Getting our house in shape each Fall is good for our mental health.
Posted Oct 12, 2014
Spring cleaning is a ritual in many households. After being confined within our four walls for months, it’s clearly in order. Fall cleaning should be just as popular as Spring cleaning. Beginning our long Winter captivity in a fresh, de-cluttered space makes our time indoors tolerable for longer.
We continually accumulate stuff and dealing with it is part of Fall cleaning. Stuff isn't trash, it's torn out magazine articles set aside to be re-read later, gifts that haven't quite made their way to their final resting places, and cozy nests created to fight off the winter chill—in a word, it's clutter.
Clutter is mentally exhausting. In our less developed prehistory, we needed to continually survey our environment, to make sure that nothing that found us appetizing was approaching. It's easier to review a less cluttered environment; danger stands out more clearly. That survey behavior from long ago is probably at least one of the reasons that we prefer less complex wallpapers today. Each time we review a space, our eyes linger on each item there, so clutter is also stressful because it takes us longer to complete an "environmental sweep."
Clutter is undesirable for another major reason. We use the design of spaces we control and the objects we place in those spaces to communicate to ourselves and others who we feel we are—at least on our good days. We are very good at reading our own environments and those of others - research has shown, for example, that we can pretty accurately assess a person through a quick review of places they control. We can even estimate how well a space could communicate who we are - that's why we can take a couple of steps into a perspective home and decide if it's the space for us.
Excess objects and disorder can cloud the message sent by a space. Not clearly presenting ourselves through a space we control causes stress. Imagine that the spaces we control are topiary plants - they always need to be trimmed so people can determine the story we're telling.
Spend a few hours de-cluttering—the mental health rewards you'll reap will make it time well spent.