Does Physical Clutter Affect Your State of Mind?

declutterSo here’s an idea to ponder. Do you believe that there is a direct link between physical clutter at home (or your desk at work) and your mental state?

A lot of people do ascribe to this theory, and I can see why.

Of course there are the extreme cases of hoarding that are hard to deny. But how about that little, seemingly harmless, residual layer of mess that so many of us live with.

Could it actually be affecting us negatively?

Why we have clutter

Psychology Today shared some telling research from Yale School of Medicine. Their brain imaging study showed that we genuinely do experience pain when we declutter. The theory is that letting go of stuff we don’t need requires us to, on some level, admit that we didn’t need that stuff in the first place.

Essentially, we are required to admit that we made a bad decision in purchasing that item. And on some level, that brings us a little pain.

When we hang on to stuff we are hanging onto our affirmations that ‘we will use it’ and it ‘wasn’t a bad purchase’. And then of course there is sentimental attachment too. It’s easy to see why it’s so hard to get started on decluttering.

It’s about our focus

So understanding how it happens, let’s move on to how it affects us. This seems to be mainly about our focus – something that we all struggle with from time to time.

With so much vying for our attention; kids, work, notifications on our devices – we don’t need anything else competing for a piece of the action!

Your work desk is a classic example. Sticky notes, your mobile phone, and whatever else you have on there can distract you consciously. But there is also an unconscious effect – more of a feeling.

Being sat in a mess can be a negative sensory experience. The feeling of sticky notes on your otherwise smooth desk surface. The noise of text message notifications interrupting your thoughts.

And let’s not forget the feelings of annoyance and resentment that comes from living in somebody else’s clutter. When the mess that is distracting you is not yours, but is left by your kids, partner or housemates… it just really doesn’t feel good to be in!

Set some clutter boundaries

So what can you do to overcome this?

Let me start by saying that decluttering doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing, hell-for-leather experience. If the thought of tackling all the distractions in your home is far too much, then don’t take that route!

Try setting some small boundaries at first. Perhaps set a cap on how many new books you are going to buy, when you already have piles that need to be read, packed away, or donated first.

If your worst distractions are the ‘virtual clutter’ of social media notifications, then how about a little digital detox? I know that some clients of mine have previously enjoyed going ‘off line’ for a holiday, and then upon returning to normal life they decide to minimise their social media time, or turn their notifications off for a while.

Let’s not forget the elephant in any cluttered family room – when the clutter isn’t yours, but belongs to a family member. I’m afraid that avoiding having ‘the talk’ won’t help the situation. My best tip here is this…

When you do broach the subject with them, remember not to accuse or blame. If they feel it is ‘their fault’ they are likely to be defensive. Instead, ask for their help with your decluttering project, and remember to compromise.

Do keep in mind the emotional pain of decluttering I mentioned at the beginning of this post – just be sensitive to their side of things and you can’t go too far wrong.

Have you ever decluttered physically and felt the difference mentally? I’d love to hear your experience of this, so please do leave me a comment.

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