Why getting a handle on your clutter can help your stress, anxiety and overall mood.
We have all seen the shows, the videos, read the articles and books about organizing, decluttering and minimalism. Most of us thrive when in an organized space, but it aways seems to evade us. To watch videos of others’ homes, we fall prey to envy, judgment and self-loathing. On the one hand, the minimalist movement is a noble endeavor that many of us are striving to achieve because we believe that it would make our lives simpler and less chaotic. On the other hand, we are a consumerist society who looks to outside products to help us get to simplicity more easily. Amazon is a behemoth that made between $116 billion to 121 billion in 2022 for a reason. And there are videos like “TikTok made me buy it” or “Top ten Amazon buys that will make your life easier” which suck us in. And yet we are no closer to getting our live streamlined and organized. We start to make excuses and it often leads to discomfort, namely in the form of depression, stress and sometimes anger at our loved ones for not helping out.
From a therapist’s perspective, I recognize that organizing is often more difficult and more complex than just reading a book or watching a series on decluttering and getting inspired to take action. Oftentimes our homes are chaotic, not because we just have too much stuff, but because our minds, thoughts and beliefs are chaotic. We’ve created narratives around ourselves and our lives that are incongruent with our experience. We think it’s too hard to get our lives in order. We don’t think that we have time to get things done. We believe that things have to be perfect and only we can do it. We assume that those in our lives are intentionally avoiding helping out. And sometimes, we just have a hard time letting go of things. We’ve also created terrible habits (or sometimes no habits at all) which make it hard to focus and manage our day to day lives. And you wonder why you’re stressed.
Let me clarify what I mean by being disorganized and cluttered. Cluttered is when you are overwhelmed by the mountain of laundry that never seems to get handled and you can’t find anything clean or without wrinkles to wear to work. Cluttered is when you get overwhelmed by all of the toys and clothes and dishes lying around. Cluttered is when you’re embarrassed to let anyone into your home without advanced notice. Cluttered is when you get take out for the third time this week because you didn’t plan a meal, you forgot to take something out to defrost or you’re just plan tired from the grind of work and extracurricular activities. Cluttered is when you say “I’ll do it because you do it wrong” and then yell at everyone because they never help out around the house. All of these day-to-day stressors are bad enough but then you add the clutter in your garage or extra bedroom, with projects waiting to be completed, or hobbies waiting to be taken up. You can imagine that living day to day like this can create resentment and anger and frustration.
There is an answer and it all starts in your mind. By going inward and exploring your thoughts you can start to finally get a handle on your environment and ultimately your mental health. Over the next few articles, I will share with you things that you can explore to help you get a handle on your overall mental well-being. By tackling your inner world, improvement in your outer world will follow. Below are some tips to begin the process.
1. Explore your internal world
Before you can take any real action, you should sit with the thoughts that are swirling around as it relates to yourself, those in your life and your home. Set a timer for 5 minutes and when you think about the word “my home”, what thoughts and feelings show up? “Disgusting” “Isolating” “Embarrassing” “Pig” “Loser” “Not so bad” “Cute” “Has potential” “I love it”. Do thoughts about yourself show up? Do thoughts about others you live with show up? Now explore the physical sensations that show up when you think about your home. A headache? Tense shoulders? A belly ache? Pay attention to what your thoughts, feelings and sensations are telling you. The things that show up are powerful influences and impact the way we interact with our stuff. Try to jot down what came up for you and use it as information to challenge. This part is often surprising and jarring to us because we didn’t necessarily know how this chaos was really affecting us.
2. Visualize the end result
Before you tackle any plan to get organized, come up with your why. Ask yourself why it’s important to clear the space and get organized. Without a strong why, you may hit roadblocks that keep you from truly letting go. Visualize your home as you’d like it to be. Visualize yourself as the person you want to be in this place. See the hobbies you want to take up once your place is organized and the garage cleared out. Really dial down on the specifics. If you want toys off the floor, see the rug with no toys on it. See the empty laundry basket. If you want to be a Cricut wielding Mama, see yourself after work at 6PM, after the kids have eaten dinner playing with it. Or see yourself taking classes on weekends to learn how to build your own cabinets. You have to see yourself in action, making this home what you want it to be. You also have to see yourself making time in your life for these things to actually be. Notice the sensation of peace and taking a deep breath as you sit in your living room.
3. Think about the cons of getting organized.
That’s right, you read that correctly. Identify the CONS of getting organized and finally achieving organization bliss. Oftentimes, there are underlying and secondary gains to the chaos. Chaos sometimes helps us avoid dealing with deeper issues like our relationships, our identities, our purpose. As long as you have stuff and chaos, you never have to really pursue your dreams, or leave the relationship that’s not working or tackle the hobby that deep down scares the crap out of you. Maybe you fear being able to keep up. Maybe you’re afraid of having people over because you don’t live like others. By exploring the cons, you can name your underlying fears and work to process these fears. If you allow yourself to explore the cons, you can address any fears or self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that show up.
4. Commit to a gratitude practice for a week.
Often in chaotic situations, we only focus on the negative. We focus on the mountains of laundry, the toys everywhere, the dirty dishes, etc. It makes sense, because it’s all we seem to see. However, part of the shift has to be in recognizing the good in our lives. If you go back to step one and notice that your thoughts are negative and judgmental, it will be very hard to do the actual work if you’re in a negative headspace. By incorporating gratitude, you set yourself up to ride the wave of change in a positive direction. You tell your subconscious that lots of good things are happening and that you want more of the good stuff. And when things get tough (as they inevitably will) you have some foundation of gratitude (along with your WHY) to keep you going. Do not make this complicated. A gratitude practice can simply be identifying things while in the shower, or driving to the store. It can be written down, said silently or out loud. Just do it. Ideally, you should come up with 20-25 things to help you see much of the good that exists in your life, even if your home looks like a tornado ran through it.
5. Set an intention to do your best
This can be bundled in with your gratitude practice. Top off your gratitude practice by telling yourself that you will try your best in this process.
Start by focusing on your internal world and paying attention to your thoughts. By working to shifting the narrative you prepare yourself for the actual execution of getting organized. In the next article, I will share with you some tips to actually get moving and getting organized.