How Clutter Is Negatively Impacting Your Mental Health. Part II
As we continue to explore the struggle of getting a handle on your clutter and mental health, hopefully you have looked internally to identify areas which may make decluttering difficult. Hopefully, you have identified some factors that keep you from implementing change. If you can recognize some of the thoughts that are keeping you stuck, anxious and stressed, you can begin to shift your thinking and your narrative to foster change and get a handle on your stress and anxiety.
What the Research Says About Clutter and Mental Health
Clutter can make us feel stressed, anxious and depressed. Research from a study in the U.S. found that the levels of the stress hormone cortisol were higher in mothers whose home environment was cluttered.
Because your home is constantly cluttered, you are constantly in a hypervigilant state of arousal. The need to keep your body on alert is taxing on your immune system. As a result, our physical health is placed at risk. Clutter affects how we fight illness and digest food, as well as leaving us at greater risk of developing chronic disease like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Clutter might also have implications for our relationships with those around us. Research has shown that clutter at home may make us more likely to overeat, observe behavioral problems in our children and generally put us in a bad mood.
And finally, clutter impacts us after we get to bed. People who sleep in cluttered rooms are more likely to have sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep and being disturbed during the night.
Below I share some additional suggestions to keep you going. And grab the free clutter guide to reference as you begin the process.
Clutter and Mental Health Tip#1: Focus on the messages and beliefs you received growing up
Maybe you came from poverty and having stuff made your feel like you achieved success. Perhaps you were taught that having stuff made you important.
Maybe you were taught that cleaning wasn’t important, it was for the help to do it.
You may have never been taught how to clean because your parent did everything for you.
Maybe you were taught to focus on academics and not on organizing.
There may have been trauma and chaos in your household.
Depending on the messages you received or observed, you have to convince your subconscious that these beliefs are not serving you today. By getting clear on how the stuff served you in the past, you can begin to challenge those narratives. Therapy and journaling can help you explore those childhood beliefs.
Clutter and Mental Health Tip#2: Focus on Your Why
Challenging the subconscious is tricky. It has developed beliefs about the world and has created evidence to support its’ beliefs. So, while consciously, you may want change, subconsciously your brain wants to maintain the status quo.
Subsequently, you now have to do the work of getting your subconscious on board (even just a little bit). How do you do that? Ask yourself why. Like the 3-year-old that constantly asks why, non-stop, you have to ask yourself why you are changing. I would even recommend that you imagine yourself talking to your 3-year-old self as you engage in the exchange.
It goes something like this:
Conscious mind: I am getting a handle on this clutter. I can’t take it anymore.
Subconscious: Why are you trying to change this? I like things the way that they are.
Conscious mind: Because I’m not happy
Subconscious: Why are you not happy?
Conscious mind: Because I thought having this stuff would make me happy and it’s not. Plus, I was never taught how to clean or be happy with myself
Conscious mind: Because my parents taught me that having stuff was important. Plus, they wanted me to focus on my studies so that I could get a good job and be successful.
Allow Yourself to Go Deeper
Conscious mind: Because they grew up poor and got made fun of for wearing the same clothes every day. Life was hard for them.
Conscious mind: Because people were mean to people who were poor. And my dad sometimes didn’t have anything to eat. My mom never wanted me to have that same experience.
Subconscious: So the moral of the story is that people are mean when you’re poor. If we don’t have stuff, people will be mean to us and we won’t have anything to eat.
Conscious mind: Well people are mean sometimes, whether you’re rich or you’re poor. Sometimes people are just mean. My parents just never wanted me to suffer.
Conscious mind: Because they loved me
Conscious mind: Because I’m their daughter and they wanted the best for me.
Conscious mind: Because I am special. Hmmm, I am special and my parents did what they thought was best. They taught me that having an education and stuff would make me happy. My parents did what they thought was best and I thank them for it. But I know that having an education, and having stuff doesn’t make one happy. Being loved and being supported is what makes me happy. And right now, what I think is best is too get this under control.
Subconscious: I’m scared and kind of don’t believe you, but OK.
By digging deep, you allow yourself to challenge long held beliefs and stories about why you do, say and think things. It is a constant practice to challenge long held beliefs, but by engaging in the process, you disrupt the limiting beliefs that are deeply embedded within you. This brings you closer to change.
Clutter and Mental Health Tip#3: Focus on what you DO want
Focus on what is working. This is parallel to your gratitude practice. What you devote your attention to, you get more of. So, if you’re focused on what’s not working, and what you DON’T want, that can lead to frustration that we aren’t making progress fast enough.
By focusing on what IS working, you can build on that foundation and progress to figuring out what isn’t working.
Clutter and Mental Health Tip#4: Set Mini Goals
Instead of vaguely challenging yourself to clean your house, clear out the garage, or get your house in order, set an intention to do something daily for 15 minutes. Most literature out there supports the idea of mini habits. It is exhausting to think that you will tackle your garage in a day. It can be done, but often you are left cranky and with a bad taste in your mouth.
You are more likely to procrastinate and/or dread other projects because of what you experienced in the whirlwind clean. You may throw out things inadvertently, fight with those you recruited to help you, or you get frustrated because things do not turn out how you would have wanted. By committing to 15-20 minutes EVERY DAY, you can rest in the knowledge that it will get done one day.
Clutter and Mental Health Tip#5: You Have To Be Ready
This leads into the biggest challenge. You have to be ready. Truly ready. Outside of mental readiness, you have to create the space and time to tackle these projects. As you visualize the end result and why you are doing these things, you have to find time to execute and sustain this practice.
You also have to be ready to change who you are fundamentally in some ways. I find that most people can be motivated to finding 15-20 minutes to devote to change, however they don’t factor in what gets lost. Finding 20 minutes to implement a new habit, you lose those moments being on social media, not relaxing after work on the couch, missing an activity, sleeping in late or going to bed early.
Eventually, something has to give. And it often has to give permanently. You have to be ok with shifting your current way of being. Your future self is going to be different than your present self, and you have to be ok with that. You are someone who cleans now.
Your future self is someone who gets up early. You are someone who lives clutter free. Accordingly, you have to shift to being someone who says no to hand me downs or clearance sales 5 times a year.
While the tradeoffs may be well worth it, it can feel like a loss nonetheless. Honor that and recognize that the old you may have a hard time letting go. Continue to remind yourself of the why, imagine the end result and give yourself time.
Clutter and Mental Health Tip#5: You Have To Be Ready
There are many programs and books and apps that can help you on this journey, and I would recommend that you follow along with some protocol to help you stay on track and focused. Whether you like Marie Kondo or FLY lady or any other philosophy, stay consistent and you will get there.
Learning to declutter is a process and it is a lifelong one. It is a skill that needs constant awareness and work. But the rewards are so worth it. You are worth it. Once you tackle these various areas, you will notice the shift in your mental health. Grab your free declutter guide to help you get started. Sign up below.
Please share anything that you showed up for you as you incorporated some of these tips and what you learned about yourself in this process. In my next post, I will share some practical tips in your effort to declutter.