Anyone with an overflowing closet or totally stuffed basement can attest to the stress brought on by piles of junk. That's because not only is it annoying to look at, but it can dredge up so many different emotions. That's why it's important to get your clutter under control, once and for all.
It's true that clutter comes with a lot of baggage, both literally and figuratively. When I look at my messy closet I definitely feel some type of way. I feel stressed at the lack of organization, I feel guilty that I don't wear half of what I own, and I feel confused as to what kind of style I'm even going after. Really, a closet shouldn't elicit all of those emotions, but it can.
In fact, according to an article by Christopher Peterson, Ph.D, in Psychology Today, clutter can have quite the psychological effect. Peterson pointed out a study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology and notes, "This line of research studies the effects on children of living in what is termed a chaotic environment. On focus is not the interpersonal chaos that may preside in some homes; that too takes a toll. Rather, the focus is on physical settings that are noisy and disorganized. Children who live in these settings have more than their share of problems."
It's good to know there is a connection between junk and other problems. We can all feel it when our desks are messy, or our kitchens out of sorts. It's unsettling, and can hold you back from getting stuff done in life.
Getting rid of clutter is quite the chore, but it can have profound effects on other areas of your life. Here are some proven benefits of finally getting all that junk.
1. You'll Suddenly Be Able To Concentrate For Days
When there's a bunch of junk on my desk I find it nearly impossible to get anything done. But if I take a second to remove the extra papers, and put everything at right angles (you know how that goes), then I find myself able to start typing away almost immediately. And it makes sense, from a neurological standpoint.
As Mikael Cho notes on Lifehacker.com, "Whether it be your closet or office desk, excess things in your surroundings can have a negative impact on your ability to focus and process information. That’s exactly what neuroscientists at Princeton University found when they looked at people’s task performance in an organized versus disorganized environment. The results of the study showed that physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress." Clutter essentially makes your brain multitask, so getting rid of it will turn you into a concentrating machine.
2. You'll Feel More Creative
This one is sort of up for debate, because many artsy types love the idea of a messy desk or studio. But in the same vein as at the Princeton study, it does make sense that a minimalist environment would help the creative process. According to Marcy McKay on TheWriterLife.com, "Dividing your attention between several stimuli — like your novel’s plot hole, your messy desk and your Twitter feed — often results in increased stress and decreased creativity and productivity." (I totally agree.) I'm sure it depends on the person, and also on what kind of project you're working on, and how much you need to concentrate.
3. You'll Probably Sleep A Whole Lot Better
Do you ever lie in bed and stare, with utmost stress, at your messy closet? Or the piles of laundry on the floor? It's amazing any of us get any rest ever, because there does seem to be a connection between messy rooms and a lack of sleep.
As Julie Pennell notes on Today.com, "A new sleep study has found that people who doze in cluttered rooms and are at high risk for developing hoarding disorder are more likely to have sleeping problems. This includes having trouble falling asleep at night and experiencing rest disturbances." Not to say everyone with a messy bedroom is going to be a hoarder, but it's an interesting connection.
4. You'll Boost Your Mood
Clutter can make you feel cranky not only because it's like visual noise, but it also sends a signal that you don't have your life together. And that can be kind of a bummer. This connection was shown by researchers at UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF), who studied the relationship between 32 California families and the thousands of objects in their homes. According to an article on the topic by Lisa Kaplan Gordon on HouseLogic.com, "It turns out that clutter has a profound affect on our mood and self-esteem. CELF’s anthropologists, social scientists, and archaeologists found ... a link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. The more stuff, the more stress women feel."
5. You'll Let Go Of The Past
The psychological impact of stuff is hard to ignore. When I moved recently, I spent days digging through of my worldly possessions and taking a ride on the ol' emotional rollercoaster. It was kind of nice to see my old stuff, but so much of it brought back bad memories.
As Jessie Sholl noted on the health website ExperienceLife.com, "In many cases, the way clutter affects us has little to do with quantity. A piece of art painted by an ex-lover hanging over the bed can carry more emotional heft than a messy closetful of extra sheets and towels ... In other words, identifying an item as clutter has more to do with how it feels than how it looks. If you feel less than great in certain rooms or even your entire house, it might be time to target a few items (or a few dozen) for removal." Do yourself a favor and get rid of anything that drags you down, especially if it messes you up emotionally.
6. You'll Focus More Clearly On Your Goals
When you let junk pile up, it all stands as a reminder of the things you haven't accomplished. This can be good at first — a yoga mat in the corner can remind you to finally start stretching in the morning. But eventually that yoga mat turns into clutter, usually once it's gone unused for months at a time. According to an article by Jane Porter on the business site FastCompany.com, "There are myriad reasons we keep stuff. You might get around to reading that fat stack of old New Yorkers one day, or lose 30 pounds and fit into those unworn pants hanging in your closet. But the reality ... is that we hang onto far more objects than we need, and, instead of motivating us, they become talismans of guilt and shame." Keep things that inspire or motivate you, but get rid of anything that makes you feel guilty.
Letting go of clutter can be difficult, but the benefits far outweigh any negatives. Learn to let go of excess junk, and reap the benefits of a more minimalist life.
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