Declutter your life and improve your health

Cutting the clutter in your life can benefit more than your personal space.

Clutter in your life can slow you down and eat up precious time that could be used for other more important things and people. Think for a moment about how many times you have looked for something you’ve misplaced; keys, important papers, eye glasses, your library book. Now consider the energy and stress that ensues when you go through the same papers or closet over and over in a seemingly vain attempt to find the lost item. Your blood pressure may be raised and you become irritated at every little thing or person that stands in the way; all stressed up and no place to vent!

Clutter can be found in places other than your closet, junk drawer or work desk. Clutter can include too much going on in your head, too many “have-to’s” on your to-do list, family commitments, emails that need responses and unfinished projects. All of this literal, virtual and perceived clutter can weigh you down, make you tired, less efficient and disorganized. When stress from an over-cluttered life begins to build, it may be time for a “spring cleaning” of your cluttered life.

Michigan State University Extension recommends a few simple tips for lowering your stress while you declutter your life.

  • Begin small. If you try to redo everything at once you will be overwhelmed and probably give up. Choose one place or area to begin in your home – one drawer, one room or one pile of mail.
  • Make a home for everything. When you begin, designate a place for each item that is adding to the clutter. Have a place for incoming mail and a time to go through the pile. Put all non-essential mail you plan to look at later in a separate location. Having a basket or recycling bag that can be carried with you for things you want to look at “some time” can be used when you know you will have a wait, such as at a doctor’s office or waiting in the car to pick up the kids. Share information on where things belong with family members. Build in success for small children and other family members by providing containers or designated places where things belong.
  • Purge regularly. “When in doubt, throw it out” – this could include outdated food, medicines, broken toys and out-grown or unused clothes. Recycle when you can and donate items that others may find useful. Sort items into three piles: keep, toss and donate. Make a plan to only handle things once. When you have a place for each item, practice putting things where they belong; act on items if needed, file immediately if something needs to be kept and dispose unnecessary items.
  • Give your mind a thorough dusting and cleaning. Letting go of the small stuff is more than a cute phrase. When you purposefully choose to let go of things that are out of your control, you make room for improved relationships and less stress. Learn to “just say no.” If you are a people pleaser, you are probably taking on things just “because it’s the right thing to do.” A phrase that can be helpful when you have trouble saying no is, “No, but thank you for asking.” You may even add, “I wish I could help but right now by plate is full.” Most folks will respect your honesty.

In 2011, researchers at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute published a report that asserted cluttered environments limit your brain’s ability to focus. Clearing the clutter can seem overwhelming, but will reap health and wellness benefits that can improve your life.

For more on information on caregiving or family issues that affect you and your family, visit the eXtension website.

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