How Clutter Affects Your Home, Your Life + Your Mind

Kirkland, Washington kitchen remodeled with white cabinetry, gray countertops, stainless steel appliances and organized shelves..

I tapped the shoulder of my good pal, Mr. Webster for a little bit of help.

However, in order for us to fully understand how clutter affects your home, your life + your mind, lets identify a working definition of clutter + what it really means. According to Webster, ‘Clutter is a crowded collection of things in a particular place.’

In other words: CLUTTER = THINGS. 

Or as Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago who studies the causes of clutter and its impact on emotional well-being explains in an article written by the New York Times,

“Clutter is an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces.”

We talk at length about the various forms of clutter in our homes, in our lives + on our minds but what does clutter really look like?

WHAT DOES CLUTTER LOOK LIKE?

When we dig deeper into understanding the psychology of stuff + the emotional connection we have with our belongings, clutter manifests itself as anything you no longer use, love or need.

Realizing life is already hectic, we tend to accumulate things that fall into these three categories; However, when you look at the piles of clutter that exist around your home (or desk at work) right now, ask yourself:

Do I USE it? 

Be honest + think about the last time you actually used all of those pyrex pans, plastic containers or all of those pens. How often?

Do I LOVE it? 

Why doesn’t it have a home then? If you love all of your jewelry (equally) why is some of it stuffed in a bin (in the back of your vanity) where you can’t even get to it, much less enjoy it?

Do I NEED it? 

Really…  be honest with yourself! Can you find it when you need it? What would happen if you didn’t keep it? How difficult or easy is it to replace it if you got rid of it? Often times, our struggle between want vs need gets blurred.  


White washed table with clutter on it.

WHERE DOES CLUTTER COME FROM?

Better yet, how do things you don’t use, love or need accumulate in your life + around your home? And a lot of times it generally boils down to:

 

Perfectionism

The fear of not knowing how-to do something or feeling as though we aren’t equipped with the skills to do it - like *gasp!* getting organized. In fact, did you know that perfectionism is one of the biggest culprits of mental, physical + emotional clutter?  

When we feel inadequate it’s down right daunting + in most cases can become paralyzing. Instead of doing something like creating a system for incoming mail + doing it imperfectly, we avoid trying all together. Hence a crowded collection of things in a particular place.

 

Avoidance

Another key player when it comes to accumulating clutter.  

“Avoidance behaviors are the things we do to distract ourselves from the things we would prefer not to deal with. All avoidance behaviors have a common outcome, they result in procrastination, which means that it takes longer for you to complete the task which you originally set out to do.”  - eruptingmind

As humans, whenever we’re feeling overwhelmed; when things get boring, or it feels like something’s takes too much time for us to complete, we tend to default in favor towards the path of least resistance. We deprioritize + come up with excuses as to why we can’t do something or simply avoid it all together. Which is why I wrote an entire blog post on clutter excuses + the top 20 ways we procrastinate around the house

 

IndecisivenesS

Have you ever gotten bit by the ‘What if…’ bug? Well let me tell you, making decisions or looking objectively at what you use, what you love + deciding once + for all what you need can sometimes be anything but easy.

Hello favorite jeans from way back when. When I was skinny-minnie I don’t know how many upm-teen years ago; but for whatever reason the memory of how I felt when I wore them still holds a firm spot in my memory + on the top shelf in my closet… sigh!

 

Okay, it’s your turn. Think back to a time where you found yourself in a similar situation. 

  • When you struggled making a decision… because what if 

  • When it took you 3x as long to write an email... because you were being a tad bit of a perfectionist (i’m sorry, John *wink*)

  • When you drug your feet to schedule an appointment with your dentist... because you might have a cavity which means you’ll need a filling + you’re absolutely terrified

Don’t be bashful. Heck, we’ve all been there. What was the end result? How did it make you feel? 

Long story short, the habit of perfectionism, indecisiveness + avoidance (or distracting ourselves instead of tackling what we need to be doing -- like laundry or organizing the entire house -- feels hats off amazing when we’re in the moment. But in the end, once the sizzle has worn off, we’re left with a heaping pile of ugh! Feeling of guilt, embarrassment + a whole lot of other negative emotions. 

Not to worry…

If you’re having a serious moment of deja vu + want to dig even deeper into understanding why we procrastinate, I tackled that topic too! 


White cabinetry with home decor accessories.

HOW TO CREATE A CLUTTER FREE HOME 

It’s magical... like a real hats off kind of romance!

You know, that can’t eat, can’t sleep, reach for the stars, over-the-fence, World Series kind of stuff, right? (Sidenote: who am I making baseball references over here *whoop, whoop*)

To realize, when we start to make decisions + take action in those moments where we intrinsically want to avoid, procrastinate, be perfect or indecisive, just how much of the clutter in our lives begins to organize itself. 

But lets face it, life happens + along with it comes clutter. 

When the things become untidy (because we use things often + forget to put them away), when we’ve accumulated so many memories + things, because we absolutely adore them, -or- when we decide to keep something because of the mere fact that it’s important to us....

Then by all means keep it, use it, love it + enjoy it

However, you need to make sure it has a permanent place to live in your home. 

If you find yourself with constant piles of things - like that sentimental memorabilia (photos or your kids artwork) create a flexible storage system that allows you to pull them out whenever you need it but that also allows you to easily put them away to where they belong.

Boo, you’ve got this...I’m you’re #1 fan + if you need an accountability coach to help nudge you in the right direction, I'm here to remove all the fear, anxiety + alleviate the struggle you have with decluttering + getting organized. 

When you have a clear understanding of what clutter is, you can more easily make confident decisions + you begin to have a positive experience of removing anything that is holding you back.

 

WHAT CLUTTER LOOKS LIKE IN YOUR HOME

Yeah, *gulp* I just went there! After all transparency (+ honesty) is the best policy… right? 

Out of place items

When you look around the house, what sort of things are out of place even though they have a place to live? These can look like personal or household items or anything else that you’re able to say, I use, I love, or I need these things.

#Truthbomb: when put away the clutter is removed

 

Black hole items

Take a peek at the dining room table or any of the other flat surfaces throughout your home. Do you notice any piles or black hole areas? Miscellaneous things you may have received (+ could legitimately be this years must-have white elephant gift at the holiday party) or the slew of notes you jotted down on 15 different pieces of paper so you wouldn’t for get them… These my friend, are the things that tend to accumulate because you neither have a place to put them nor do you want to give them a permanent home. 

 #Truthbomb: everything successful in life is systematized 

Instead of dumping them into a junk drawer or leaving your living room looking like a hot mess… lets create a plan to either get rid of it or dedicate some of that valuable real estate in your home to put them away.


A toddler and parents laughing on designer furniture.

ELIMINATE THE EMOTIONAL CLUTTER SO YOU CAN LIVE A CLUTTER FREE LIFE

Do you carry with you any emotional clutter? Phew...that feels like a loaded question but I promise you it isn’t meant to be.

‘Like anything that’s been in our life for a while, emotional clutter can feel good to have around. It can give us the excuse not to start, the reason to hold back + the familiarity we need to keep thinking that what we’re doing is just fine – whether it is or not. -heysigmund 

The good news…

Almost everything we’ve discussed around physical clutter can also be easily be applied to help you manage the emotional clutter in our lives.

The fact is life is messy (it always is) with time the emotional stress, anxiety or uncertainty of it all will eventually begin to weigh on you. 

Wanna fix it? I bet you do...

So, revert back to asking yourself:

  • Does it cause drama in your everyday life or make it difficult to make decisions?

  • Do you love how it makes you feel?

  • Do you have a desire to keep it in your life; is it worth cleaning up?

If you answered no, then the answers simple...move on. Remove it from your life + focus on the things that bring you joy (maybe they’ve been neglected + need a little tidying up).

And sis, if you answered yes, then it’s worth both your time + energy to invest in identifying your goals, why it’s important to you + decluttering whatever pieces don’t fit into your master plan.


WHAT EMOTIONAL CLUTTER LOOKS LIKE IN YOUR LIFE

Clutter is clutter + as we are learning, a cluttered home can be a stressful home. But the million dollar question is, what does e-m-o-t-i-o-n-a-l clutter look like in your day-to-day life?

Fear, guilt, worry, regret… or sometimes even the feeling that you need to be perfect.

 Often times, this kind of emotional clutter is what holds us back + fills us with so much negative thoughts or feelings that we’re unable to begin moving forward + enjoy life.

And in the book of life...that's the ultimate goal here, to enjoy all of the wonderful + beautiful opportunities we have.

 

Bad Habits

We all have them. Things we do because welp…that’s how I’ve always done it. 

Even though, it might cause a headache down the road. 

Even though, it eats away at the time we could be doing or spending elsewhere. 

Even though, it prevents us from being involved in other more productive or beneficial activities. 

 

Toxic relationships

We've all had a toxic relationship in our life. 

You know that special someone who’s supposed to think you hung the moon but instead makes you feel absolutely terrible about yourself. 

The friend that completely drains you of your energy. 

The coworker who has nothing nice to say about anything + knows just how to put you in a bad mood.

For whatever reason, certain people can bring you down; However, let’s all remind ourselves that it’s okay to let go of toxic people. Why...because their presence in your life makes it difficult for you to be unapologetically yourself. 

And if you’re not be able to remove them from your life (or avoid them entirely) you can certainly take ownness in identifying the role they’re playing in cluttering up your life by working through it.

#Truthbomb: bad habits, toxic relationships + other emotional clutter will drain our energy + the more you let go of the things that no longer work hard for you, the more you’ll make way for the things that do.


Home decor accessories in an interior design project.

EFFECTS OF CLUTTER ON THE MIND 

When it comes to understanding clutter + how it affects us on a deeper level I always gravitate towards what it does to our mind.

Focus

Raise your hand if like me, you find it difficult to work in a cluttered environment? No seriously… I have always been an a-w-f-u-l multitasker which I’m sure is a fun little personal anecdote that my design clients will get a kick out of.  

In fact, I have a routine that when we schedule new projects on our design calendar that we also schedule an hour to clean + tidy up our work area in order to clear my mind making room for the flood of creative ideas + before getting started.

Crazy I know. But hey... don’t knock it ‘til you try it!

For some reason, I’ve always felt reassured knowing that the house was organized, cleaned + clutter free. As if the therapeutic calmness of knowing this allows me to better focus on a single task (which of course is doing great work for all of you).

Clutter not only causes distraction, steals our focus but when you’re not fully present it  limits our ability to be productive + do amazing work. 

 

Stress

With a little man Monte running the house these days, keeping the kids clutter at bay + under control is an absolute m-u-s-t. 

How many of you moms out there feel like this? Babe, I’ve got news for you… you’re not alone.

For what it’s worth (and as ridiculous as this is about to sound) a disorganized home that lacks systems + or a place to put things -- ends up feeling less like an inviting home + instead, more like a nagging reminder that failure lurks just over the horizon. It heightens your stress levels + it weighs you down. 

Clutter is not just the stuff on the floor. It’s anything that stands in the way of you and the life you want to be living.
— peter walsh

 Let’s face it, sometimes our minds need a good decluttering. So out of curiosity, how do you deal with all of your mental clutter? 

  

WHAT MENTAL CLUTTER LOOKS LIKE 

With more than a decade of experience working as a professional home organizer, I’ve both seen + heard it all. 

But when it comes to our mental health...

Understanding how clutter affects your home, your life AND your mind only highlights the importance of prioritizing (or making time) to declutter + organize. 

Clutter is working against us. Eating away at the dream of having a beautifully organized home + the life you envision creating… you know, the one you want to come home to after a long + exhausting day; The one you want your family to grow up in. The home you’re working so hard to create.

The place where there’s endless love.

Endless laughter.

And yes, endless laundry.

Because I always give it to you straight (+ because it’s your home we’re talking about) there should be no other place you’d rather be. 

Until next time…happy organizing!


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