Why Clutter is Harming You
January 23, 2017
Guest blogger and professional organizer, Daria Harvey, has some valuable insights into how clutter can harm you and what to do about it. We are pleased to have her as a guest.
At the start of every new year, the buzzword is always “decluttering.” January is the natural time to put your home in order. The holiday decorations have all been tucked away and we look around at what we’re left with. New presents means now there’s even more stuff in our homes! Decluttering seems to be a popular New Year’s resolution.
If you have ever tried to declutter and failed, or are perhaps the rare type of person who does not get jittery and nervous in a cluttered space, you may ask yourself “why even bother? Why do I even need to declutter?!” Because clutter is harming you.
The Cost of Clutter
The average American home has over 300,000 items. Mind boggling. Do we really use 300,000 items? No, in fact, most people use 20% of what they own. (National Association of Professional Organizers) Yep, you are not using 80% of what you own.
That stuff sometimes makes it hard to find what you need. Ever rush around trying to find your keys when you have to leave the house? Maybe your child can’t find a glue stick the night before a big project is due. Now you have to run to the store. According to US News and World Report, we spend one year of our lives, in total, looking for stuff we need. Wow. What would you do with all that extra time? Pursue a hobby? Spend time with family and friends? Travel?
So let’s say you do run out and get that glue stick, only to find a week later that you in fact had already purchased the mega 20 pack of glue sticks from Costco last month. Money wasted. Or perhaps you decide it’s time to finally organize the pantry and discover much of the food has already expired. Sometimes having clutter is like pouring money down the drain.
Clutter costs us time and money, two very precious commodities.
Clutter is much more than taking time to find lost items or purchasing duplicate things. Clutter could be costing you productivity and happiness, trapping you in a vicious cycle of depression and anxiety.
According to a Princeton study, clutter in our environment affects our ability to focus. Ever find that you have a hard time finishing that paperwork in your office? Clutter may be to blame.
- It’s distracting.
- Clutter overstimulates the senses.
- Piles can overwhelm us so that we can’t figure out what to do.
I always remind my clients that their homes should be their havens. When they walk in the door, they should feel calm and at peace. That’s hard to do if you have to brush by ten pairs of shoes on your way in.
Some people say “oh, clutter doesn’t bother me.” I’m not convinced. Next time you enter a cluttered room, take notice of how you are feeling. Do you suddenly feel overwhelmed by all you have to do? We do live in an increasingly busy world, but that oppressive feeling may have to do a lot with your physical environment.
UCLA conducted a study of 32 families with cluttered homes. They found that the women had elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Yes, your clutter is stressing you out. Men did not seem to be affected by the clutter. I’m not even going to go there.
So, you’re ready to declutter. But oh, the guilt of letting go. Often I find clients feel guilty about:
- Items they spent a lot of money on
- Items that represent who they used to be
- Items that represent who they thought they wanted to be
- Gifts from well-meaning family and friends that they don’t want
- Sentimental items they have no room for
This is the part where I gently tell you that just because you spent a lot of money on something doesn’t make it useful to you. Sell it.
Used to be a size 2 when you were in your first job and still hanging onto that suit? Why keep something that makes you feel bad whenever you look at it. Celebrate who you are now.
Thought you wanted to be a knitter and bought needles, yarn, and a cute bag to hold your supplies in only to find you absolutely hate it? Be kind to yourself. Be yourself. And donate the items to someone who thinks knitting is cool.
Gift givers want their presents to give you joy. If all you feel is guilt, it’s time to pass the gift on. It really is the thought that counts.
Sentimental items are hard to get rid of, I admit. Perhaps keep one example of your mother’s angel collection. Perhaps another member of the family would love to have some of those albums boxed up in your attic. Give yourself permission to let go. You aren’t letting go of the love.
The Gifts of Decluttering
Whether you start small or go all Marie Kondo on your house, I promise you decluttering will be worth it. You will gain more time, save money, have less stress, guilt and become more productive. Sounds pretty nice, huh?
Now grab a box and label it “Donate.”
Daria Harvey is a professional organizer and blogger, operating from Holly Springs, North Carolina. Be sure to visit her website for great tips and inspiration, and check out our earlier Interview with an Organizer feature for a more details about Daria.