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Clearing out clutter: Why your mess is slowing you down

Do you ever have to clear a space before you can get started on something? You know when you sit down at your desk and you have to clear a pile of papers before you can start working, or go to cook in the kitchen but have to wash up all of last night's plates before you can get chopping the veg. If you've ever done this, or felt overwhelmed by *all that stuff*, it's possible that the clutter has prevailed. And it's stressing you out more than you realise.

We often underestimate the impact that clutter has on the way we feel, despite the fact that it can leave us feeling distracted, anxious and overwhelmed.

Here are some common factors we have found as to why clearing out clutter must be a priority.

Why does mess lead to so much stress?

If you're overwhelmed with stuff and busyness, you may have forgotten what really matters to you, how you like to spend your time and the dreams you had for your life. Having a clear space helps you keep your focus on the things that really are important to you. Sometimes to figure out what matters, you have to get rid of everything that doesn't.

A 2010 study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that clutter seems to affect women more than men, as the women tended to perceive their environment as 'cluttered' more often. Those who noticed the mess were found to have higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) throughout the day, even if their place of work is outside of the home. In the households where the men did more of the housework in the evening, they also were found to have increased levels of cortisol at the end of the day. 

It appears that for those in cluttered home environments, the clutter serves as a signal to the mind that the work is never done. This, over time, creates the sense of drudgery and the home doesn't become a place of rest and joy, but a building of unfinished tasks and never-ending work.

Clutter and procrastination

A study, published in Current Psychology, found a strong correlation between procrastination and clutter problems in all age groups between 20-50. It appears that if you are the kind of person to have that pile of papers to file on the dining table, or overflowing basket of things to sort, you're also the kind of person who regularly leaves things up to Future You to sort out.

It takes time to sort through papers and file them away. It's exhausting to go through and decided which things to keep and which you really need to say goodbye to. And some people just don't want to deal with it right now. But every time you leave things to later, Future You just has more on their plate and it can get so overwhelming that you just don't want to start at all.

Every now and again, clutter has the opposite effect on procrastination, and instead of putting off dealing with the clutter, you choose to deal with the clutter instead of doing something you really should be doing! Even an ironing pile looked inviting!

Your environment can really disrupt your creativity

For the creative juices to flow, you really need time and space for your mind to wander. It's very difficult to let this happen when there are many things in your line of sight, ready to remind you of all the tasks that you've left unfinished. Our brains are so receptive to stimuli, even on a subconscious level, things that we can see, touch, hear and even smell can be disruptive to creative flow. 

This isn't to say that to be creative you need to be in a minimal environment: quite the opposite. But knowing that the environment that you work in has such an impact on your focus and flow may make you be a little more mindful about what you keep in it. Surrounding yourself with things that you find inspiring, calming scents and soothing ambient sounds can really boost your creativity and focus.

 So what can we do about it?

via GIPHY

This may be something you want to do all in one and blast or something you dedicate a bit of time to everyday, even just 10 mins now is our suggestion today. It's simple and so effective.
 
Touch it once.
 
Try getting into the habit of dealing with things completely the first time you touch it. This means no more piles of things to go upstairs - as soon as it's in your hands, grab anything else that needs to go with it and up you go! Once you've opened that letter that needs filing, put it away straight away. With this little bit of extra effort you're saving yourself from having to find time to deal with it later. And you're actually teaching yourself to become someone who doesn't procrastinate at all!
 
If you are overwhelmed by it, factor the following suggestions and perhaps start with these key areas for decluttering:
  • Your office/ desk space: clean and declutter your desk area and try to make a set place to work from; either a place you can shut the door on, try using a screen to section it off, or set up in a way that is easy to pack up if you are finding this hard. 
  • Your wardrobe: - We have all got too many clothes. Have you heard of the 12 x 12 clothing challenge? Or project 333 - dressing with 33 items or less for 3 months including jewellery, accessories and shoes. They both encourage you to wear your favourite things everyday - not the trendiest, most stylish, or the perfect things but your most favourites. They are so inspiring and really do prove that less is more. Go check them out for inspiration.
  • Your bathroom - Your bathroom might be the only space where you can be alone, so create a space of calm in there. (Remember: take regular showers to wash the day away. Make this a part of your morning ritual and a part of your winding down ritual.)

Which space are you going to declutter first?

By creating more space and time for what you love it helps you figure out more easily what matters to you. By decluttering you will have more time and space to figure it out. It really will be worth the effort! Switch the tunes on or set breaks and rewards for completing it. Do whatever you can - just get decluttering! 
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