clutter: it’s bad for your health

What do you experience when you walk into your home? Do you feel “Ahh, this is my sanctuary,” or “Ugh, I really need to straighten   the place up!”

How comfortable we are with clutter varies from person to person. Each of us has our own unique awareness of what is organized enough. It’s important to identify your personal threshold for clutter and to share that with the people you live with.

No Place Like Home, a study conducted by Darby E. Saxbe and Rena Repetti (first published in 2009 in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin), concluded that women, more so than men, whose homes did not feel restorative due to clutter or things being out of place, experienced higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than women who lived in restorative homes. Higher stress levels can, over time, lead to serious health problems. Strong emotions such as guilt, indecision, fear, aspiration, and the need for perfection can all interfere with the ability to let go of things. Simply put, an unorganized home may not be good for your overall health and wellbeing.

The most organized people you know manage clutter on a regular basis. They do it as part of their household routine and find it energizing and worthwhile. Many others feel the opposite: finding the ongoing task of de-cluttering either difficult, boring or unnecessary. All of these reactions are fair and valid. When you start to feel your space is no longer soothing, but bothersome and even overwhelming, that’s your cue to tackle the mess. Devoting just five minutes a day to decluttering will result in progress. So set a timer (on your smart phone, a kitchen appliance or a simple wind-up timer) and you will be pleased – perhaps even joyful – with the positive changes you can achieve in those five minutes. Remember, when the timer goes off, you are done for the day!

In addition to clutter inducing stress, many nutritionists and health professionals claim that higher amounts of clutter in the home negatively affect weight and healthy eating habits, as well. People who struggle with clutter are 77 percent more likely to be overweight or obese.

Clutter is also a repository for dust and can compromise your home’s air quality. What’s more, clutter poses serious safety hazards including tripping and falls. Fire safety is also a concern; when there’s excess clutter, there’s increased flammability in the home – and exits may be impeded by clutter.

In fairness to us all, we live in a consumer driven society and the enticements to buy, acquire, and collect are everywhere. We need to be mindful about acquiring more stuff. Ask yourself, Where will this live in my home? Do I need this? Is this an upgrade for something I already own, and will I give away, toss, or sell the item it’s replacing? What is the ‘why’ behind my desire/need to have this?

“Normal” household clutter shouldn’t be confused with a hoarding disorder, which is a mental illness estimated to affect between two to five percent of the population. If you would like to identify your level of clutter, check out the Clutter Quality of Life Scale and the Clutter-Hoarding Scale on the Institute for Challenging Disorganization’s website or request a consultation with a professional organizer.

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