Organized Calm

Clearing clutter can make you more efficient, and more peaceful.

by Beverly Burmeier

March 2011

Next time you get the urge to put on dusting duds and spiff up your home, consider tidying your inner life as well. Getting rid of clutter is good for both mind and body. It allows you to create the life you want for yourself rather than just accepting the life you’ve got at the moment.

“We think of hoarding, an extreme form of cluttering, as a house problem—the person needs more space, or more shelving, or whatever. But hoarding is also a person problem—a problem of behavior, emotion and thinking about possessions,” says David F. Tolin, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut and an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University.

At even moderate levels, organization—or disorganization—affects every facet of life including career opportunities, family relationships, social activities, physical and mental health, and finances. Being organized doesn’t take time—it saves time, says Janine Adams, one of 350 certified professional organizers around the world who have received credentials from an independent
group called the Board of Certification of Professional Organizers (BCPO, www.certifiedprofessionalorganizers.org).

Being organized also saves money because you won’t buy duplicates of stuff you already have but can’t find.

But disorganization is not just about where you put things, although being able to locate items when you want them makes life go more smoothly. It’s really about the atmosphere that messiness creates. A big pile of clutter creates disarray, making people feel guilty, depressed and incompetent, explains Adams, of St. Louis, Missouri. Cleaning up takes a bit of effort, but the results will revitalize you from the inside out.

Most of the homeowners who responded to one recent study said they felt so stressed, anxious and overwhelmed when their homes are cluttered that they had no idea where to begin with home organization. In the study, released last month, 91% of respondents said they are overwhelmed at least some of the time by the clutter in their house—so much so that nearly half won’t invite their friends over to their home, and a third say they don’t know how to reduce clutter. In addition, 57% report feeling “stressed” and 42% are “more anxious” when their house is unorganized or cluttered.

Sweeping Away the Cobwebs

The following tips can help you identify energy exhausters while bolstering self-confidence.
Polish your attitude: Are you drowning in fear, pessimism, denial and procrastination? Learn to reinforce your good points rather than focusing on your flaws. “Be grateful and remember what you want to do, be or have,” says Penny Tremblay, director of education at the Tremblay Leadership Center in Ontario, Canada. Using positive words—such as saying “I will make this work” instead of “I can’’t”—recognizes your strengths and ensures an uplifting attitude.

Fill your bucket: Being devoid of happy thoughts can leave you feeling depressed, grumpy and overwhelmed. The solution is to cultivate happiness by focusing on the good in
micro-moments, says Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Fredrickson led a study that showed appreciating small moments like the beauty outside the window or kind things people do is sufficient to improve mood and help you rebound from adversity and stress.

Clean out anger: Neglected mental business resulting from anger, hatred or jealousy can drain energy and contaminate relationships, so it’’s necessary to free yourself from past mistakes. If you need to apologize, do it. If you have hurt someone, either by words, actions or silence, ask for forgiveness. Don’t get stuck looking back on perceived injustices.

Lighten your load: Unfinished actions deflect energy from more useful purposes, so if there’’’s an undone chore or unresolved conflict that keeps nagging at you, get if off your plate.

Try this: Write on paper or create a personal vision board of what needs to be done; that takes it off your mental list. Check off things as they are accomplished and you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction.

Others get so disgusted at the condition of their home that they “want to run away from the room” or feel their clutter is “insurmountable.” The survey was commissioned by Rubbermaid and conducted by Russell Research.

Moms with children in the home have a particularly hard time getting organized, with 90% saying they want less clutter and 60% feeling stressed over the situation. The more kids, the higher the stress: 91% of those mothers with three or more children want less clutter and 29% say their kids are the top barrier to de-cluttering their home.

Clear Clutter, Feel Better

Is your kitchen so messy you have no place to prepare meals? Jeri Peterson of St. Louis, one of Adams’s clients, ate fast food in her car most days because her kitchen was in such disarray; there wasn’t room to cook or eat. “I got bored eating the same things every day, but I was overwhelmed and exhausted by the disorganization,” Peterson says. Now, after learning techniques to remove clutter, she says, “I’m excited about trying new recipes, and I cook more healthy food.”

Clutter can put a crimp in your fitness schedule, too. You can’t walk for exercise if you can’t find your sneakers or use the treadmill that’s buried under a mound of clothes. And dust from excessive clutter can cause respiratory problems. Germs and mold intensify in an unkempt home, causing illness or allergies.

Clutter causes stress. Losing items because you forgot where you put them can lead to frustration, arguments and time lost looking for things. Clutter causes people to lose control and efficiency at work; it creates embarrassment and paralyzes relationships, says Adams. On the other hand, being organized is calming and allows you to cope with life’s annoyances more effectively.

In addition to causing stress, overwhelming messes hinder productivity. You may sabotage work or personal goals if you’re often late because you can’t find keys or important papers. Clutter is oppressive; it makes you feel sluggish and cranky. “When you’re organized, motivation kicks in, so you can tackle challenges and accomplish goals,” Adams says. In another study, more than half of people in the workplace who were surveyed said they thought negatively of their coworkers with messy desks. Further, according to the study commissioned by OfficeMax and conducted in January by Kelton Research, professionals who see a colleague’s cluttered workspace assumed that person must be lacking in other aspects of his or her job (40%) or take it one step further and have a lower overall opinion of this colleague (13%). Still, some are more forgiving and believe the coworker is simply overworked and has little time to clean up (33%).

Eliminating clutter helps eliminate worries. As a result, you’re able to think more clearly and focus better. Instead of getting bogged down and confused, you have more time and stamina to devote to tasks.

“The purpose of organization is to keep us clear on our life path and moving in the right direction,” Tremblay says. “Focus on the present; determine what is important to you and then choose to spend your time in ways that promote those values,” she adds. (If you could use help in clearing your clutter, look for a professional organizer through the BCPO or through the National Association of Professional Organizers, www.napo.net.)

 

Ways to Manage Your Time Wisely

For many people, how they handle time can be as much as source of mental clutter as the stuff oozing out of their closets and desk drawers. If that describes you, here’s five simple time management tips:

  1. Plan your day—and make it visible. Not planning each day’s activities leaves you at the mercy of whatever happens, which is a recipe for inefficiency. And don’t try to carry your plan in your head. For some people, this means using a written to-do list or a paper calendar; others are more comfortable keeping track of tasks through a cell phone app or a laptop/electronic notepad. Find what works for you and stick with it.
  2. Set priorities. Just because you want to check off all the items on your list doesn’t mean they all carry equal weight. Set aside time for the important tasks first—meeting a work deadline, paying your bills—and go from there.
  3. Break large jobs into smaller steps. One way to feel overwhelmed is to see large, complex tasks as, well, large, complex tasks. The answer is to break them up into manageable chunks and do a little each day. Let’s say you want to turn a patch of lawn into a garden, for example. Think of all the things you need to do to make that happen: Deciding what to grow, buying seeds or transplants, turning over the soil, planting, watering, mulching. Then account for each task in your daily planning.
  4. Don’t try to do everything and do it perfectly. One of the most useful words is also the shortest: No. Learn to say it with conviction when people try to push their to-do lists onto you. And while it’s important to execute tasks carefully—sloppy work needs redoing, which wastes even more time—learn to discern the difference between doing a good job and nitpicking over details.
  5. Be flexible—and kind to yourself. Each day will bring its distractions no matter how much you plan, so don’t schedule tasks too tightly. In addition, make time for your own needs: eating lunch away from your desk, taking a walk or stretch break in the afternoon. All work and no play makes you not only dull but tired and ineffective as well.

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