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Verified by Psychology Today

It's Time to De-Clutter!

Clutter isn't good for our minds or our waistlines.

Many of us are now emerging from long Winter-induced hibernations and finding that our homes and offices are filled with lots and lots of stuff. We’ve cluttered-up, slowly but certainly.

After months of indoor living, clutter starts to accumulate. Often clutter 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 the remains of cozy nests created to binge consume new finds.

But the things cluttering up our lives need to disappear from view—either into the trash/recycling/donation center if we no longer need or want to own them or somewhere in our home/office. They can’t remain in piles on our floors and other horizontal surfaces. The objects formally known as “clutter” need to find their way into cabinets and storage spaces we can’t see into—for example, drawers with opaque fronts and boxes under the bed. We need to move the remnants of our “clutter mountains” into places where we can’t see them.

Why do we need to de-clutter?

Cognitive science confirms what our own life experiences tell us—getting rid of the extra stuff around us boosts our mental health and wellbeing.

It’s mentally exhausting for us to see clutter, so clutter makes us tense. 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 vista, danger stands out more clearly. We continue to scan the environments that surround us today, even though most of us are more likely to be done in by snacks we gorge on than lions or tigers. Clutter means we have to work harder to complete an "environmental sweep.”

Clutter is undesirable for another major reason. We use the spaces we manage or control and the objects in them to communicate to ourselves and others who we feel we are - at least on our good days. We proudly signal our egghead tendencies or our civic pride, for example, via design decisions we make. We do a great job 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 manage or control.

Excess objects and disorder can cloud the message sent by a space. Not clearly presenting ourselves through a space we manage or control boosts our stress levels.

Clutter has professional implications—when we’re in a cluttered or disorderly space we’re less likely to continue to work on a challenging task.

Research also shows that when we’re in a cluttered space we’re more likely to break down and eat foods that aren’t good for us, so clutter can directly affect our health.

Spend a few hours de-cluttering—it’ll be good for your head and your gut.