Decluttering 101: 4 benefits of getting rid of junk

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Decluttering has many benefits. It’s been shown to improve mental health, focus, relationships and eating habits. And having a home environment that facilitates focus and productivity is important. Best of all, it’s within your control.

WellTuned spoke with Dr. Jill Amos, a licensed behavioral health psychologist for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, about the benefits to decluttering—and how to get started.

Benefits of decluttering

Dr. Amos: Want to know why it’s worth taking the time to declutter? When we are stressed, we feel anxious, tense, and out of control. By managing our home and work environments and the things in them, we can provide ourselves with a sense of control and ease.

Here are four big benefits of decluttering your space:

1. Less stress

Is your home a calming refuge, or does it stress you out? Much of this depends on how organized and maintained it is. Consider this: do you have a place where you can unwind that’s pleasant, relaxing and soothing after a long day? If your home is in a state of disrepair, with clutter lying around, it may be challenging to find that kind of space.

From a practical standpoint, it’s also easier to find things when everything is in order. You don’t have to worry about losing time or stressing because you’re having to search for lost or misplaced items. Plus, a well-organized space will likely just feel more restful to you.

2. Less distraction and better ability to focus

Research suggests that it’s harder for our brains to focus when we have a lot of things competing for our attention at once. That’s what clutter does: competes for our attention while we’re trying to focus on other matters. Plus, the effect is cumulative. Our brains prefer order. And constant visual reminders of disorganization can drain our cognitive resources.

Something else to consider: how cluttered is your bedroom? People with cluttered bedrooms tend to have more difficulty falling asleep and experience more disrupted sleep. This can further detract from their ability to concentrate and focus during waking hours.

3. Better ability to retain/remember information

If you’re having trouble remembering some key pieces of information because your attention keeps getting distracted by those piles of clutter, you shouldn’t be too surprised. Studies have shown that people who live in cluttered homes have poorer working memory. Your brain can only keep track of so many things at a time, and clutter can create overload.

Getting control of the clutter in your environment might make it easier for you to remember that ever-evolving list of tasks on your family’s to-do list, as well as the info you need to do your job.

4. Better ability to resist making poor food choices

If your kitchen is strewn with clutter, it might be influencing your snacking habits—and not in a good way. Chaotic environments like kitchens make us more vulnerable to making unhealthy food choices. The presence of clutter can trigger coping and avoidance strategies like:

  • snacking on junk food, or
  • vegging in front of the television.

If you can get your kitchen cleaned up and organized, you might find planning healthy meals and preparing food easier and more enjoyable.

What to do about the clutter

Dr. Amos: You can absolutely tackle the clutter yourself, in whatever manner you choose. But you might also consider hiring a professional organizer to restore order to your space. Once you get organized, it may be easier to stay organized.

A few more tips for dealing with the clutter:

Start small.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by clutter and don’t know where to start, just pick one area or one corner of one room and commit to decluttering it. Clean off the top of your dresser or nightstand. Sort through that pile of papers on your kitchen counter. Go through your medicine cabinet and toss all the expired medications. Another version of starting small: start with five minutes of decluttering if you’re feeling stressed.

Use the four-box method.

Find four boxes or bins and label them as “Trash,” “Give Away,” “Keep,” or “Storage.” As you sort through clutter, you can put items in the appropriate bin, so you’ll know what to do with them. Don’t skip anything. Don’t forget those rarely-used spaces, either.

Declutter in stages.

Go through all your items initially and quickly discard anything that’s trash and can’t be donated or kept. Then you can set a schedule for returning to each room and going through the remainder. The next go-around will be easier since you’ve become reacquainted with all your stuff and know what’s there.

Consider how you store items.

“Out of sight” tends to become “out of mind.” It’s hard to keep up with items that you already have. Consider using transparent storage containers so you can see what you have. If you don’t have transparent storage containers, try to label everything.

Have a conversation with your partner

If you share living or working space with another person, discuss how to handle clutter with them. You might designate common areas where you’ll both try to keep them clutter-free. But give everyone the chance to decide how to maintain their own space as they choose.

Take before and after photos

Need some inspiration to keep going? Take a photo of a cluttered area before you deal with it, and take another photo afterward.

“If you have a lot of junk, a decluttering can seem overwhelming,” says Dr. Amos. “Set small goals and a time limit to your decluttering work. And don’t buy more stuff that you’ll have to go through later.”

A Room-by-Room Guide to Decluttering Your Home

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.