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Material Girl: What clutter is doing to your health

OK, so maybe you’re not going to be featured on an episode of Hoarders any time soon, but your piles of stuff are slowly killing you or at least, making you feel significantly worse than you should.

Stressed woman in cluttered room

A stress survey conducted on behalf of the Huffington Post revealed home organization as being one of the most common stress triggers. 84 percent of those polled worry their home isn’t clean or organized enough, and 87 percent of the women polled experience anxiety over maintaining their homes.

The primary cause of home-related anxiety? Clutter. What’s worse, those surveyed who are stressed about their homes are also more stressed overall.

Why mess leads to stress

Clutter is a catalyst that constantly demands your attention. It decreases productivity and task performance and increases your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. It also creates a tsunami of personal issues, including:

  • Mental clutter — your mind becomes overwhelmed and your senses go into overdrive to process your surroundings.
  • Chronic restlessness — with an unsettled home comes unsettled emotions. Your mind constantly short-circuits because you feel like your work will never be “done.”
  • Distraction — instead of focusing on the task at hand, you might find yourself weighed down with feelings of guilt about your home not looking the way it “should.”
  • Wasted time — when your home isn’t in order, your frustration level soars when you can’t find simple, everyday items crucial to your well-being.

Why we allow this to happen is the million-dollar question. For many of us, it’s a gradual build-up we don’t notice until we hit our breaking point, and as it turns out, parting with items we feel connected to hurts. Literally.

A study conducted by Yale University found the two areas of your brain associated with pain are the ones that activate when you throw out items you feel a connection toward. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a financial connection or an emotional one — pain is pain.

De-cluttering 101

box of clutter

For the past 10 years, I’ve been living in an apartment the size of a closet. After my relationship ended last year, I started a major purging session that lasted six months and resulted in me getting rid of almost 40 bags of stuff! After I was done it looked like I was robbed — and it felt amazing!

Here are a few simple guidelines to get you started. With each item you’re deciding to get rid of, ask yourself:

  • Does this item make me feel bad? If the item’s attached to a negative memory or looking at it makes you feel guilty, get rid of it.
  • When was the last time I used it? Or, in some cases, have you ever used it?
  • What purpose does it really serve? If the item just gives you another thing to clean or maintain and you receive no enjoyment from it, it’s time to toss it.

If you start to worry you’ll throw something out you’ll later regret, don’t. Only keep the items you’re not hesitating about — anything you agonize over or attempt to justify keeping isn’t meant to be in your home.

Seriously, try it! Throw out just one item. The initial pain will turn into exhilaration, especially when it sinks in that you’ll no longer have to dust it, feel guilty about it or trip over it just to live your life.

Tell us

How do you tame the clutter in your home? Share in the comments below!

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