No one likes to live (or work) in a cluttered space. Even when someone’s good at functioning in the clutter (at least, theoretically), when the mess is pared back and a space feels “light and clean,” it’s easier to relax and focus. And when you live (or work) in a cluttered environment, you can develop a cycle where clutter leads to more stress, and more stress leads to more clutter. Thus, reinforcing both the stress and the clutter that, with time, only magnifies.
This isn’t just conjecture, either. A 2019 study published in the journal Environment and Behavior found that workers who had more stressful jobs tended to experience “decisional fatigue” that led to more cluttered workspaces. In other words, they were so busy making important work decisions all day that when it came time to figure out whether to file documents, throw away correspondence, or simply tidy things up, they were less likely to have the bandwidth to do so. And, the clutter that developed as a result led to a more stressful work environment.
But the reverse is true, too. For individuals who make the time to clean up and declutter, mental health and productivity improves. Clean spaces can help reduce anxiety, and even the process of cleaning up can be used as a tool to manage stress.
One 2014 study published in the journal Mindfulness found that university students who were given instructions on “mindful dishwashing” were more likely to experience improved breathing patterns and less nervousness in tasks performed after the dishwashing session than those who weren’t given the mindfulness instructions. In other words, when cleaning or decluttering is used and viewed as a way to “take a moment” and improve your personal space and take control of your environment, that habit can pay off in other areas of your life, too.
Of course, when you’re stressed out and juggling what feels like a million equally-important tasks that are all due at once, it can be incredibly hard to prioritise the act of decluttering. But, understanding that it does, in fact, pay off. Here are a few ways you can start implementing the practice in your own life.
Start with decluttering your schedule
No, we’re not suggesting that you cancel all your appointments. But if you feel like you hardly have a clue what’s coming up in the next few hours, much less the next few days or weeks, you may need to get a handle on your schedule. And when your schedule feels more manageable, you just might be able to see opportunities for other types of decluttering. Managing and decluttering your schedule means knowing what’s on it, first.
Look into organisational apps or appointment-setting software that automatically integrates with your calendar. Set up a shared calendar with your family so you don’t have to constantly ask what important events are coming up. You may even want to enlist the help of a virtual assistant a couple hours a week to help you take on these tasks. Once you have a good idea of your schedule, pay attention to it.
Every single day before you leave work, review your schedule for the next day and the coming week. And in the morning, review it again. Simply knowing what’s on tap can help you feel more organised and less frazzled.
Create an end-of-day decluttering routine
The last few minutes of every day at work don’t need to be spent sending out a hurried email or scheduling another meeting. Rather, carve out 5-10 minutes to mentally and physically declutter your space, even if you don’t completely clean it. Place papers and files in the appropriate spots. Return pens and pencils to their holders.
Move your computer files from the desktop to more organised folder spaces, delete emails that you don’t need, and put any electronics you keep at the office on their chargers. At the same time, take any coffee cups to the kitchen to wash them, and throw away any wrappers or rubbish. Just a few minutes can make the space feel more organised, setting you up to kick off the next day with a clearer head.
Choose a chore or two to do “mindfully”
You may not love cleaning or doing household chores. Few people do. But cleaning regularly not only gives you the benefit of a clean space, but the habit can help reduce anxiety, boost feelings of control, and the physical activity can also promote mood-boosting hormone release. So set aside 10 minutes every morning or night to mindfully clean.
Maybe you wash the dishes and wipe down the counters of your kitchen (how good does a clean, lemon scented kitchen feel?). Maybe you could practice deep breathing as you vacuum your floors and make your bed. Or maybe you think about how you’re “improving your life’s vision” as you physically clean your home’s windows.
It doesn’t really matter which chore you choose. But a short bout of cleaning done mindfully can help you destress and promote healthy, focused habits in all areas of your life. And as the saying goes, “a rolling stone gathers no moss.” You may discover that