Clearing out your closet can clear your mind

Sometimes it feels like we’re surrounded by stuff, with nowhere to put anything. How much of this stuff do we actually need? Have we used or worn it all in the last year? If the answer to these questions is ‘not all of it’ then all these things may be cluttering your life unnecessarily.

Clutter can contribute to feelings of stress and not being able to achieve our goals. Mess around the house can make us feel stressed as we may perceive it as another task that we haven’t been able to complete. This adds to the feeling that there isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish our goals, which can make us feel even more stressed. In this third post during National Stress Awareness Month, we will be exploring the benefits of tidying up, getting rid of things we don’t really need and donating them to charity.

You may have heard of the ‘KonMari’ method popularised by the TV show ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’. This method encourages us to get rid of items which no longer ‘spark joy’ in us. This is similar to the quote by William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Focusing on the items that make us happy and removing those that are no longer of use to us can result in a transformation of not only our homes, but also our emotional wellbeing.

Is Marie Kondo onto something? She could well be. Living in a messy, cluttered house can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. If we feel like we live in a cluttered home, we are more likely to feel stressed, as shown by increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).

Why we are reluctant to declutter our homes

Although clutter and mess can cause frustration and have a detrimental effect on our wellbeing, many of us do nothing about it. Why is that? Tidying up and throwing things away is an unpleasant, often time-consuming activity for many of us to do, so we avoid it and spend that time procrastinating instead. For those of us who avoid throwing things away, or even hoard objects, we may keep hold of things because we believe that:

  • We just need more time to sort things out
  • We don’t have too much stuff, we just need more storage space
  • We need to keep them for the future, ‘just in case’
  • If we throw things away, we may harm the environment

If you are concerned that you may have a problem with hoarding, the Clutter Image Rating may be useful. Also, speak to your GP or a mental health practitioner for advice and support.

We can also become overly attached to our personal items, which makes it hard to get rid of them, resulting in a build-up of objects in our homes and lives. We then add to this ever increasing amount of objects because we believe we actually need the things we want, which is rarely the case. Do we want three different types of black ankle boots? Yes. Do we need three different types of black ankle boots? Almost definitely not.

How getting rid of clutter can improve our wellbeing

In comparison, if we feel like we live in a home that is tidy and in order, we feel less stressed. When decluttering we use our problem solving skills, giving us a sense of mastery and control, which helps us feel better about ourselves and increases our belief in our ability to achieve our goals.

One of the positives of tidying up is that we can see the difference we have made straight away. When our things are out of place, this can cause us to feel anxious. Putting things in order can relieve anxiety relatively quickly. Additionally, decluttering can involve three of the key wellbeing themes we’ve covered in 15 minute wellbeing:

  • Physical health – tidying is a type of exercise, which can improve our mental and physical health
  • Mindfulness – concentrating on just decluttering a space can keep us in the here and now, which in itself can help reduce stress
  • Giving – giving our unwanted items to charity can not only pass on joy to others, but also increase our self-worth

This week’s activity is a seemingly simple one – declutter a space in your home. It may sound daunting –and it’s ok to feel that way – but in line with all the other activities, you only need to spend 15 minutes tidying a space. Pick a small, manageable space such as a bedside drawer or the pile of bits and bobs on the stairs. Take a picture of how it looks before decluttering, then take another when you have finished.This will help you see what a difference just 15 minutes of tidying up can make.

Once you’ve finished tidying, bag up those items you don’t need and donate them to your local charity shop. Giving to others can further enhance our wellbeing by giving us asense of self-worth and purpose.

Click the link below to download the worksheet. You can fill it in using the ‘fill and sign’ tool or alternatively print it off and fill it in by hand.

If tidying up had a positive impact on your stress levels or wellbeing, please do get in touch and share your story.

I share wellbeing-related research, news and stories on twitter and Instagram inbetween weekly blog posts so do follow @15minwellbeing on both platforms to keep up to date.

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