How to Feel Better by Reducing Clutter

Column: Aspire Unplugged, by Cheryl Patterson

“We also need to be willing to make room in our lives for the impending birth of our dreams.” – Christine Caine

Many of us try to be organized. It’s no fun living in chaos – messes here, lost items there. Especially frustrating are situations like not being able to find things when heading out the door. It’s stuff many of us go through. But when it gets to the point where it’s in the way of having a functional home or work productivity, chances are it’s also impacting our emotional health and desires.

Our environments are an important extension of our well-being. External clutter impacts our psychological health and is linked to functional effectiveness.

Professional organizer Rowena List finds that people are often hard on themselves for not having things together or for living more functionally, and indicates that guilt and shame tend to go hand-in-hand with clutter, and research concurs.

Studies on clutter indicate that when the physical environment interferes with achieving objectives it fuels stress, which can limit motivation, performance and social interaction, depending on the degree to which it’s limiting our needs.

The degree of comfort we experience in our surroundings depends on meeting needs such as hygiene, safety, mobility and a sense of control over the space, according to research on environmental comfort.

The more these needs are met, the greater the possibilities. Integrative doctor Isaac Eliaz, MD, Lac, MS, indicates “In addition to being more productive and having more time to do what they love, most people experience a sense of freedom, clarity, inspiration and spaciousness after getting organized.”


Start small. Rowena suggests spending short increments of time with simple items (i.e. your sock drawer or other type of clothing that needs your attention) and go from there. You may also find peace of mind parting with things you no longer wear by donating them to others who could use them.

If you’re concerned about your health, you can start with a small food area, like a specific section in your fridge, such as the crispers or inside of the door, getting rid of anything that no longer fits your lifestyle.

Pay attention to what’s causing stress. If you’re not sure where to start, think about what’s consistently getting in your way or nagging at you to get done. Research on the Environment Comfort Model suggests measuring the degree of comfort versus stress you feel on a scale of one to ten.

Get rid of what you don’t need. While it may be challenging to decide what we want and whether or not to get rid of it, we already know what we don’t need anymore.

Get rid of paper trails. Have a file case or somewhere to store your papers, and eliminate junk mail by signing up with, or your postmaster (if you live in a small town). They’ll provide a “no junk mail” sticker for your mailbox. You can also get your bills online via e-post, instead of accumulating the impending pile of envelopes.

Ask for help. Bigger projects can be a great reason to get together with friends or loved ones, making it a group effort (i.e. gathering unwanted items for a yard sale).

The point of clearing clutter is for greater functionality – physically and emotionally. When our space is cleared and free of clutter, we can move on, or as Eliaz says, let go. “Like a huge weight lifted, we can experience freedom from unnecessary distractions and disorder when our physical, mental and emotional energies are best optimized in a clean, organized, health-promoting environment.”

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