Friday, March 1, 2019

How To Combat Your Clutter

Unless you've been hiding under your bed or refusing to look at the internet recently (and considering the state of the world currently, I wouldn't blame you), you've probably heard of Marie Kondo and her show,Tidying Up on Netflix. Even if you haven't watched the show, memes of her sparking joy have flooded the internet. My personal favourites were signs from the Womens' March on January 19th stating "This cabinet does not spark joy - throw it out!" I watched the show and loved every moment - there was something really cathartic about watching people rid themselves of the clutter than had been weighing them down for years. I'm definitely someone who feels uncomfortable, anxious and stressed when surrounded by mess, and I wanted to find out why that is, and what were the best ways to combat clutter.

Who says tidying up can't be glam? Throw on your favourite dress and a pair of jazzy Marigolds, and snap, the job's a game!

First of all it's important to realise that clutter isn't just limited to physical objects and mess. We also accumulate mental and emotional clutter, and possibly one of the categories of clutter than has the most un-noticed impact is digital - unread emails, open internet browsers, constant information from social media. So why do we accumulate clutter? As humans, we form emotional connections to objects, and when we try to let go of these objects the areas of the brain that are associated with conflict and pain are stimulated. We are also subject to two forces that interact - the endowment effect which means we place higher value on objects we own than on identical objects we don't, and loss aversion. Together, this means that we keep acquiring objects and avoiding their loss, leading to a build of of clutter. And this clutter causes stress in a number of ways:
  • You lose a lot of time looking for things amongst the mess.
  • It's harder to keep track of finances, bills or fines get missed and things need to be replaced because they are 'lost' - all things that can lead to financial stress.
  • When things are untidy it's a visual reminder that there's more work to do.
  • There's no space for activities that would help combat stress, such as yoga or meditation.
  • Clutter has been shown to cause a spike in cortisol, the stress hormone, which can cause serious health problems if levels are high for a prolonged time. This spike is often higher in women than men (it's also important to remember that it doesn't affect everyone the same way, so if you're not stressed out by clutter that could be why!)

The aim with tidying up is to create a space you can relax in. If you want your state of mind to be healthy, clear and stable, your immediate environment needs to reflect that. Here's some tips for combating your clutter:
  •  Watch Tidying Up! Marie Kondo feels like the 'harm reduction' approach to the habit of consumption, rather than the hardline abstinence of the extreme minimalists. There's room for sentimental items, joy and beauty, rather than everything needing to be strictly functional or used regularly for it to be allowed house room. She has loads of great tips on how to store clothes, and the idea of boxes inside boxes has become my new obsession.
  • Live within your means - when we moved into the van it was the beginning of a whole new way of life, one without a lot of space or a regular income. So we don't buy a lot of things, and that alone has helped reduce our clutter because we're not constantly adding to the pile.
  • Purge often - having said that, I do love me a good free shop, and Ryan is always bringing home 'crap from the street', whether its bags, books or clothes. So it's good to go through your things regularly and recycle or donate anything that you no longer have a use for. 
  • Have a place for everything - This is especially important in the van (or any other kind of house that moves) because you can't have things lying about all over the place when you're driving. If everything has somewhere to live in your home, rather than just wherever you flung it last, it will reduce the visual stimulation that causes the spikes of cortisol and make things easier to find. 
  • Put things away - the previous tip only really works if once you've found a home for everything you keep it that way by putting things back where you found them. It takes a while to get into the habit, but once you've experienced the benefits of having a clutter-free space you'll be motivated to maintain it. 
  • Tidy up in manageable chunks - if the idea of tackling your whole house in one go makes you want to curl up in a ball and cry, take on the job in small chunks. Marie Kondo suggests working by category - clothes, books, papers etc. You could do room by room, starting with the rooms you spend the most time in. Or start small, say with a kitchen drawer, and work your way up to whole rooms.
  • Make things beautiful - who says storage solutions have to be dull? Use pretty boxes, or make them pretty yourself, and you'll be more inspired to keep things in them. Make your home more than just a functional place to keep your stuff, and it will become more important to keep it clutter-free. 
Ah, the awesomely-sparked-joy of a well-organised storage box (note the box-within-a-box...tidying up at it's very best!

However, not all clutter is physical. How can we deal with the mental or digital clutter than can make us feel so stressed without us even realising?
  • Use the Do Not Disturb function on your phone to stop the constant barrage of emails, texts and notifications
  • If you have hundreds of internet browsers open it can create the same kind of visual stimulus as physical clutter. If you're not using 'em, close 'em down.
  • Take some time to clear out all the junk from your inbox, unsubscribe from mailing lists and block spam. 
  • Be more selective with what you fill your mind with, especially first thing in the morning - have a time that you wait until before you check social media. 
  • Make time without devices, perhaps no phones at mealtimes, to give yourself some space from all the mental stimulation.
  • Meditate - even just a few minutes a day of quietening your mind will be of benefit. It's the mental equivalent of giving your bedroom a quick spruce!

So what are some of the benefits of tidying up on our mental health?
  • It's a form of self care - it shows that we feel we're worth taking care of and deserve to live in a pleasant space.
  • It gives you a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.
  • It makes cleaning easier.
  • It saves time and energy, which reduces stress and frustration.
  • It helps your brain relax, gives you more mental space and helps concentration.
  • It's a catalyst for further change, creating a momentum that can carry into other areas of your life. 
This final benefit is the one I feel is the most important, especially for people struggling with addiction issues. Perhaps those problems seem insurmountable, so they are ignored and people fall into a negative spiral of feeling hopeless, not taking care of themselves and never feeling any sense of accomplishment. It might seem small, but tackling something more manageable, like tidying up even just a kitchen drawer, can give enough sense of achievement to provide the motivation to move on to the rest of the kitchen, then the whole house. All these changes will keep providing benefits that can create enough energy and motivation to then allow people to address the other issues in their lives. Starting small and working to reduce stress is a recipe for success.


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1 comment:

  1. Love a good tidy. Thanks for sharing all your enthusiasm. L D