Declutter your life

A little bit of planning will help you get rid of clutter, disorder and confusion from your life

Cluttering affects productivityImagine entering your room and finding things strewn about, or sitting at your desk with books and paper piles covering every inch of the surface. This is a common sight in most households irrespective of whether you are a student, working person or housewife. A cluttered desk, room and surroundings can ‘work up’ a person to unimaginable extents. Clutter is associated with mess, disorder and confusion. It affects our lives in a subtle, but pervasive way.

Identify the problem

Dr David Tolin, Director of the Anxiety Disorders Centre at the Institute of Living in Hartford, has conducted an interesting study on causes of clutter. He found that excessive clutter and disorganisation are often symptoms of a bigger health problem. When the cluttering problem goes out of hand, it is called ‘hoarding’. Dr Tolin has studied this phenomenon in its own right as a separate mental illness. He found that there was increased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex in the brains of ‘hoarders’ when they were asked to make decisions about discarding stuff. Needless to say, they had tremendous difficulty in doing so. It follows from the study that stress and anxiety disorders affect these people. They also tend to become defensive and resistant to change. The degree may differ, but the problem remains.

Lynne Johnson, a professional organiser and the President of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, sees a link between her client’s efforts to get organised and weight loss! It is all linked to the tendency to ‘let go’. A research by the Clutterless Recovery Groups found out that procrastination was one of the basic personality characteristics among respondents who identified themselves as clutterers.

Feng-Shui terms cluttered environments to have ‘stagnant chi’. These surroundings give a feeling of being overwhelmed and helpless. It makes people irritable, contributes to stress and may lead to delays and disorganisation in work. A lot of time goes into searching for and organising stuff. Effects of cluttered surroundings are quite serious and persistent. Worse still, it becomes a habit and if one does not shake it off, it will stick through life.

Deal with it

Several articles deal with how to get rid of clutter. The steps are all too simple. We are advised to organise ‘bits’ of our space so that we do not get overwhelmed with a huge chunk of cluttered space to clean-up. First, decide what stuff is really important and ruthlessly discard [throw, recycle or donate] the rest. Then, arrange the stuff that remains. This is effective. One instantly feels clear and mentally light. Life becomes pleasant, until all the clutter starts accumulating again.

It is important to realise that no matter how well you de-clutter your stuff and swear you’ll never let it happen again, it will happen if you don’t change your habits. Some habits lead to a permanent solution to the cluttering problem.

Get rid of the habit

Plan a definite place for everything.

There has to be a place for everything you possess. It may seem daunting [though it’s not that difficult really], but you must have a mental picture of where and how all your things will be. This makes it easier to put it back in its place.

Before you buy anything new, make sure you decide where you will be putting it. Sometimes, we end up with so much things that just pile on until they becomes too much to handle.

Put everything in its designated place, immediately.

If there is a planned place for everything, you must even put everything in its place. There is no use of planning to have a folder for all bills, if you are going to leave them lying all over the house. Once you have decided where to put a particular thing, habituate yourself to putting it there. The morning newspapers have to go into the magazine stand where they are destined to be, and not lying beside your used tea-cup on the table. This way, you will never lose things just when you need them or leave things lying about.

Have a regular uncluttering time.

Even if we follow the above steps, it is quite possible that things will still accumulate. This is why it helps to have a regular ‘uncluttering time’. This time slot must be scheduled in your daily time table so that you regularly organise your desks or rooms and you don’t spend extra time arranging things at random. Many people use ‘cleaning up’ or ‘organising things’ as an excuse to avoid doing more important things. Haven’t you often spent hours cleaning up your desk just before a test as a student? Or doing the same on an ’empty day’ as a housewife? Having a regular weekly or fortnightly slot for organising things, will definitely make you more efficient and help prevent clutter. You will also get time to pursue other important things in life.

These simple steps need to be converted into habits. It is only when you are in the habit of planning places for things, of putting things in their places and having a slot for managing your stuff that you will truly and surely be able to get rid of clutter that surrounds you. So, why not make a head start right away? An uncluttered desk signifies an uncluttered mind.

Dhanishta Shah
Dhanishta Shah is a Mumbai-based writer with a background in psychology and special education. She writes because she believes it gives 'sense to her experiences'.


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