How Decluttering Can Actually Benefit Your Health

Everyone has stuff that's just laying around, shoved in the back of the closet, stuck in the "junk drawer" or pushed under the bed. A little mess never hurt anyone, right? But there's actually an important reason to go Marie Kondo on your living space: Clutter can have a detrimental effect on your mental and physical health. In fact, some psychologists are starting to recognize that having a clean, organized home is an essential part of the wellness equation. If you're not convinced, here are seven ways cleaning out your clutter can help you live a healthier life.

1. It Reduces Anxiety

Cluttered spaces are chaos for the mind, overwhelming already-taxed brains with too much sensory information, according to Psychology Today. With the excess stimuli created by a disorganized home, your brain becomes easily overwhelmed, which can make you increasingly irritable. Even worse, clutter can become a vicious shame spiral: It increases stress, making you more ashamed or embarrassed about your home, which invites even more stress. To get on the right track, start small. Separate your decluttering into manageable daily steps. So, toss junk mail one day, then hang up your clothes the next day, and so on. As you work, consider what you want to get rid of. Make sure you’re not hanging on to something you don’t really want or need, or because you think you might use it some day.

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2. It Can Improve Your Sleep

Your mind doesn’t shut off just because you close your eyes. Deep, restful REM sleep helps your brain perform complicated decision-making and memory processing and clear itself of toxins, among other things. As a report by the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness points out, while mental processing is greatly reduced while you sleep, parts of our brains are still interpreting external stimuli — scanning for dangers that might have existed in prehistoric times 2. If your cluttered home is stressing you out before bed, it can make it harder to wind down and even prevent you from getting the deep sleep your body and mind requires. To clear your bedroom, move out any working projects (laundry that needs to be folded; “trigger” items like your computer). This behavioral trick will signal to your brain that once you lie down, it’s time for nothing else but rest.

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3. It Can Boost Your Productivity and Creativity

Some of the best brainstorming happens at home. Removed from the pressures of the office, your mind can wander over previously unexamined solutions to problems. Neuroscientists call this the “incubation period” — a time when you can riff freely without deadlines or stress from co-workers. This goes with research that finds that the happier you are, the more creative you’ll tend to be — but not if you’re distracted and overwhelmed. When you’re reorganizing, it’s important to consider what systems work for you instead of what will land your space on the cover of House Beautiful. Even a pristinely organized home won’t be very useful if it’s too neat to maintain.

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4. It Can Free Up Your Schedule

If your house is a mess, you're probably familiar with searching frantically for your keys, wallet or purse on your way out the door in the morning. That annoyed feeling can completely change how you see your home. Instead of thinking of home as a place of rest and peace, it becomes a source of constant irritation. As you begin the decluttering process, free up some room to stash essential items (wallet, keys, phone) in a place you can find them easily. It’s best to designate a closed space like a drawer for these essentials; setting them on top of a desk or counter will increase the sense of chaos.

5. It Will Rid Your Home of Allergens

Dust, dander and pet hair can pile up in unexpected places. Those unused items sitting in the garage or spare room aren’t just taking up space — they’re also increasing the number of allergens in your home. Even if you don’t go near those spaces, you could be suffering from the effects of dusty, disorganized surfaces, as air from HVAC systems can pick up dust and other allergens, redistributing them throughout your home. The first thing to do is change your air-conditioner’s filters: A dirty, dusty filter can aggravate allergies. If you’re especially sensitive, try using mattress covers and remove any carpeting, since these are both common areas for dust mites to collect. You also might want to upgrade your vacuum: Top-notch models have HEPA filters that can collect even the very finest particles.

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6. It Can Reduce Financial Pressures

Income and financial worries rank high on America’s list of stressors. A Gallup poll found that salary and wealth distribution was our top collective concern, in fact. And decluttering often means more than just redistributing or organizing your existing possessions. Once you’ve gotten rid of what you don’t need, start thinking about the things you bring into your home, especially if you're prone to impulse buys. Take control of your spending by making a list of all the things you bring home and how much you spend in a week. Then go through your list and mark whether or not those items were things you really needed or wanted. But as you review your purchases for their personal value, don't be too strict. If you deprive yourself, you could end up having a buying "relapse."

7. It Could Help Address Hidden Behavioral Issues

While not always a sign of larger mental-health issues, chronic disorganization can be symptoms of bigger problems, such as depression, anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorders, says David F. Tolin, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Institute of Living and adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Yale. How we deal with our stuff has a lot to say about our emotional state, so take a thoughtful approach about they affect you. Keep a journal as you clean, tracking your emotional responses: Are you overwhelmed and embarrassed by your messiness? Do certain items bring up painful feelings? If you think you may need help with a larger problem, find a professional psychologist or counselor who can help you figure out coping skills.

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The First Step

Getting clutter cleared out is just the first step in a lifelong journey. Like most healthy choices, keeping your home clean and organized is a lifestyle change, not a short-term solution. To really change your behavior, you’ll need to carefully consider all new purchases and make a habit of regular tidying. Stay on top of dishes, garbage and left-out items every day to keep the clutter from creeping back in. Remember, it’s much easier to take care of today’s messes than a week’s worth of stuff. Incorporate decluttering into your daily routine and you should see some significant changes in your mental health, stress levels and productivity — not to mention, you’ll have a beautiful, manicured home that you’ll be proud to show off to neighbors and friends alike. And why shouldn’t you be? Congratulate yourself. You’ve worked hard to beat back the clutter!

What Do YOU Think?

Is your home or apartment cluttered? How do you keep your living space from getting overly crowded or chaotic? What are your go-to tips and tricks to get rid of clutter? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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