There’s scientific evidence that clutter causes anxiety and stress

As millions of people tune in to the new Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, many publications are sharing findings of how clutter can actually be detrimental to health. Specifically, clutter causes anxiety and stress, and has also been correlated to depression.

To give you a quick summary:

  • Clutter over-stimulates the senses. Every item in your home that is creating clutter is clamoring for your attention: “Put me away.” “Decide what to do with me.” “Where do I belong?” This constant calling of your attention by random items in your home can contribute to feelings of tiredness or exhaustion.
  • Clutter steals your focus and attention. It is very hard to concentrate when too many things in your home are out of place. It also becomes easier to get distracted by the chaos instead of finishing the tasks at hand.
  • An untidy home gives you the impression that your work is never done, and that there is always something to do. With this kind of feedback from your environment, it is very hard to unwind and relax at the end of the day. In a cluttered home, you rarely get to experience feelings of accomplishment.
  • Clutter can cause feelings of embarrassment and guilt. People who have a lot of clutter may be less likely to invite people over. (Guilt, in Feng Shui, is associated with career and money. I see in clients that their guilt over their clutter blocks this life area for them.)
  • Lack of organization causes anxiety and serious loss of time. How many times a day do you fear you may have lost something important because it could basically “be anywhere?”
  • Clutter can cause you to feel angry and frustrated. Every project takes longer because you cannot find what you are looking for, or even get to the spot where you think you might find it. (From the Feng Shui view point, anger and frustration indicate problems with the wood element. The wood element is also the element for the life area related to wealth and self-worth.)

In fact, many people fall into a clutter-depression-anxiety cycle. Seeing the clutter makes a person blue, then anxious feelings rise from the frustration and impotence to solve this problem, and these feelings make it harder to tidy up and organize.

A Recent University Study

A recent university study found that clutter has a profound effect on mood and self-esteem. Self-esteem in Feng Shui, is related to the life area that has to do with wealth.

In this and other studies, scientists found:

  • A link between between high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in women, when there was a high density of household objects. The more stuff, the more stress women feel.
  • Women associate a tidy home with a happy and successful family. The more dishes that pile up in the sink, the more anxious, embarrassed and unsuccessful women feel.
  • Families are often emotionally paralyzed when it comes to home organization due to emotional attachments or fear of letting go of things that might be worth something.
  • Although the U.S. has 3% of the world’s children, we buy 40% of the world’s toys. And these toys tend to take over the whole home.
  • The average American family home holds a whooping 300,000 items, according to professional organizers. (Will you ask “does this spark joy?” 300,000 times?)
  • Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods—in other words, items they do not need, yet nearly half of Americans have no savings.

Will Marie Kondo Help?

I first became aware of Marie Kondo’s book on tidying up when several students and clients mentioned it and said “I had to read it.”

That was years ago, and since then, I have yet to meet a person who effectively decluttered, for good, using the Marie Kondo method. (By the way, if you have tried the Marie Kondo method, let me know below in the comments.)

Sure, I have met many people who got very excited and experienced great improvement in the clutter levels of their home, but then one of two things happened:

  1. They lost steam and told themselves “they would get back to it soon,” but never did.
  2. They did declutter their homes, but clutter came back after several months.

Certainly, the method of asking if an object “sparks joy” in order to keep it or let it go is effective. However, they are missing the one skill that a person needs to learn in order to declutter for good.

The One Skill that Will Help You Declutter

I define clutter as decisions delayed. Simply put, every single item of clutter in your home started out because at some point you needed to make a decision and didn’t make it.

Now, for many people, the way to avoid decisions is to have a “default decision” that isn’t helpful. Whenever they are faced with having to make a decision about what to do with an object, the “default decision” becomes “take it to the garage” or “take it to the basement” or “drop it right here.” That’s how clutter is made.

So until you learn to make decisions, you won’t be able to effectively declutter.

An inability to make decisions, in Feng Shui, shows a weakness in the wood element. This is also the element related to anger and laziness. Do you see now how everything comes full circle?

Introducing the “Cluttering Mind”

In my practice of helping clients declutter for over 20 years, using Feng Shui techniques, sometimes it seems to me that people who clutter are affected by a condition I have come to call the “Cluttering Mind.”

The cluttering mind is like a wrench thrown into an otherwise working piece of machinery. It makes thinking unclear and ineffective.

For example. When confronted with the question “Does this spark joy?” The cluttering mind says “yes” every time. It says yes if the object in question is a broken saucer that has been haphazardly glued. It says yes if the object is a pair of shoes that no longer fit. The cluttering mind believes that everything that holds even an inkling of a good memory “sparks joy.”

When asked the question: “Do you really need this?” the cluttering mind says, “I am not using it right now, but I might need it any time.” The cluttering mind thinks that an empty lipstick case is worth keeping, as well as last year’s newspapers, and pieces of clothing that are full of holes (and not as a fashion statement!)

A person can set aside the cluttering mind, and gut their closet or their book cases to keep only the most necessary objects, in a minimalist rampage, but the cluttering mind will come back and take over. Unless you learn how to make the most important decision you can make when dealing with clutter, clutter will always come back.

To discover what is the most important decision you can make to declutter for good, and be happy with the results, register for the free webinar below:

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