If you can't see past the piles of laundry, papers and toys in your home, it's probably a sign that it's time to address the clutter. All of this excess stuff that takes up space in your home can add to your stress and decrease your productivity. According to a study conducted at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute and published in The Journal of Neuroscience in 2011, clutter can limit a person's ability to focus and process information. Clutter acts as a distraction and takes attention away from other things in your life. The good news is, there is a way out – and the benefits of organizing your life are tenfold.
The Cost of Clutter
"We can't really tap the potential that lies within us if we're constantly stressed and overwhelmed with what lies around us," says Renee Kutner, owner of Peace by Piece Organizing. "Many people are stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle where there are no systems in place for organization to increase efficiency, and hence, taking the time to get organized is always at the bottom of the list. But without organization, the feelings of being stressed just grow." According to Kutner, disorganization costs us in three major ways: monetarily in misplaced cash or late fees that have to be paid, timeliness, in terms of time spent looking for things and emotionally, by making us feel overwhelmed.
"I hired a professional organizer to help me, but on a more divine note, to let go of the stuff that was no longer serving its function and make room for a new, more purpose-filled life," explains Jennifer K. Webb, a mother and local blogger. Webb knew she needed to get a handle on the mess before it became too much and she suffered the negative side effects of a cluttered lifestyle. "The chaos around me told me I needed to do something out of the box to open my energetic flow - the universal energy that sees how big I am, if only I will get out of my own way."
The Emotional and Mental Effects
Clutter can be an emotional drain, especially if you are holding on to things in your home that make you angry, sad or upset. It can also cause a loss of self-esteem as you may feel you are incapable of mastering the skills of dealing with the mess. Most people with clutter typically feel they can't find the energy to sort through it, and hence, they feel more tired and lethargic. If you always feel this way when you walk in your front door, it may be a good time to start evaluating the clutter in your home.
Assessing an object's sentimental value can be tricky, and holding onto these things can keep you in the past. So Kutner reminds her clients that where something came from does not give something current value. "Love of an object is distinct from love of the person who gave it to you, and they can be separated," she says. "You shouldn't feel like you have to hold on to something you don't want or need simply because you love the person who gave it to you."
Clutter can cause feelings of shame as well. Many people are ashamed to invite guests over and panic when they show up unannounced. Instead of having a more active social life, they live in isolation with their junk. Cluttered spaces also lead to cluttered minds, particularly where workspaces are concerned. As your office becomes cluttered, your mind fills with ideas, plans and tasks, and trying to keep these "mental files" organized is exhausting. The more cluttered the mind becomes, the harder it is to concentrate on the task at hand.
Your Physical Health
Too much clutter can have an impact on your physical health as well. Dust, mold and animal dander that collect in cluttered homes are bad for allergies and asthma. Some experts even suggest that the mess may be making people gain weight. Peter Walsh, author of "Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?" writes about the association between the amount of clutter people have in their homes with their excess weight.
When he sees clients who have created a lifestyle based on consumption, this often translates to other areas their lives, particularly their eating habits. When there is too much stuff in the house, he says, there is often too much to eat. But as people learn to control their clutter, they begin to take better care of themselves, too.
Editing the "Stuff"
Objects can serve all sorts of purposes in our homes – functional, sentimental or even just "feel good" items that we get pleasure out of looking at. But people often struggle to edit their "stuff" because they get stuck on what functional, sentimental or aesthetic role an object had when it entered their home. They need to ask themselves what that role is now.
Kutner says you can determine the functional use of an object by asking yourself, "I need/use this when _________." If you catch yourself saying "I might need/use this" or "I need/use this if," chances are that the object no longer has the same functional use as when it entered your home. You don't necessarily need to immediately discard it, but at the very least, you need to question the value of holding on to it.
You don't need to hold on to something just because of its monetary value. "If you are struggling with this, ask yourself how much more are you "paying" to keep it - in terms of real estate in your house that could be used differently, the emotional toll on yourself every time you look at it, and the concrete monetary value you could get for it today," she says. "If you don't like it and you don't want it, don't keep it simply because it was expensive. Just be sure you find a way to remove it from your home that pays homage to its previous value, whether selling it or giving it to another good home."
According to Webb, the benefits of clearing out the "stuff" was purifying and healing. "Now that I have de-cluttered, I see my desires coming to fruition at an ideal pace, and I find I am often at the perfect place at the perfect time. I doubt my space will stay tidy forever, but next time, I refuse to wait until the mess holds me down," she says.
Clearing out your environment is one of the easiest, fastest ways of completely transforming your life. According to Denise Linn, author of "Feng Shui for the Soul," "clutter-clearing is modern-day alchemy." When you have conquered the clutter, you'll have more time, as well as a more peaceful and organized home and office. And who knows?
Getting rid of it once and for all may just improve your attitude and your overall health, too.
Repurposing Your Stuff
Instead of simply throwing your excess clutter in the trash, consider recycling any materials that are still salvageable, or donating your gently used belongings to goodwill or consignment shops. The following is a list of resources here in metro Atlanta:
Atlanta Recycles: www.atlantarecycles.com
Find valuable information on curbside recycling, yard trimmings pick-up and more.
Goodwill of North Georgia: www.goodwillng.org
When you donate your gently used goods to any Goodwill store, they can help other families in need, and your donations are tax-deductible.
Atlanta Consignment Stores: www.atlantaconsignmentstores.com
Consignment is a great way to make room in your home and closet while making money, and this site has a directory of the top consignment shops in the city.
Consignment Furniture Depot: www.consignmentfurnituredepot.com
Just like clothing consignment stores, you can drop off your gently used home furnishings, lighting, rugs, mirrors and artwork and make some money back.
Reclaim It Atlanta: www.reclaimitatlanta.com
This repurpose store accepts reused materials and comes up with creative ways to repurpose them.