event or reward right afterwards (for motivation).
Have a monthly clear-up session where you address one clutter ridden space. Choose a space that is causing you the most frustration by becoming cluttered and messy, and clear it (divide it into two sessions if you need to). Then you proceed to create systems to help keep it tidy. For example if it is your kitchen counter top or kitchen table, then address the items that are the worst offenders (like mail) and allot a manageable and appropriate space for them, and schedule a time for dealing with that item or throw it out as you clear-up (don’t open and read your mail as you go as it can take up all your time and you will not finish the clutter clearing task). Wait till after you assess the clutter and break it down to buy storage containers/solutions. When you’re done with one area stop, go out with a friend or put on a movie do something nice for yourself.
NOTE: If your house is severely cluttered then start with the easiest room from your list instead of the hardest, as this will give you a sense of satisfaction when you finish the job, and help you keep in the process of de-cluttering your whole home.
Put things in storage. There are things that we cannot bring ourselves to throw away so putting them in storage will help clear the space without causing you the psychological pain of getting rid of something before you are ready to give it up. Putting things in storage may mean popping them into space bags, boxes or plastic tubs and carting them to a storage shed, the basement or a designated cupboard. Once things are in storage, start making a list of things in storage that you miss. If you miss something more than once keep it. If you don’t miss it then give it away. Go through your storage at least once every 6 months, using the list you’ve been making to find the items you miss, and discarding those you have not missed.
Try the Hanger Experiment. To help identify wardrobe pieces that are not being worn, hang all your clothes with the hangers in the reverse direction. After you wear an item, return it to the closet with the hanger facing the correct direction. After six months, you’ll have a clear picture of which clothes you can easily discard. This experiment could also be applied to a number of clutter areas in your home using separate containers to distinguish what you use and don’t use (products, cleaners, toys, linens, tools, hobbies and craft items etc).
Try The Five-Box Method. Assign tasks to five boxes:
- Box 1 – Everyday things that need to be put back in their place.
- Box 2 – Things to be given away or recycled.
- Box 3 – Items that you don’t need every day, but need to store.
- Box 4 – Anything that can be categorised as “absolute rubbish”.
- Box 5 – Items you simply can’t decide what to do with.
Each item in every room is to be placed into one of the five categories. No item should be passed over and each item is considered individually. Use this method when clearing each room on your list. Do not do the whole house at once, it will be too big a job and may be counterproductive. If you tackle one room at a time, you will achieve order much more consistently and develop better systems than if you take on too much at once.
Consume less by enjoying what you have. Yes, retail therapy can be fun, but when it turns into space clutter it is counterproductive. Instead of buying new things and adding to your ‘clutter’, enjoy what you have or repurpose things you already own to fit your needs. Find non consumerist outlets and activities like hobbies, social groups and sports that give you a good mood boost without the clutter. Use positive affirmations, lists and other mind mapping methods to maintain a tidy and positive mind that will flow though to tidy and positive physical spaces.
Clutter, whether mental, physical or digital, is something you’ll always have to deal with but it can be controlled. There are many helpful methods to direct the traffic of consumption in your favour. De-cluttering will help you feel like you have more space and energy for the good things in life. It may open your space and life up for more creativity, people, and positive changes, and may give you a sense of freedom.
[i] McMains, S and Kastner, S(2011) Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 31(2): 587- 597