Knickknacks. Tchotchkes. Stuff. Junk. Gear – you name it, and I am sure I own it. My entire life I have been accumulating things. Some of them necessary to live, like a bed, furniture, automobile, clothing. And a ridiculous amount of completely unnecessary items I convinced myself I needed.
The brain has the capacity to rationalize just about anything, including pointless purchases and keeping items you don’t need. During my years of homeowning and raising kids, I have amassed such a large amount of stuff it has become overwhelming. I am not a hoarder by any means. I consider myself a savvy collector of very important and often times vintage things. If you were to journey into my basement or attic you would find bins, neatly labeled, stacked and filled with anything and everything (need a charm necklace from the ‘80s?). Although at one time these items brought me joy, I am realizing I don’t need all of it (and truthfully don’t want it). I am currently questioning, “Why do I even own St. Patrick’s Day placemats?” leading to my breakthrough horrifying realization – I have got to get rid of (some of) this stuff.
I have been avoiding this forever. Throwing away things means my kids are growing up, I’m not going to fit into my prom dress, and CDs are never making a comeback.
Catherine Roster and her team from University of New Mexico studied how clutter compromises the perception of one’s home, and ultimately how an individual feels about their satisfaction with life. Since “many people identify so closely with their home environments, the extent to which it’s cluttered can interfere with the pleasure they experience when being in that environment.” The study was based on fundamental premise that people are subconsciously affected by their surrounding environment.
Do you ever wonder why we love staying in a hotel room? You walk in, the room is practically empty. It only contains the necessities. The sheets are fresh, the drawers are empty, the towels are folded, stacked perfectly, and the amenities are in small little delicious-smelling, clearly labeled bottles. We are virtually unstimulated by the lack of items and immediately feel relaxed. Pan to your bedroom: the room is filled with unnecessary things, the drawers crammed with clothing (that you may or may not use), the bedside table stacked with books and miscellaneous things. This does not illicit that same feeling of calmness as a room filled with less objects.
Now don’t go and immediately try to recreate that same hotel experience at your house. Chances are it may not be realistic. Although finding a sense of relief in an area that is overcluttered is a challenge, decluttering is a process. I am not suggesting you rent a dumpster, open your windows and start throwing everything out. I am simply suggesting that you may want to put your house on a diet.
I have not personally executed this without a hiccup. I have transitioned from a thing-in-a-bin problem to a bag-in-a-car problem. In my attempt to declutter I have continuously filled bags with stuff. The Goodwill bag, the hand-me-down-bring-to-my-cousin bag, the stuff to go to the post office bag, the shoes that don’t fit and need to be returned bag, the clothes I changed out of at the gym bag, the sports bag my kids left in the car. SO MANY BAGS. All filled to the brim and in my mind serve a very specific purpose. The good news is I have started the process of delivering the bags to said location and am making headway.
To help guide me in this process, I looked to Positive Energy Fitness and Health owner Christine Cook for tips. She confirmed that the brain needs “open space” to be creative and productive. That physical clutter overloads your senses making you feel stressed while inhibiting creativity, productivity and problem-solving. She describes how more is definitely not better when it comes to physical items. Having lots of things can make you stressed. In a study by UCLA, they found high levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in women with homes that had a high density of objects. The more stuff, the more stress. Unlike many other anxiety-producing aspects of our lives, clutter can be reduced in a fairly quick manner.
As a Holistic Health Coach, Cook treats the whole person. When symptoms present, clutter can be a contributing factor that is not allowing a person to be their very best. Cook has worked with a number of clients helping them start the process of decluttering as a means to improve their overall health. She suggests starting with these five steps.
1. Choose to reduce clutter.
2. Decide where to start. This is where many stop. The overwhelm is real. Tackling the whole project may seem impossible. Taking it in small steps can make it less daunting.
3. Set a timer. You can decide what you can dedicate. 1 hour? 30 minutes? 10 minutes? Setting a timer will help keep you focused and limit the overwhelm.
4. Find some motivating music – or don’t. Music can help the task feel less like drudgery. Or, you can find an audiobook or podcast that you listen to only when you are working on your decluttering projects. Or, perhaps you use it as time to completely unplug. Think about what would work best for you.
5. Take a pic! Do a before, during and after picture to help keep you motivated.
Christine is offering free 10-day online challenge called “Make Space for the Good Stuff.” The challenge starts Friday, March 15 and ends Friday, March 24. She is holding a kickoff event Wednesday, March 13 to share the latest research about the health benefits of decluttering and exactly how the 10-day program will work. The information session is free and held at 43 Degrees Athletic Club from 7 to 8 p.m. Please visit her Facebook page at Positive Energy Fitness and Health (bit.ly/2HobqLq) for more information.
(Crystal Reynolds is an owner of 43 Degrees North Athletic Club and recommends delivering two bags a week of stuff that someone else would use.)