Do you feel burdened by too many belongings? Is your desk piled high with papers, magazines, and unpaid bills? If so, clutter may be holding you back from living the life you had envisioned for yourself.
As a professional home organizer, I’ve noticed that for many clients, decluttering provides greater benefits than mere visual appeal — it can relieve stress, improve relationships, and more. Read on to learn about seven ways that clutter can hold you back as well as seven ways decluttering can improve your life. These aren’t just abstract concepts — these are all based on the work I’ve done with real people who were once overwhelmed by clutter.
How clutter holds you back: Many of my clients say they would love to entertain more often, but embarrassment over a messy, disorganized home prevents them from hosting. And the thought of spending several days decluttering and cleaning seems like a Herculean effort. As a result, some abandon entertaining altogether.
Others stash clutter into boxes or bags that they shove in the basement, garage, or closet before hosting an event — only to leave them there for years. Eventually, they feel burdened by the unopened boxes, and in order to avoid adding to the collection, stop hosting entirely. I’ve helped clients sort boxes that have been unopened for years, amazing them by unearthing supposedly lost items — including gift cards and uncashed checks.
The benefit of decluttering: You are freed up to be more social. Eliminating clutter altogether, instead of hiding it, gives a sense of lightness. The ability to invite in neighbors and friends for a spontaneous glass of wine or cup of coffee, without being embarrassed by a messy home, can open up your life to new friendships and fresh possibilities.
2. You Feel Ill at Ease in Your Own Home
How clutter holds you back: Most of my friends and clients admit they do not feel at ease in a messy home. When they see stacks of papers covering countertops, baskets of unfolded laundry in the hallway, and unopened mail on the kitchen table, they feel unable to recline on the couch with a good book. But often, ridding themselves of these piles is a Sisyphean task — at least until they have dedicated space for all their belongings and systems in place to deal with mail and other paper clutter.
The benefit of decluttering: Decluttering belongings frees you to spend more time relaxing and doing what you love at home. Watch a movie with your family, enjoy a glass of wine with your partner, or discover a new hobby in your decluttered, peaceful home.
3. A Cluttered Environment Could Affect Your Health
How clutter holds you back: Piles of clothes over bedroom chairs, an overflowing hamper next to the dresser, or stacks of unread books on the nightstand do not promote relaxation. Many of my clients report anxious thoughts about the sheer number of unwanted items strewn throughout their homes — thoughts that in turn keep them awake at night. It’s well-documented that a lack of sleep can contribute to a number of health problems, so it’s not a stretch to conclude that if clutter causes you to lose sleep, you may want to address it to help your health.
In addition, several of my clients have confided that the dust accumulating on their disorganized belongings contributes to family members’ allergies, which leaves them feeling guilty. (The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America notes that dust mites may be the most common trigger of year-round allergies and asthma.)
The benefit of decluttering: Among the positive health effects are reduced stress, potentially improved sleep and easier breathing, as well as increased time — all perks that support your health. When we unburden ourselves of excess belongings, we spend less time cleaning, dusting, sorting, and putting things away. This opens up time for endeavors like going on a walk, taking a yoga class, and preparing a healthy meal.
4. Clutter Slows Your Daily Routine
How clutter holds you back: Some clients find that clutter in their closets slows them down when getting ready for work. We recently helped a client with a highly stressful job who was overwhelmed at the thought of organizing her closets, which were so stuffed with clothes and accessories that she had trouble sorting through belongings and getting dressed in the morning. She admitted that sometimes it took her an hour to put together an outfit and that she often arrived at work frazzled and unfocused. On weekends, she had a hard time relaxing because she thought about the excessive number of clothes packed into her closets and drawers. Worrying prevented her from feeling refreshed on Monday.
The benefit of decluttering: Decluttering at home can actually enhance your productivity at work. Over the course of two days, we helped our client by removing all the clothing from closets and drawers, sorting it by type, and coaching her to eliminate out-of-style or ill-fitting items. Discovering she had multiples of similar items, we were able to guide her in selecting favorites and donating the rest. We then sorted her remaining clothes by category and arranged items by color within each category.
Several weeks later, our client let us know that she’s now able to put together an outfit in the morning in minutes rather than the usual hour. She arrives at work relaxed and ready to take on her day. When she returns home at night she is able to unwind and no longer feels guilty about her unruly closet.
5. Clutter Causes You to Waste Money and Time
How clutter holds you back: Clutter leads some of my clients to let items like food, medicine, and makeup go bad, resulting in unnecessary purchases as well as waste.
I recently decluttered and organized a pantry for a client who loves to cook. Spices, sauces, snacks, and dry goods were haphazardly placed in the cabinet. I found multiples of the same spice, some so old they had lost their flavor. Many forgotten items buried in the back were stale or inedible. I discarded cans and jars of food past their expiration date, stale half-empty bags of chips, and long-forgotten partially empty boxes of cereal.
The benefit of decluttering: Less clutter means you’ll waste less time and money. With an organized pantry that has a dedicated place for everything, my client reports that she can easily locate items and that she no longer buys unnecessary spices, snacks, and sauces, saving her time and money.
6. Clutter Can Create Relationship Stress
How clutter holds you back: For some couples, a disorderly home can be a major source of tension, especially if one person is naturally tidy and the other is not. Over the years, arguing about the mess can strain the relationship. I have one client who admitted that a messy home had been a constant point of tension in her marriage and might have even contributed to it ending.
The benefit of decluttering: If you declutter your belongings, you and your spouse still might not see completely eye to eye, but at least one source of tension will be gone.
7. Clutter Can Lead to a Bad Mood
How clutter holds you back: Not only is clutter visually unappealing, it can also make you feel out of sorts and that your life is out of control. Clutter can be a reminder of all the things you have yet to accomplish. The exercise equipment sitting unused in the corner of your bedroom? It points to your failed New Year’s resolution. Are the size 8 pants hanging in your closet? They call attention to the 10 pounds you have been meaning to lose.
The benefit of decluttering: Unburdening yourself from unused items and unrealistic expectations can free you to live your happiest life now. Besides, if you eventually do lose those 10 pounds, you will most likely want to reward yourself with an updated pair of pants anyway!
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