Decluttering is an act of Self-Care.

Decluttering, Self Care • January 14, 2022

Decluttering and self-care are two topics close to my heart. I bleat on about both of them on a regular basis. But I tend to really zone in on them during January.

Photo by Humairah L. on Unsplash

Because, as far as I’m concerned, January is a month to hone our self-care practices rather than go too gung-ho on self-improvement.

And January is also a great month to declutter – to make space for what we’d like to invite into our lives this year.

There is actually science behind the notion that decluttering supports our wellbeing. Well, to be more precise, they demonstrate that clutter is bad for our health. So, we can view decluttering as an antidote to those ill effects.

Psychologists, social scientists, and anthropologists have been examining how clutter affects behaviours and mental health over the last couple of decades, and studies show:

  • Clutter can increase the stress hormone cortisol, particularly in women. (This doesn’t mean men can forget about the clutter, just because they’re less bothered by it. If they don’t help out with keeping on top of things, it can lead to tension in relationships and that’s not good for anybody’s health either.)
  • Those who do feel stressed by the clutter in their homes experience more depression and fatigue, and have diminished coping skills compared with those who feel more positive about their homes.
  • Excess cortisol also causes headaches, irritability, intestinal problems, high blood pressure, low libido, poor sleep, heart disease, suppressed immunity to disease, and difficulty recovering from exercise.
  • Cluttered homes can lead to weight gain – 77% more likely to gain weight than people who live in tidy homes. (Well, it is difficult to feel inspired or motivated to cook fresh and healthy meals in a messy kitchen. It’s a breeding ground for bad habits like processed convenience food and takeaways.)
  • Air quality suffers through an accumulation of dust and can result in respiratory illnesses.
  • Focus and productivity also suffers, while procrastination flourishes.

So if you’re planning a health re-set this year, a good place to start might be to declutter your home. The physical and mental health benefits are clear – lower stress, lower cortisol levels, lower risk of asthma and allergies, greater focus and productivity, improved relationships (through lowered mess-related conflicts) – what’s not to love about all that?

But the decluttering benefits I usually write about aren’t ones I can find scientific evidence for.

And yet I’ve experienced it and heard countless reports of similar experiences.

It’s a cathartic shift in our energy that can propel us forwards in life. A catharsis that is usually (according to anecdotal evidence) caused by an emotional release.

Much of the stuff that we’ve been hanging onto for years can be bound up with memories (maybe suppressed) of traumatic experiences. And when we finally look the item in the eye and decide it’s time to let it go, we can find ourselves shedding tears in the process. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s something to be aware of if you’ve never done a deep-dive declutter before.

The first big declutter will probably be the most cathartic. And top-up declutters will give a top-up energy boost.

Either way, decluttering is never a one and done – unless you get rid of all your belongings and never acquire anything new. There is almost always a little corner of our homes where there’s an accumulation of stuff that needs sorting and clearing. And regular clear-outs will help us to enjoy our homes more, which – as we’ve already seen – will benefit our health on multiple levels.

Any time is a good time to declutter, but my favourite times in the year are January, spring, September and the close of the year. I don’t do it four times a year, but I do aim to do it at least twice, if not three times. And I do mini spot-decluttering on an ad hoc basis – especially if I’m feeling stuck in an area of my life and want to create some mental clarity to get unstuck.

If you’re feeling inspired and motivated to tackle the clutter in your home, and you’d like a daily nudge to keep you on track with it, you might like to take my 30-day decluttering challenge. It’s a free resource designed to take the overwhelm out of the overall project, breaking it down into short daily tasks. Sign up for it here.

And if you just want to do your own thing, your own way, and according to your own timeline, here are my quick decluttering tips:

  • Apply the rule, “Love it, Use it, or Lose it.”
  • Prioritise the entryway (what greets us when we come home, and sets the tone), kitchen (where we prepare the food that nourishs our bodies), bathroom (where we cleanse our bodies) and your own bedroom (where your body and mind gets to rest and restore itself). Start with these four areas before tackling living rooms, playrooms, kids’ bedrooms.
  • Get organised for organising – use boxes or bin bags (all labeled) to temporarily house what you’re dumping, donating and recycling. Use them while you’re going through the process, and empty when full or when you’ve completed all your decluttering.
  • Learn the Marie Kondo folding technique. Even if you’re not keen on her strategy (I’m not – too overwhelming for me), her folding technique is gold and will create so much space in your drawers and cupboards.

Happy decluttering. I hope it brings you improved health and happiness.

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