Health and Wellness from Humana - Clutter Can Be A Source of Stress

March 08, 2011

Clean home is a healthy home

Did you know that a cluttered home (or office or car) can be a major source of stress in your life? Clutter, which comes from too much stuff and too little organization, can make it hard to focus, work, or just relax. It can cost you money, time, and more. With spring — and spring cleaning — just around the corner, now's the time to get rid of the clutter so you can enjoy a more peaceful place to live and work. And it's not as hard as you might think!

The high cost of clutter

Time- The American Demographics Society tells us that Americans waste nine million hours every day looking for lost items. Think of how much time you've spent looking for things like lost keys or a screwdriver.

Money - If you've ever had to buy a second bicycle pump or umbrella because the one you already own is lost in the clutter, then you know what we're talking about here. But clutter can cost you in other ways, too. For example, if you lose monthly bills or can't find your checkbook, you may end up paying late fees. In fact, Harris Interactive states that 23 percent of adults say they pay bills late because they lose them.

Stress- Wellness coach and health educator, Elizabeth Scott, M.S., is an expert on how to handle and lower stress. In an article on about.com, "The Cost of Clutter," she notes that just sitting in a cluttered room can create stress. Each room is a reminder of all the work that needs to be done in the way of cleaning. Using the room for positive activities like yoga or sewing becomes hard without taking a lot of time to clear the space. And having guests over becomes an event that takes all day to prepare for.

Safety - If you have a serious clutter problem at home, it can raise the risk of falls, especially for the elderly. Having too much stuff around also makes it harder to dust and keep rooms clean.

How much is too much?

You can't keep your home in perfect order all the time. If you have young children, you know that for a fact. And your goal shouldn't be perfection. That can cause stress on its own! Here are a few guidelines Scott offers to help you figure out where you should draw the line on clutter:

  • Can you be ready for company with no more than 15 minutes of cleaning?
  • Is your home usually organized enough that you can find everything you're looking for without having to search?
  • Can you truly relax in your home, or is it an energy drain?

If you've answered "no" to any of these questions, then we have some tips that can help you get rid of the clutter.

Get a vision.

Think about what your clutter-free area will look like and the freedom, comfort and space it will give you. Keep that in mind to stay on track.

Learn to let go.

If you tend to get too attached to things, it can be hard to throw them out. That means clutter can build up fast. Ariane Benefit, M.S. Ed., is a professional organizer, speaker, and author. She offers this advice in, "How to Detach from Your Clutter So You Can Let It Go," on expertarticles.com:

  • Things are not people. When you toss or recycle something someone gave you, like a card, a souvenir, or a toy, you are not throwing away the person. The same is true for duplicate photos.
  • "People don't expect you to keep everything they give you for the rest of your life," says Benefit. "They give you things to make you happy, and if having too much stuff is making you unhappy, they would want you to pass the things on."
  • Keeping old clothes from a happy time in your life so you can remember it is something many people do. One way to learn to let go is to take photos of the items and then pass them on to someone who can use them.
  • Be very choosy about stuff you save to pass on to your kids. "Set space limits on how much you will keep," she says. "Give the rest to someone who can use your unneeded things now."
  • You can't easily make room in your home without letting the excess go. You don't need that much to survive. Having less clutter will let you focus on the present and make your life better today.

Start small.

Ben Benkiren of Get Organized, Inc., tells us to begin by setting small goals. In his article, "Goodbye Clutter, Goodbye Stress," he says a good start might be to spend 20 minutes a day getting rid of clutter. As you get in the swing of things and start seeing good results, you'll start wanting to add more time.

Get the right tools.

Shelves, boxes, and cabinets can make storage areas look neat. They can also help you build a system to find stored items when you need them. Just don't let the tools give you an excuse to keep items you would be better off throwing or giving away.

Get professional help if you need it.

If the task still seems like too much to deal with, think about hiring an organization expert to get you started. The money you invest may be made up by what you'll save in time, money, and stress by having a more orderly home.

Make it fun.

Elizabeth Scott says that when you're cleaning things out, you can put on some lively music to make it more fun. See how much you can get done with each song. You may find yourself working faster and enjoying it more.

Reward yourself.

Finish one area at a time so you can get a better sense of accomplishment. Then, give yourself a little reward. Take a soothing bath, go out and play, or relax in the area you just made beautiful. You deserve to pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Stay a step ahead.

Once you have gotten rid of the clutter, take a moment every day to keep the area clutter-free. Set aside a few minutes every day to clean up and deal with messes. That way, things won't build up and get ahead of you.

Put things away. Right away.

Make sure every item has a home. After you've used it, always put it back.

Finally, watch what you bring home.

Think twice before you buy something new or bring home a magazine, brochure, or carryout menu. Ask yourself if you really need it. If you do, sort it as soon as you get home. The less stuff you have to deal with, the easier it will be to keep your new space clean and clutter-free.

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