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Cutting Through Clutter

You’re finally tiring of battling invaders on Xbox, scrolling through feeds and binge-watching Netflix. Now you’ve started to notice your stuff.

Piles and piles of stuff.

That makes this the perfect time to clear out and clean up. Mess equals stress—and if it’s one thing you don’t need right now, it’s more stress.

 

The Psychology of Clutter

Clutter “often represents a project that needs to be completed, one that stays in our inbox nagging at us but never gets done,” says clinical psychologist Steve Weissman, PhD. “Clutter doesn’t just stress us out, it can make us not like ourselves very much.”

That kind of negativity can affect one’s well-being, especially among women. According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, women who live in a cluttered home with at least one school-aged child had higher levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone, than those who did not see their homes as being cluttered.

For many people, external clutter and mess often reflects internal disorganization and a sense of being overwhelmed, says Sharon Saline, PsyD.

“It can be extremely helpful to clear up what’s happening on the outside as a way to foster a sense of spaciousness and calm internally,” she explains. “When people feel overwhelmed by mess, it’s hard to work on reducing it.”

 

Clearing It All Away

The decluttering process can be an emotional one, depending on the extent of the clutter.

But it’s important to note your home should be an expression of yourself and vice versa, says clinical psychologist Kelli Wright, PhD. “Ask yourself, ‘Is the person I want to be cramped and cluttered—inside and out?’”

Start with these three steps:

  • Wright suggests making decluttering a positive experience by putting on music and tossing out anything that doesn’t enrich your life. “I often tell my clients that it’s best to align your life around your core values: Define what it is you live for and establish your goals,” she says. “Do you need all the clutter around your house in order to make those dreams a reality?”
  • Start small and set a schedule for yourself, suggests Saline. “Begin with easy tasks such as throwing away outdated papers, magazines and papers you’ve already read or don’t think you’ll get to.”
  • Schedule specific periods of time to tidy up, set a timer and stop when it goes off. Then reward yourself with something you love to do, something that nourishes you and brings you joy. Using time limits for cleaning and an external motivator helps reduce any unhappiness associated with tedious or uninteresting tasks and make them seem more manageable.

To clear out clutter for good, a person must be willing to look at things differently, says Weissman, who adds, “It requires a willingness to let go and move towards the life you want.”

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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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