How Decluttering Can Be Good for Your Mental Health
There’s something about a good old clear-out that’s incredibly liberating. Ditching years’ worth of unwanted items can be immensely satisfying for the soul – as if you’re being freed from carrying the energetic weight of all that’s accumulated over time. But a declutter can also be hugely daunting. Many of us put it off, even as our drawers begin to overflow with things we don’t use, and it becomes harder to find the things we do use and need. Because for many of us, there’s a direct link between the material clutter of life and the internal clutter of the mind. Studies have found that a cluttered living space contributes to stress and exacerbates shame and overwhelm. If Japanese home-clearing guru Marie Kondo hasn’t yet convinced you that a tidy-up can be life-changing (through her KonMari method, which has become a global sensation), then let’s explore how doing so can, at the very least, benefit your mental health.
Letting go of the old
There’s nothing wrong with an attachment to material possessions. Keeping things for sentimental value is an important way to stay connected to happy memories and feelings of gratitude. But possessions can also remain loaded with less-positive emotional baggage. Even neutral items that aren’t getting used or worn can contribute to feelings of guilt and take up space in your brain and energy field. An excess of material clutter can create decision fatigue around where to store it, what to do with it, or how you might be able to use it next. It can also keep us stuck from moving forward, just as we sometimes need to dead-head plants for them to keep blooming, or get a regular haircut, or move on from an unfulfilling job. Waving goodbye to obsolete cables, donating all the things gathering dust in the spare room, or selling whatever no longer “sparks joy” frees you from the stagnant energy of the old and, more excitingly, creates space for more joyful things to enter your life.
Making space for the new
Minimalist living is all about space – not necessarily for the purpose of being filled, but for the clarity of mind that it can facilitate. According to a study from Princeton University, all the different things that are in your eyesight get your brain working to process them, pulling focus from whatever ideas and thoughts you would prefer your mental energy to go towards. Decluttering frees our mental faculties to do more meaningful processing than subconsciously going over and over the same old stuff that’s lying about the house. Clinging onto what no longer serves us is also a sign of fear. We keep things “just in case”, as if we won’t be able to acquire what we actually might need further down the line. Making space is about trusting that your needs will be met – a powerful way to ensure that they are, or will be. We don’t have to adopt a spartan existence or destroy all our possessions like one British artist did, but embracing more space and organization in our lives can clear out distractions and open us up to more potential.
No mess, no stress
When clutter gets out of control, it becomes oppressive. Research findings suggest there’s a social stigma attached to a messy home, with untidiness feeding into shame – which triggers a response of overwhelm in the nervous system… which then leads to procrastination around tidying up, resulting in increased mess and the perpetuation of the source of stress. If your living environment has become overwhelmingly disorganized, it’s important to speak to a counselor or therapist to break this vicious cycle. Because while there is of course no correlation between the state of your bedroom and your worth, taking time to organize your space is an act of self-care. It’s a message to your own sense of self that you are worthy of living in a clean and beautiful environment. Reframing the idea of tidying and decluttering from being a chore to being an act of love instead can turn it into a soothing, cleansing ritual – with the added benefit of leaving you feeling more capable and in control, and hopefully leading to a better relationship with yourself.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Interactions of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in human visual cortex; Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments; Older Adults and Clutter: Age Differences in Clutter Impact, Psychological Home, and Subjective Well-Being.
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