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Less Clutter, More Joy

Clearing the decks at home may ease stress and improve health

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Quick Win

Messy environments can make it hard to relax and focus. Clearing out piles of old papers, stuffed closets and sloppy surroundings will free up mental space.

Try this today
  • Start small. Being overly ambitious can backfire. Rather than trying to declutter your entire home in a weekend, pick one area to start with, ​perhaps​ a messy closet or a junk drawer.
  • Categorize. Find three boxes or bags for items to Keep, Toss/Recycle and Donate. Depending on the area you’re decluttering, it may make sense to gather the obvious toss/recycle items first, ​such as​ that stack of catalogs from last year or food containers without matching lids. As you’re deciding what to keep, prioritize things you use regularly. Be ruthless, and watch out for redundancies: No one needs 37 tote bags, no matter how cute they are.
  • Enlist support. If you’re overwhelmed by the very thought of organizing, consider recruiting a friend for a swap. They help you for an afternoon, then you help them. It’s much easier to be objective about someone else’s stuff than your own. Enlisting a professional organizer is another option.
  • Skip the sentimental stuff. Set aside items you don’t use but can’t imagine getting rid of (grown child’s stuffed animals, anyone?). Pick a DAY to tackle these items, ideally with the support of a friend or family member.
  • Mark your calendar. Make decluttering a regular part of your routine, whether weekly, monthly or quarterly.

Household clutter can be a source of stress, and research suggests it may harm mental health. In a study of nearly 1,400 adults — mainly women in their 50s — researchers found that having a lot of clutter can undermine well-being, as reported in 2016 in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. And visual clutter takes up mental space, which can hamper the brain’s ability to focus and process information, according to a study of 10 people, ages 25-37, reported in 2011 in The Journal of Neuroscience.

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