A Psychiatrist’s View on How to Declutter Your HomePosted: July 10, 2014
A cluttered home is more than just unsightly—living in the midst of a mess actually takes a toll on our mood and our quality of life.
A home is supposed to be a peaceful, joyful retreat. A disorderly home instead makes us feel anxious and unsettled. It’s hard to relax when surrounded by chaos.
The dining room table serves as a multipurpose space in many homes. It’s a craft table where we pursue hobbies…a library where we read newspapers…a game room where we play cards with friends…and a workstation where our kids do their homework. (In some homes, the kitchen table serves this multipurpose role.)
That wide range of uses can lead to a very cluttered table. Half-completed projects pile up, making it difficult for the family to gather for a peaceful meal.
When the table is cleared, this clutter typically gets stacked in a corner of the dining room—where it serves as a mealtime distraction and source of stress, with potentially significant consequences to our health.
Distractions in dining areas increase the odds that we will overeat because our minds are not focused on our meal. And it increases the odds that we will indulge in unhealthy comfort foods in an attempt to make ourselves feel better.
What to do: Make a list of each project and activity that regularly occur on your dining room (or kitchen) table, aside from eating. Purchase a stackable plastic container for each of these, and label these containers appropriately. Before meals, put everything on the table into its container, then place these containers somewhere that they cannot be seen from the dining room.
Many of us have kitchens that serve our unfulfilled dreams, not our reality. They’re stocked with specialized cooking tools for making meals that we never actually prepare…or fancy glassware and china for dinner parties that we never actually throw.
These items don’t just clutter up our kitchen cabinets, making it hard to find the things that we do use. They also serve as an unpleasant reminder of the life we don’t have—the one where we throw parties and have hours to devote to cooking.
What to do: Imagine that you are going to throw that fancy dinner party. Write up the menu (this is the first step to actually having that dinner party), then take out all the dishes, glassware, utensils and cooking tools you would need. Now scan whatever remains in your kitchen cabinets with a critical eye. Anything that you don’t need for your dream party and that you don’t use regularly likely is something you don’t really need in your kitchen at all.
Donate these unneeded items to a secondhand store run by a charity. Donating things to a good cause helps overcome guilt about getting rid of possessions you paid good money for but never used. Plus, your donation may be tax-deductible.
Helpful: If it makes you anxious to give away things that you might need someday, remind yourself that you are not really giving them away. Instead, you’re trading them for something better—an uncluttered kitchen where you feel at peace.
A living room should be a place for relaxing and enjoying life’s blessings. It should feature comfortable seating and decor that makes us feel joy. Scan your living room for things that do not serve this purpose or, worse, that stand in the way of your relaxation and joy.
Examples: Is your living room full of furniture that looks nice but is not comfortable? Is there a stack of magazines blocking your view of pictures of your kids or grandkids?
What to do: Remove anything from your living room that doesn’t make you feel relaxed and joyful. Select living room furniture that’s comfortable, not stiff and formal.
The study is where we pay our bills, do our taxes, make investment decisions and wade through all the other important paperwork that comes into the home. (In some homes, this might occur at a desk located in a bedroom or kitchen.)
The trouble is that many of the responsibilities and decisions that await our attention in the study are tedious or, worse, frightening. If this leads to procrastination, we’re likely to end up with a cluttered room choked with piles of paper.
What to do: Sort all of the paperwork that requires your attention into 10 stacks. Stack number one is for things that you can deal with without any anxiety. Stack number two is for things that trigger a very slight twinge of anxiety…on through stack 10, which is for things that you’re terrified to confront.
Today, deal with only stack number one…tomorrow tackle only stack two…and so on for 10 days. This strategy allows us to get through most of the clutter in our studies—and feel good about having accomplished so much—before we come to a terrifying task that could bring our progress to a halt.
It also enforces a slow-and-steady 10-day pace, reducing the odds that we try to do everything at once—which usually results in burnout and bad decisions.
Clutter in the bedroom can interfere with our ability to feel at peace, costing us sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, it becomes especially difficult to be happy, healthy and productive.
What to do: Clear all clutter from the bedroom. Everything that doesn’t absolutely need to be in this room must go. The only exception is objects and artwork that give you a sense of peacefulness and love—for example, your framed wedding photo.
Take special care to clear out anything that causes your mind to relive old wounds. If your relationship with one of your family members currently is strained, for example, temporarily remove photos of that family member from your bedroom.
Many of us have bathrooms full of various products that stoke our insecurities. A jar of wrinkle cream might remind us that we’re not young anymore. A bathroom scale might remind us that we’re not as thin as we would like to be.
What to do: Consider each beauty and grooming product in your bathroom one by one. Do you feel better about yourself when you use that hair-coloring product? That skin cream? Or does this product only remind you of your physical imperfections? Throw away anything that makes you feel bad about yourself. Such things have no place in your home.
Source: Melva Green, MD, psychiatrist and expert on the A&E program Hoarders. She is coauthor of Breathing Room: Open Your Heart by Decluttering Your Home. DrMelvaGreen.com