Anxiety is something I’ve dealt with (knowingly) for the last several years. If I’m being honest, it was present all the way back in my childhood as well. Most of the time (excluding anxiety attacks) I just have a general feeling of uneasiness and scattered thoughts. It took more years than I’d care to admit, but I finally realized that one of the biggest triggers of those anxious feelings was my physical surroundings and clutter. My house, my car, my desk at school when I taught- they were all messy and disorganized, yet I wondered why I always felt out of control. It’s because nothing around me was under control.
Organization is not something you are born with, fortunately. That means it can be developed. When the twins were born, I realized, more than ever, that I was going to have to get myself organized if we were going to survive. I’m a work in progress and some days are better than others, but I’m trying.
Ironically, as I sat down to write this post, my office was a disaster. I spent last week sorting through all the books I kept from my teaching days to decide what to hang onto for our homeschool and got them all organized. There were bins of books, baby paraphernalia, whatever Little Miss had gotten into and just office stuff that was all over. I couldn’t focus at all to write this post. My mind was going a million different directions and I could feel my anxiety rising, just because of the physical clutter in my workspace. I took 12 minutes (I timed myself) and put everything back where it was supposed to go. The room feels bigger and my mind feels calmer. I didn’t clean a thing- I only got rid of the clutter.
The Science Behind Clutter and Anxiety
Science backs me up on this. When we are surrounded by clutter, our body releases cortisol. You may remember that word from 9th grade biology as the hormone your body produces when you’re stressed. This triggers the fight-or-flight response in your brain. So if your brain is constantly trying to decide if you need to go to battle with the clutter or flee the country so you no longer have to deal with it, your stress levels are constantly elevated. I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed out, I don’t make great decisions or feel productive. That’s when I want to lay on the couch and watch TV and eat Cheetohs. I also tend to become so stressed and anxious that I *try* to ignore the clutter, which only makes the cycle worse.
This article was interesting and also made me realize that I’m not alone in my feelings of anxiety and stress when my physical surroundings are cluttered. When my physical surroundings are cluttered, I can’t find anything, which stresses me out even more. Especially when we’re trying to get somewhere.
“Running around willy-nilly, being chronically late, never being able to find things, and having a dirty or sloppy house are stressful conditions and contribute to the anxiety depression cycle.”- Audrey Sherman, PhD
So what’s a girl to do when she’s up to her earlobes in papers and sweaters that haven’t fit since 2003 and she can’t locate her other black flat when she should have been out the door 5 minutes ago? She declutters.
Time to Get to Work
Decluttering has become a hot topic in recent years, especially earlier this year with the Marie Kondo Netflix special taking the world by storm. Now, I’m a sucker for a good before and after picture collage just like the next person, but getting to the point of posting your own takes work.
Kondo recommends starting with your clothing and decluttering by category. Others say room by room is the way to go. I say, whatever it’s going to take for you to get started- start there. If you need a small win, pick a drawer that stresses you out and declutter it. If you want the full KonMari experience, check out the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and follow her steps.
This initial burst feels good. You find things you forgot you owned. You can see space in your home you haven’t seen in years. You feel like you’re making room to breathe. Channel that feeling, friends, because that’s what will keep you going. Getting started (once you get over the hurdle of actually starting, that is) is the easy part. Forging through and decluttering ALL of your things gets tricky. Or at least it does for me.
It’s kind of fun getting through the first few categories or rooms and then it’s real easy to lose your momentum. I suggest getting through the decluttering phase as fast as you possibly can. And then get whatever you decluttered out of your house. If it’s trash, get it to the curb. If you’re selling it, have that garage sale or put it on Facebook Marketplace ASAP. For donations, put them in the back of your car and drop them at your local donation center next time you’re out. If your stuff stays in your sight, it might work its way back into your house. And you don’t want that!
Set Up a System
Now that you have SO much extra space and you know exactly what you have in your home, it’s tempting to consider yourself done and enjoy it all. But it’s actually time to set up a system to KEEP you organized. This is where many people trip up and why it’s so common for once-organized spaces to become a disorganized mess again very quickly.
Think about where you use certain items in your house and keep them there. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Until you realize that you have a ladle in your kid’s bathtub (she was using it as a bath toy, ok?!). This means that kitchen items should be kept in the kitchen, office items in the office, etc. Also try to keep like items together and near when you use them when you are setting up your system. In my kitchen I keep all serving utensils together and baking supplies go together near the oven. Think smarter, not harder. The goal here is “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
Put Things Back!
This might just be the biggest hang-up I always have when staying organized. My things are neatly put away and organized and I’ve kept it looking nice for a few days. Then a lazy moment hits and I don’t put my clothes away or in the hamper before bed. I wake up to a pile of clothes that, if they weren’t already, are now dirty laying in front of my sink in the bathroom. So I scoot them over with my foot to brush my teeth and get ready and then my pajamas end up on top of the pile. And then that day’s clothes. And so on. Please tell me I’m not alone in this!
One poor decision, that literally would have taken mere seconds to just get done, has now spiraled out of control. Then next thing you know I don’t put my makeup away after I’ve put it on and then I don’t make the bed and pretty soon my whole house is a mess again. Here’s my advice. JUST PUT YOUR THINGS AWAY! I’m sorry to yell, but that was for me too. If everything has a place in my home, then it needs to be there when not in use.
Are You Ready?
So now that you’re raring to get started, where are you going to start? Here are a few ideas for you. And if you would like more, check out my free printable of 100 Tiny Tasks to Declutter. The tasks may be tiny, but the results will feel big!
- Clean out your desk drawer. You know the drawer where you keep your pens and paper clips and the earbuds from your last 3 phones? Get rid of any pens, markers, highlighters that don’t work or that you don’t love. Throw away any scraps of paper that you don’t need anymore. Donate or sell electronics and their accessories that you’re not using anymore.
- Clean out your makeup drawer. This is another drawer that tends to get super cluttered. Throw away any makeup that’s past its prime. Don’t know when that prime was? Check for an expiration date or check out this post that tells you how long your makeup actually lasts. I had no idea!
- Clean out your cabinet of glasses and cups. Do you really need 18 plastic cups from your favorite pizza place or set of 12 small glasses? You might. I don’t know your entertaining habits. But you also might not.
- Clean out your sock drawer. I probably wear 15% of the socks in my drawer. Granted, it’s summer, so I don’t wear socks often, but it’s something to think about as the weather gets cooler. If there are holes in your socks or they’ve lost their mate to the laundry monster, get rid of them. You could also repurpose socks as rags, but only if you don’t already have rags. There’s no need to add more clutter with something you’ve just decluttered.
- Clean out your purse. Does your purse suddenly feel like it weighs 20 pounds? Do a quick clean out. Gum wrappers, used tissues, wadded up receipts and loose change can really do a number on a purse. Throw away the trash, start a savings jar for your loose coins and scan or track any information from receipts that you need and then shred or recycle. Your shoulders will thank you for lightening the load!
So now that you have a plan in place, it’s time to get rid of the clutter and reclaim some brain space. Do you notice that you get anxious when your physical space is cluttered? Where do you start when it’s time to declutter and organize? Leave a comment and let’s help each other kick that anxiety to the curb!