ORGANIZING AND DECLUTTERING: FINDING BALANCE FOR OPTIMAL HEALTH
Updated: Feb 12
It's no secret that people with clean, tidy and organized homes are healthier than those with messy, cluttered and unorganized homes. It makes sense.
Organizing, decluttering, tidying and minimalist living are all the rage these days, thanks in particular to Marie Kondo's Netflix series "Tidying Up." Pinterest boards are overflowing with organizing and decluttering life hacks. Some of us are on it, have purged and organized the crap out of our homes, or have taken on new identities as minimalists. The rest of us keep pinning in hopes of one day having the time to follow through.
So if organization equates to better health, what does that mean for the 99.9% of us with homes unworthy of the cover of House & Home?
Can you be too organized? Does living with less stuff and decluttering, organizing and tidying actually improve your health? Or will a balance between hoarding and minimalist living suffice?
In short...it depends.
However, be reassured that most of us are doing just fine.
Underwear does not need to be colour coordinated (or folded for that matter), and pasta does not need to be organized by length. Your kid's bookshelf does not need to maintain a ROYGBIV colour scheme and a junk drawer won't kill you. Despite lofty dreams of having a perfectly organized and tidy home resembling something out of a magazine, this level of organization is not realistic (for most), or a prerequisite for happiness. Homes are meant to be lived in and messed up from time to time. Stuff piles up, dishes get used, food spills, laundry accumulates and fingerprints smudge the fridge. Daily. That doesn't make us hoarders.
Most people have at least a few systems that work for them to keep the clutter at bay, help them store and locate things, and stay somewhat sane in their space. Some do this really well while others could do a little or even a lot better.
What happens when our mess, clutter, and disorganization get the better of us?
Our stress (and cortisol) levels rise, which in and of itself is bad for our health, however, it can also lead to unhealthy coping strategies such as alcohol use and binge eating.
We waste time looking for items that are misplaced or don't have a home.
We lose things, which can be costly (such as overdue bills and replacing lost items).
We are late and miss appointments more often.
We are less reliable.
We are mentally drained.
Our sleep is compromised (studies show that people sleep better in bedrooms that are tidy with minimal clutter).
Our social lives are impacted due to shame and embarrassment inviting others over.
We lack space for meaningful and/or healthy activities.
We lose motivation to cook, resulting in more frequent meals out and fast, convenient foods lacking in nutrition.
Our home has negative energy, which easily transfers to us.
We become overstimulated.
We are easily distracted from what we are doing which results in reduced productivity.
We experience more tension and conflict in our relationships.
Our home can become a fire hazard and/or increase our chances of tripping and falling.
Our home is more likely to harbor germs, bugs and/or rodents.
So, just how organized, tidy and clutter-free do you need to be to reap the health benefits?
Ask yourself these questions:
Is your clutter bogging you down, making you depressed, anxious, unhappy or stressed?
Are you regularly searching for misplaced items?
If a friend were to unexpectedly knock on your door would you be ashamed or embarrassed to let them in? Would you need more than 15 minutes to tidy up and make it presentable?
Are there multiple piles of stuff around your house? Have they been there for more than a couple of days?
Do you have rooms or closets overflowing with things you haven't used in years?
Do things routinely fall out of cupboards or closets when you open them?
Are there rooms in your house you can't access without climbing over or moving stuff?
If you were to sit down for a meal at your kitchen table right now could you? Is this how it usually is?
Do you dislike being in your home?
Do you feel like you are drowning in stuff?
Would it take you more than 30 seconds to find a Lighter? Bottle opener? Vase? Battery? TV remote? Pair of scissors?
Does your kitchen usually look like this?
Is this your desk?
If you answered yes to at least one question, or had to ponder a few, it might be time to do some decluttering, tidying and/or organizing. Sometimes getting your home under control takes just a few simple systems, habits or routines. Sometimes it takes more.
To be a healthy normal adult your house does NOT need to look like this...
I'll admit it would be nice. However, having a luxury yacht and Beverly Hills mansion would be nice too.
Not everything we see on Pinterest, Instagram or in magazines is real or all it's chalked up to be. Uber organization is not the key to happiness, despite what Marie Kondo tells us (literally. the first line in her book "Spark Joy" is "Life truly begins only after you have put your house in order," which I do not agree with).
However, if you are drowning in stuff, living in dire straights, near hoarding conditions, it might be time to make some changes and surface from beneath the clutter. A few messy drawers and closets is one thing, but if the clutter is spilling out into your living areas and cramping your style, it needs to be a priority for the benefit of your health.
So where do you stand? Are you killing it, in need of a few tweaks or drowning in your mess?
Your home should be somewhere you want to retreat to, somewhere you enjoy being and somewhere you are proud of. Having some method to your madness can improve productivity and efficiency, reduce stress, facilitate better habits, free up time and improve happiness. Perfection is not compulsory, or even recommended.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Determine what a realistic level of clutter, tidiness and/or organization is for you and others in your household. What will help you function better?
Make a master list of everything that isn't working, causes stress and frustration, and you want to change or implement to better organize your space. Be specific.
Rank these in order of importance, and make note as to whether they are small (under an hour), medium (1-4 hours) or large (4+ hours) jobs.
Work your way through the list based upon priority and the amount of time you have. Set small accumulative goals to tackle each item. To start, pick something small and relatively easy and ensure you have the time and resources to complete the job in one specific block of time. Focus on just one project at a time.
Each time you complete a goal check it off (because how good does that feel?!) and refer back to your master list to set another one.
Invest in an organizing bible (I've listed my favourites below) to guide the process and discover valuable tips.
I by no means consider myself an expert on anything remotely resembling organizing. However, I do claim to have read almost every book published on the topic. Some made me want to drop everything and organize every last corner of my house, while others put me to sleep or I disagreed with (organizing is not the key to happiness for 99% of people, and something is wrong with you if your frying pan sparks joy). So while I am no expert in organizing, I do consider myself a bit of an expert in organizing books!
If you have determined that getting some order to your life is necessary to improve your physical, mental and/or emotional health, I highly recommend learning all the tips and tricks from an expert. Below are, in my opinion, the top 4 books on decluttering, tidying and organizing.
Pros: Written for real people by someone with a clear understanding that everyone is different and there is no cookie cutter way to organize. It is relatable and simplifies everything to make it feel achievable with an understanding that perfection isn't required. It isn't showy or about having the most beautiful house on the block.
Cons: No glossy pages or fancy pictures, a bit text heavy and assumes all organizing jobs can be completed in 15 minutes.
Best for: Real, everyday people who want more functional homes. This book is relatable for just about everyone. If Marie Kondo and the "Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" are not your cup of tea you will like this book.
Pros: Easy to read, lots of pictures, short paragraphs and lots of headings. Includes quick and easy to implement tips and strategies for organizing, decluttering and cleaning, closeups of recommended organizing tools as well as a break down of what jobs are best for different chunks of time.
Cons: None identified.
Best for: Regular everyday people who are in the beginning stages of their organizing journey and want a good reference book.
Pros: Easy to read, full of realistic pictures resembling normal/average homes, short paragraphs with numbered headings, and useful quick tips for organizing as well as cleaning and design.
Cons: Could include more examples and close-up images of specific organizing devices used and recommended.
Best for: Everyone.
Pros: Easy and straight forward to read, full of beautiful pictures, short paragraphs with lots of headings, and a fun sense of humour.
Cons: Features a lot of celebrity homes which is cool to see but not what most homes look like. It also has less of a breakdown on how to tackle each job as compared to other books, and favours aesthetics over function.
Best for: Those who are fine tuning their already decently organized home, are into aesthetics and design over function, or simply want one of the most popular organizing books on the market.
Again, I do not claim to be an expert in organizing (my less than perfect home will attest to this), however in reading over a dozen organizing books I have picked up a few useful tips and tricks, which I have listed below.
SIMPLE DECLUTTERING AND ORGANIZING TIPS
Get rid of clutter (garbage, junk and stuff you don't need) before you start tidying or organizing ANYTHING.
Tidy by category, not room, or you will end up shifting piles of stuff back and forth (for example: clothing vs. closet, toys vs. playroom).
Tidy and organize systematically, not all at once. It's a marathon not a sprint. Set small accumulative goals for yourself to break it down and hold yourself accountable.
Ensure you have a place for everything (messy piles on the counter don't count).
Take pictures of (and then toss/sell) things you have an attachment to but absolutely no need for.
Think before you buy (do you need it? where will it go? what can you get rid of in its place?).
Focus on developing simple routines and habits to keep you organized and simplify things (for example: meal planning on Sundays, doing a load of laundry everyday, making your bed when you first get up and unloading the dishwasher each morning).
Develop systems to organize and deal with everything from mail, bills and kids art/schoolwork to pantry items, clothing and Christmas decorations.
If things are dire, join a support group and/or hire a personal organizer to help you climb out from under your stuff.
Hiring someone to clean weekly, biweekly or monthly can help ensure your house stays clean and gives you a reason to tidy up regularly (cleaning for the maid is a real thing).
Invest in an organizing book to learn all the expert tips and tricks.
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