A Journey from Buried to Bliss

by Stacy Moser

White kitchen design. Photo courtesy of Beth Kooby Design, photography by Jeff Herr Photography.

Many of us occasionally struggle with a messy home. Dishes pile up, paperwork covers the table, dirty clothes litter the floor—side effects of a stress-filled lifestyle and priorities that don’t involve housework. But when does a disorganized, messy household go from a minor annoyance to a cry for help? Believe it or not, a clutter-filled house can negatively affect your body. Research shows that living with an abundance of clutter can be a major factor that can affect your mental and physical health.

When a Mess Is More Than a Mess

Sandra Tunajek, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, writes about the impact of a disorganized house. “Living in a cluttered home can create subtle, constant, low-grade stress. Anxiety over clutter messes with your brain’s alpha waves and interferes with your sleep, making you more fatigued, impacting your hormone levels, and increasing production of cortisol.” Research suggests living in a chaotic environment over long periods of time can ultimately lead to weight gain, depression and even disease.

For some, the mess at home is so daunting that gaining control of it seems impossible. “Anyone can relate to this,” says Peter Walsh, former host of TLC’s “Clean Sweep” and author of “Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life.” “Your home’s cluttered, your kitchen’s overwhelmed with stuff, and that feeling is, ‘I’m zapped, I don’t know where to begin, I’m exhausted before I even start.’”

This situation has become such a common occurrence that an industry has sprung up around it—professional home organizers liberate their clients of clutter, freeing them to pursue the Zen of healthier, happier lives. Hundreds of books have been written about the subject, and even apps can assist in the quest of a simpler life.

Low-maintenance, soothing outdoor space with a koi pond, gravel path and mulched gardens. Photo courtesy of ModernRusticHomes.com, photography by Tom Harper.

Link It to the Love

One mega-successful home organizer, Marie Kondo, has sold over eight million copies of her books, including “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Her KonMari Method™instructs clients to visualize the life they desire once they achieve a clutter-free space. Her philosophy is that we should keep items that “spark joy,” surrounding ourselves with a few objects we truly love—and get rid of anything we don’t. As with the concept of minimalism, you figure out what really matters to you and then discard the rest. She advocates linking the decluttering process with a life-changing goal that’s attainable once your living space is rid of unnecessary disorder.

While Kondo advises decluttering in one epic “clean sweep” of your home, others say it’s OK to set smaller goals. Walsh, for instance, offers this advice: “It’s taken years for a home to become cluttered, so it’s not realistic to try to declutter or downsize everything in a weekend small. Working systematically through a home will help make the task more manageable.”

Clutter can affect not only the inside of the house, but the outside as well. Imagine your outdoor spaces as opportunities to unwind from the stress of everyday life. Be mindful of every object (even plants or trees) in your yard to help you let go of clutter—keeping only what brings on your “Zen” state of mind.

 

Beautiful, clutter-free bedroom design. Photo courtesy of WAKE + LOOM Design, photography by Jaki Hawthorne

Get Started

“An organized life is a happy life,” says Linda Lanier, owner of In Focus Organizing in Atlanta. “The average person loses one hour a day due to disorganization.” Even if you can’t afford a professional organizer to do it all for you, she offers a DIY program so you can consult a pro as you get started.

Get family or friends involved — They’ll encourage you to stay motivated.

Create rules — Clothing that hasn’t been worn in a year heads straight to charity. For collections of keepsakes, photograph them all, then pick one item to keep.

Give ’em a hand — Physically hold items in your hands to be mindful of their value in your life. If it brings on a bad memory or doesn’t make you smile, get rid of it.

Make some cash — Use Craigslist or eBay to unload items and make a few bucks.