Declutter Your Space, Improve Your Outlook: How Cleaning Can Clear Mental Cobwebs

A messy home can be a significant source of daily stress. Several studies have found links between a tidy environment and personal well-being. People often make healthier choices when their surroundings are ordered, as opposed to unkempt. Living in the middle of too much stuff can affect our mental health and the quality of our daily life as well.

If clutter is so bad for us, why do we accumulate so much stuff? How can we regulate untidiness to reduce stress levels and live a more relaxed life? Here are some tips on how to manage the things we accumulate through living.


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Why we have so much stuff

People collect items for many reasons. Some store things for future use; others treasure keepsakes for sentimental value. Sometimes we keep things because we spent good money on them, and can’t come to terms with the reality that we should not have purchased them in the first place.

Also, sometimes we hoard because getting rid of something may cause anxiety or even emotional pain. This is a physiological response in the brain that results from heightened activity in two areas of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex and insula. This is the same region of the brain that reacts when you feel physical pain from a stubbed toe or drinking a scalding coffee, or when a longtime smoker feels cravings when trying to quit. The brain perceives this stimulus as something similar to physical pain. This explains why the more you invest in an object emotionally (or financially), the more you desire to keep it around.

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Negative effects of clutter

Clutter and disorganization in the workplace cost some organizations over $65,000 a year, according to the Professional Organizers of Canada (POC). About thirty-seven percent of Canadians struggle with time management; eighty-two percent of these describe themselves as “extremely” disorganized. When this mindset spills over into their professional environment, it can have significant impacts on the workplace.

  • Productivity - Physical clutter everywhere can compete for your attention which may result in stress and decreased work performance. A messy work environment can impede your focus and ability to process information.

  • Motivation - A disorganized office can overwhelm and hamper your creative thought process. Clutter buildup can lead to anxiety, shame, and depression. These mental and emotional conditions can manifest through feelings of confusion, chaos, and low employee morale. If you’re experiencing any of these effects, consider consulting with a psychologist for counselling and treatment.

  • Unnecessary duplication - Disarray can result in needless duplication of supplies and work effort. Without a central location for printer supplies, for instance, you could end up with far more ink cartridges or printer paper than your business needs.

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Psychological benefits of clearing out the clutter

Conversely, removing physical clutter in your home or workspace can clear mental cobwebs and improve your focus, mood, and overall well-being. Here are the few of the fantastic benefits of decluttering:

  • Increased energy - Making quick decisions and being able to solve problems during the process of removing clutter puts your mind and body in an active mode. When you set your mind to getting things done, you will feel more energized to accomplish things which is the same sense of fulfillment you get when crashing out items on your to-do list.

  • Improved efficiency - Deciding which pieces have to go and how to make your remaining items fit within your limited space hones your ability to make quick decisions. Accomplishing these tasks can boost your self-confidence and enhance your ability to work toward desired results.

  • Reduced anxiety - Cleaning and organizing helps you feel calm and at ease.

  • More headspace - If you’re feeling mentally exhausted at your job, decluttering can give you a needed respite from hard cognitive work. A clean, structured workspace will help your mind focus on fresh insights and finding new solutions to problems.

  • Less distraction - Clearing away unnecessary stuff also helps in removing distractions so you can train your focus and discipline in accomplishing the things you need to do.

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Tips to manage clutter

If you have decided to declutter and minimize disorder in your home or office, the best time to start is now. Use these guidelines to help

  • Dig deep  - As you sift through the clutter, ask yourself why each object deserves a space in your home. People often link specific keepsakes with precious memories, goals, accomplishments, relationships, and even personal identities; this can make discarding an item emotionally challenging. Dig deep into your connection with each object, and allow yourself to recognize when it no longer brings value or joy to your life.

  • Be decisive - As you encounter potential clutter, commit to action: do you put it where it belongs or discard it? Avoid moving things around until they pile up. For instance, as you pick up the mail, sort through it right away instead of dropping everything into a pile that you will need to deal with a few weeks later.

  • Don’t warehouse possessions you don’t need - Avoid hiding clutter in nooks and crannies. Saving stuff that you are not likely to use in the next six months or a year is not the same as tackling and resolving the problem. If you haven’t used something in the last year, you probably don’t need it.

  • Limit your storage space - As you limit your consumption, you also need to reduce your storage space. Only make room for those things you need.

  • Master your consumption habits - Applying constraints in consumption will help you reduce accumulating clutter. For example, you can start by limiting your budget for clothing, home furnishing, or kitchenware. Set a limit that’s realistic.

  • Be proactive - Clutter can only occupy a space in your home, wardrobe, office, or life if you allow it. Think twice before introducing a new object into your space. Interrogate the impulse to buy. Ask yourself these questions before purchasing: “Do I need this?”, “How long will I have to keep it?”, and “How will I discard it?” The answers will help you decide whether or not this new thing will bring you joy, or just take up room in your life.

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Creating a harmonious environment by removing clutter and installing structure into your physical space will help reduce anxiety and free your creative mind to explore new solutions to problems you encounter. Start taking control of the quality of your life today by reducing clutter, and see your life change for the better.

If you require a counsellor to help you deal with some of the emotional impacts of clutter or decluttering, contact Living Well by Design for therapy and more in-depth guidance to build on these tips. Call (780) 246-8100 to make an appointment.

Wendy Hart