For those of you with linen closets stuffed to the gills, medicine cabinets double stacked, junk drawers that refuse to close on the first try, piles of magazines that never get read, you are not alone. Everyone has their secret stashes of paraphernalia that they mean to get around to sorting—one day.
Decluttering is not new. But it’s connection to mental health is emerging. Only recently, in 2013, was hoarding classified as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-V (DSM-V). It turns out hoarding, like most things, is on a spectrum. And we can all find ourselves on the spectrum—even if we identify as clutter-phobic.
The burden of clutter
Forget about hygge, the Danish word for cozy. The new trend from Scandinavia is—wait for it—Swedish death cleaning. The idea, as you may be able to surmise, is gradual process of decluttering your home in preparation for death. It’s done in consideration for the people who are otherwise responsible for clearing out your stuff. But it also looks at possessions through the bigger lens of mortality. Why I am holding on to this stuff? Is it something I need or my family would want? How does it spark joy in me right now?
The just-in-case mentality is what leads to too much. And all good things die in their own too much. We all hold onto things for some possible idea of later, a later that rarely comes. Collecting stuff speaks to our fears of scarcity, of not having enough, but also some fundamental distrust in our own “enoughness.”
Coming into focus
Stuff can be a bulwark against experiencing difficult emotions. One reason people collect clutter is to make up for some sense of loss in other areas of their lives. They find a false security in objects, things, possessions, but it’s a security that’s short-lived.
For me, the art of decluttering is the process of asking who I am without it. Letting go of stuff means trusting in the support that the universe is always providing, noticed or unnoticed. To hold on to stuff is to metaphorically hold back. To let go of what I don’t need is to say I’m ready, I have everything I need. It means letting go of the future so the present can more fully emerge. Letting go of what I don’t need means being willing to let a new identity in, an identity embodied in the here and now, not the maybe and later. It means showing up, and claiming my ground between the past and future. To declutter is to declare here I am: vulnerable, nothing extraneous, trusting in the spaciousness, the pauses between the punctuating objects. There’s a keen focus that comes when surfaces and sightlines become clear.
Let’s face it. There’s nothing peaceful about looking at clutter. In fact, the opposite true—many studies have shown that clutter limits your brain’s ability to process information. Mess is not only stressful—it’s also distracting.
Here are just a few of the benefits that come with decluttering your home:
1. Healthier habits
If everything you need is available and within reach, it’s easier to cook, clean, and do other chores around the house. Just think of how overstuffed kitchen drawers equate to “the struggle is real.” If you have to bushwhack to get to your food processor, chances are you are not going to use it. Having fewer appliances and fewer gadgets lets you have direct access to your tried and true. It your kitchen is decluttered, it’s simpler to cook. A clutter-free home has a domino effect on maintenance, upkeep and efficiently performing household duties. Many people even feel like their sleep improves in an uncluttered bedroom.
2. Better health
Clutter is a dust magnet. And mice and other critters love to make their home in boxes filled with detritus. Removing clutter cuts down on dust particles and toxins, making the air in your home cleaner and less likely to exacerbate allergies.
3. Improved self-care
Nothing says sanctuary or safe haven like a calm, restful living space. For many people, the decluttering experience feels like a self-care upgrade.
4. Mental health boost
The ramifications of less stuff are surprisingly far-ranging. A sleeker, sparser environment can let your thinking becoming less cluttered. It frees up your mind to make big, deep changes. Many professional organizers report clients, after decluttering, feel less anxious, more peaceful and confident and have stronger decision-making skills.