can reduced stress lead to less clutter?

I love how seeing clean, clear lines around my home evokes in me a feeling of relaxation. However, how does someone find the time and energy to declutter to achieve this experience?

A photo of Jo, arms raised with hands on the back of her head in a relaxed pose, facing her front window that is filled with green leaves dotted with sunshine.
I am taking a break by stepping out of the office to
enjoy the beautiful summer view.

As a coach, I work with many creative and community builders who work in a home office. Many are also freelancers who travel from place to place and depend on their home space to provide a stable refuge. The topic of reducing clutter and getting organized comes up as a way to increase productivity and to reduce stress. Through our exploration, my clients quickly find out that it’s a bit more complicated then just throwing things out and donning the rubber gloves to give their place a good clean!

How does stress intersect with decluttering?

My posts in the past have detailed ways to be more efficient to assist with reducing stress but my commentary hints at my struggle with the concept of just doing too much, period. Why are we driven to accomplish so many things? Why do we have to function at peak efficiency? Why can’t we slow down, do less and as you all know I love to do – say no!

Well, as recent research demonstrates, we know that prolonged stress can diminish our performance (likely from a breakdown in cognitive ability) and possibly lead to burnout and physical ailments. If reduction of stress-inducing activities isn’t possible at the moment, then at least take the time to shut down periodically. And I mean ‘turn off’! I benefit from No Gadget Nights and I try mindful meditation. Read more about how sometimes “it’s healthy to shirk your responsibilities” by Vidya Kauri (Globe and Mail) Point being, with low brain and emotional strength from negative stress, how can we find the energy to clean up at the end of the day?

This leads me to the collection and maintaining of ‘stuff’. I believe mental clutter leads to tangible clutter. Certainly explore these tangible excuses for clutter in this post from ‘Real Simple’ that do involve feelings of guilt and responsibility but I would like to go deeper. When life is chaotic, you may just want to ‘crash’ somewhere that is comfortable. Your stuff, no matter how much there is, is yours and that can be very comforting. When working with a coach, you may discover other ways that clutter ‘serves you’, reasons that may be disquieting at first to look at.

Dealing with the mental to get to the physical.

Essentially, clients have revealed that they are hiding behind their things. Working in a cluttered environment not only tangibly inhibits creativity but also diminishes the spiritual strength required to run your own business. It’s a clever way to empower any doubts you have about success. It also inhibits engagement with others: people aren’t invited over or sitting down to dinner with family isn’t possible. It may also be preventing growth in life by holding onto past objects that may seize a person’s ability to cope with fear and pain. Letting go of tangible things means facing the possibility of moving on from regret. If it’s hard to imagine what another direction would feel like, creative visioning exercises and changing vocabulary can start you off to experiencing the benefits of setting your space free before the actual work gets done. With a sense of possibility, it may be easier to get down to the tasks at hand.

Change is good. Change can be hard!

By the time folks hire me as their coach, they have made a decision to make a move. Often they can’t articulate why this is the right time but they are giving themselves permission to advance to a preferred state of being. Hmm, sounds like work! Physical work to clear the way for emotional work or vice versa? Well, only you get to decide what’s best for you. Reach out to your support network and ask for help. Hire a coach to make sense of what’s happening and create an action plan. And once the stuff is out, you may want to hire a professional organizer to set up your place just right for you. And to my starting point about being driven to accomplish so much, think of it this way; getting organized does take effort but it only has to happen once. With a new philosophy, you can be benefiting from a physical space that works for you for a long time. This leaves mental and emotional room to cope with stress elsewhere and welcomes love and abundance. Surely, that will feel GOOD! 🙂

I would love to hear your perspective on stress and clutter! Please comment below.



9 thoughts on “can reduced stress lead to less clutter?”

  1. You know this post got my attention!
    Since my husband and I decided to dissolve our marriage, my house suddenly shocks me. I have known we have a clutter problem for years, but it suddenly is unrecognizable. It is a metaphor for our relationship: there are piles of stuff that need to be cleared up.
    I’m happy to say that I have a vision of what a cleared out, stress-free home looks like. And there will be space for doing art and cooking with the kids. There will be time to read together. It will take some time, but I’m already excited by this. I’m setting goals and keep plugging away.
    I recently stayed with a woman in the UK whose apartment had almost nothing in it. She really owned nothing beyond her ballet tights and a bed. There was no dresser. She owns 1 dress, one suit, one coat, one pair of shoes. There was no art on the walls. No bookshelves. It was too empty for me, but seeing that extreme and spending time there was inspiring and rejuvenating.
    I’m pruning and then pruning some more. It’s a challenge, but well worth it.

    1. Thanks for this great reply Marj!
      I appreciate you commenting on the ‘piles of stuff that needed to be cleared up’ – a metaphor for emotional house cleaning 🙂
      Your energy now seems very positive – I can almost feel the ‘well worth it’ ‘inspiring and rejuvenating’ energy!
      I’m curious, once you complete your pruning, what is your philosophy for keeping it that way?

  2. A wonderful post Jo! I actually believe that physical clutter contirubutes to mental clutter and stress. I think of how overwhelmed I can feel by paper (bills, statements, notices, invites): it is no different than being overwhelmed with a hundred tasks on your to-do list.

    Living with less means that I can enjoy and appreciate more the things that I choose to keep in my home.

    Here are a few of my strategies for dealing with clutter:

    1. I purge my clothes closet twice a year. I usually invite a friend over for a simple dinner (take-out) and we go through my closet together. If I haven’t worn it in the past year, out it goes. It becomes a fun and social event.

    2. Things that come in routinely (e.g. paper, bills) have a designated spot. I try to go through them weekly and pay them and file them.

    3. If I use something, I put it back in its place right away. This keeps clutter under control.

    4. I don’t have everything I own on display. I store some things and rotate them out seasonally. It makes it easier to dust and clean. When I rotate things, the house feels new.

    5. I keep a couple of drawers for clutter and things I don’t know what to do with. No one is perfect and everyone needs a place to stash things withut concern for how organized it is.

    I don’t know if these tips would help anyone, but they certainly help me! Love the blog, keep up the good work!

    1. Wonderful suggestions John, thank you!

      What I see in your comments is your ability to ‘breathe’. There must have been a previous state of mental/physical clutter that you overcame and I can almost feel the wings of confidence as a result in what you type. You have strategies for the placement of items (whether stored, displayed or tossed!) and they sure feel like freedom!

      Another tip that may help others is my rule of ‘something comes in = something must go’. Unless someone is filling a house for the first time, I have only a few empty spaces left in my home and I like to keep it that way! NO accumulation 🙂
      I also receive as little paper as possible – bills are electronic, I use digital sticky notes, I’ll read a pamphlet but I’ll snap a phone photo of a web address, hand the paper back and then look up more later if interested. I have been in school for the last 2 years and used practically no paper!

      p.s. I especially love #5 – I have a small drawer too that is my ‘to figure out what to do with later’ place for things that don’t have a home – haha!

  3. Dust collectors. Don’t like them don’t need them. I only give gifts of cash unless I know my friend needs a particular item. Fine wine, perhaps, sump pump, chainsaw, canoe, et al. I frown upon gift giving and/or dust collecting momentoes . Cash is king and of course consumables. Eat drink and be merry! Start your day hung over with no clutter .

    1. ‘Dust collectors’ – fabulous term!

      I am SO with you on this! A couple of years ago I wrote this post:
      Sharing consumables with people you love – the best gift! However, a struggle for me awhile back was what to do with the expectations around gift giving and receiving that I wrote about here. Years later I have become comfortable with my views on this and now share your philosophy wholeheartedly!

      Thanks for your great note, Adam!
      p.s. the only momento of a special evening is…a hangover – hmm, that might be a nontangible ‘gift’ I could do without – heehee!

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