Over the past few years, decluttering and organizing have become very popular. We’ve been told that we need to declutter our life so that we can be happier.
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We all have different thresholds for what we think cluttered is. When I was a kid, we were simply told to clean up. For some people, that meant shoving everything under the bed (Mom will never know, right?). For others, it meant going through every piece of paper and toy and getting rid of things no longer used. I’m envious of people who have figured out how to lead a clutter-free life. In all honesty, I don’t even try. I accept that I’m a clutter person, but I try to control how bad it gets.
Before we talk about de-cluttering, it’s important to determine what your threshold for clutter is and understand the effects clutter has on us.
What is too Much Clutter?
Chances are good that you clicked on this post because you feel like you have too much clutter. If you know that’s you, skip this section. But for some people, like me, clutter is part of life. They might not recognize when it’s getting out of control. This happens a lot with people who have ADHD or who are struggling with mental health issues.
To determine if you have too much clutter, here are some questions to consider:
- Are your tables and counters clear? If you don’t have space to work, or you need to clear a space every single time you need to do something, you’re adding work to your day.
- Do you have a hard time finding things? If you routinely waste time searching for necessary items, such as your keys, you might have too much stuff piled up.
- Do you own multiples of items? Sometimes we buy something because we forgot we already own it. However, sometimes we know we own an item but we can’t find it. We convince ourselves we no longer have it so we buy a new one. Then a week later, we find the original.
- Does everything have a place? If things don’t have a “home,” you won’t know where to find them. That’s how we end up with duplicates. If you own many things that don’t have homes, then it might be an indication that you have too much clutter.
- How many “junk drawers” do you have? Go ahead and laugh. Most people have a junk drawer where old phone chargers go to die. But people who struggle with clutter often have multiple junk drawers—maybe even one in every room of the house.
- Are you embarrassed to have people come to your house? Likewise, when people do stop by, do you make excuses for how your house looks? If having someone come over—especially unexpectedly—bothers you, you probably have a problem. Some people might have certain rooms that guests aren’t allowed in because of the mess. I’m not saying people should be able to roam your house freely, but you shouldn’t feel ashamed if they stumble into the wrong room.
- How do you feel about your home? If you feel uncomfortable, it’s definitely a problem. If you find yourself hiding away in certain rooms to avoid a mess, that takes a toll on you.
If you read through these questions and smiled and nodded, or maybe blushed because you felt called out, you probably should do something the confront your clutter. It’s not just about the mess—clutter can have an impact on many aspects of your life, so letting it get out of hand can really negatively affect you.
Effects of Clutter
Mental Health Suffers
Clutter and disorganization impact everything. Your focus and concentration can suffer; your frustration from not being able to find things increases; and it can trigger a host of other issues for you.
Clutter can trigger anxiety in a number of ways. If you are constantly worried about people seeing your messy house, it can trigger anxiety. Maybe you worry how you can possibly get things done when you don’t even have a space to work. The cycle of worry increases when you’re surrounded by clutter.
Obviously, not everyone who has clutter becomes a hoarder, but the possibility is there. If people can’t get through the room without stepping over or around piles, it’s an issue. Think about what would happen if you needed to call paramedics. Can they get a gurney through?
Mental vs Physical Clutter
Oftentimes, when someone is suffering from depression or anxiety, the mess and clutter around them increases. It creates a cycle of overwhelm. If you’re depressed or anxious, you might not be able to find the motivation to clean up, so things pile up, causing your anxiety or depression to worsen.
When the house is a mess and you’re feeling overwhelmed by life, you will often make poor food choices.
If you haven’t done the dishes and they’re piled up, you won’t want to cook and dirty even more dishes, so you might go out for fast food.
Stress makes you hungry. The stress hormone cortisol will make you hungry, so you eat more, even when you shouldn’t need to.
One way that clutter reduces your productivity is because you lose time because you can’t find what you need. If you waste minutes every day looking for the right paper in the piles around your office, all of those minutes add up.
If you have to clean off a table in order to start work or if you have to do some major reorganizing so that you can get things done, you’ll procrastinate. It might start as a distraction—going through piles and papers. You feel busy, but you’re not accomplishing anything. Losing time to tasks that involve getting ready can be frustrating and you’ll be less likely to want to follow through.
The more overwhelmed you get by the clutter and mess, especially if you feel like it’s preventing you from doing what you need to do will lead to more procrastination.
The increased procrastination will cause you to miss deadlines because you’re always behind. The constant frustration will in turn ruin your motivation. If you never feel like things are getting better, why bother?
Clutter can lead to some issues with money management. As mentioned earlier, clutter can also cause you to waste money on things you already own but can’t find. Doing that repeatedly will cause a dent in your wallet.
If you still get paper bills, chances are, they get piled up and then buried. How much money have you wasted on late fees? Or rolled interest on your credit card because you didn’t pay by the due date?
I’m not saying the physical clutter is the only cause. Even if you have gone paperless for your bills, you might still forget to pay them because your inbox is a mess and they get overlooked. Even more common is being so swamped and stuck in your own head that the overwhelm prevents you from staying on top of things.
So now that we’ve talked about how much clutter we have and the ways in which it impacts our lives, let’s look at how you can start decluttering to make your life easier.
How to Declutter Quickly
If you’ve been living with clutter a long time, the idea of starting can feel defeating. The first thing you need to think about is how much you will benefit from decluttering. Yes, it is work, but once you get it done, you can reap the benefits for a long time. Here are some of the benefits:
- Easier to clean your house
- Reduced stress
- Able to find what you need quickly
- More space
- Gain a sense of control of your environment
- Less anxiety
When you look at the piles of stuff, just remind yourself that it will be worth it. But how do you start? With a plan, of course.
Devise a plan
If you try to take on decluttering your entire house, you’ll quickly be overwhelmed. Choose one space to start with. Some people say you should start with your bedroom because that’s where you begin and end your day. Other people say to start with the room you spend the most time in. I say, choose the room that is most important for you to have control of. For me, that’s my office. I don’t know if it’s the room I spend the most time in, but it certainly is a lot of my life.
Choose your room and start there. If you start with the space that will have the greatest impact on you, it will be easier to stick with the plan and you will have a huge sense of accomplishment when it’s done. Then, the other spaces won’t seem so daunting.
Feeling good about the room that is important to you will inspire you to get that feeling throughout your entire home.
You don’t need to give up a weekend (or a whole week) to declutter. Work with whatever time you have. Even if all you can spare 20 minutes a day, start there. It’s important to understand how you work best. Some people do really well with small chunks of focused work (hello, ADHD friends). Other people really need that big chunk of time to power through and Get. It. Done. (hello, anxiety and OCD friends).
Do what works for you, but do something.
Do a Fast Sort
Get yourself 3 bags or baskets. Then, you are going to do a quick sort into categories:
- Trash/Recycle – toss anything that’s broken, expired, junk. All the things you thought you were going to fix, get back to, etc, get rid of them. If you haven’t dealt with it so far, you’re not going to. Let it go.
- Donate/Sell – If you’re done with something, but it’s still usable, give it a second life. If you have the time, you can sell your stuff for extra cash. If dealing with people coming to your house to pick stuff up or placing ads feels like a lot, then you should donate. Thrift stores and charities can use those items to help others. All you have to do is arrange for a pick up or go drop them off.
- Keep – Only put things in this pile that you really, really want/need. Bonus if you can immediately think of where the item will live.
Try to pump yourself up to make the first 2 bags the fullest. You only want to keep the things you really need.
Once you’ve done the deed and the clutter is clear, you have 2 tasks: take this mission to the other rooms and maintain it.
Tackle each space using the 3-bag method for a fast sort. Do each space completely before moving on. Even if you’re working in small chunks of time, do all the parts of each room and clear the bags.
Once you’re enjoying the clutter-free zones, you need to maintain them. How do you not reverse all your hard work and have to do this all over? First, remember it’s a process because you have to build new routines and habits. It’s not going to happen overnight.
How to Maintain Clutter-Free Space
Keep a basket or bag in each room to hold the clutter. At the end of each week, go through that basket. Clutter piles up quickly. As you sort through what’s in that basket, consider where the clutter comes from. Take a few minutes and put things where they belong.
If you’re like me and you know that you’re always going to clutter, try to find the best storage solutions for you. Having a place to put things so you know where to find them will help keep the clutter at bay.
As you go about your life, building in regular decluttering time will help. Whenever you do your regular cleaning, do a quick pass for clutter.
When you’re having a bad time with your mental health, the clutter might grow again, so don’t beat yourself up. First, if you’ve tackled it once, the mess won’t be that bad. Second, remind yourself that you can repeat the whole process if necessary and it won’t be overwhelming.
You’ve been successful once, so you can do it again.