resillience

Finlay Haswell, Programme Lead Physiologist at AXA Health

Declutter to destress

Resilience

18 May 2020

Mother and daughters dancing at home

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Find your feelgood health

It’s long been known that a spot of light housework can be great for physical health, but did you know that having a good declutter, both literally and metaphorically, is hugely beneficial for our mental health, too?

Clutter can play a significant role in how we feel about our homes, our workplaces, and ourselves. Messy homes and workspaces can leave us feeling anxious or helpless and can contribute to an increase in our stress levels.

Stress in modern society is often seen as “just part of life”. Everyone is busier: there are more things to do, more opportunities to connect with people, more...everything, which can make it hard to stay clutter-free. 

But don’t fret, the declutter to destress challenge is here to help in tackling unnecessary stresses and to help you find your Feelgood...Finlay Haswell, AXA Health physiologist, explains:

Let’s talk stress

Stress isn’t always a bad thing, it’s a reaction that we possess for a purpose. When we are stressed, various parts of the brain begin to communicate and our body produces stress hormones, such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine that trigger the fight or flight response. 

This response causes a range of responses, such as increased heart rate diverting blood to muscles (to make us run faster) and the shutting down of unnecessary bodily functions, such as digestion. In short, we need stress to react to dangerous situations. 

The challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations. When blood flow is diverted to important muscles for a fight or flight response, our brain function is impacted. This leads to an inability to ‘think straight’, which can be a huge hinderance to our daily lives. If we are kept in a state of stress for long periods, it can be detrimental to our health. Elevated cortisol levels can increase both blood pressure and blood sugar, which can lead to increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Why is clutter bad for our health?

Excessive clutter is often a symptom and a cause of stress and can affect every aspect of your life: from the time it takes you to do things to your overall enjoyment of life. A study in Current Psychology(1) also found a link between procrastination and clutter. Those who put off doing unpleasant tasks, like paying bills, also put off the difficult work of decluttering their homes.

Clutter can distract you, weigh you down and in general it invites chaos into your life. As Christina Scalise, author and professional organiser, would say: “Clutter is like a physical representation of a to-do list”. This to-do list can sometimes be overwhelming but using our guide you too can be clutter-free and feeling good. 

Declutter your space 

Whether it’s your workspace or your home, an efficient environment will ease your mind and increase productivity. In the words of Marie Kondo “does it bring you joy” (and if you haven’t watched this TV series, this refers to only holding on to items that serve purpose and bring you happiness). 

The best way to declutter your space is by using ‘the four-box method’. This method is simple, but don’t take on too much at once. You can start small, with a drawer or a cupboard and work through your space bit by bit. Firstly, find four boxes and label them as: keep, sell/donate, store and throw. Secondly, working through your space, sort items into the various labelled boxes on this basis:

  • Box 1 - Keep items that are important and/or used regularly.
  • Box 2 - Sell/donate items that have no use or do not bring you any joy.
  • Box 3 - Store any items that you don’t use regularly but can’t get rid of. Try and store these in an organised and efficient way.
  • Box 4 - Throw away unwanted items that are too damaged to be donated or sold.

Declutter your commitments 

Between work, family, sports, hobbies and social commitments our lives can become cluttered. In order to declutter your schedule, look at all your commitments and write them down. If you think that’s more paper to store away, then use your phone or tablet and make use of the calendar and notes app. 

Seeing everything you are committed to written down can be very eye-opening and it can help you realise how much you are doing. This will help you decide which commitments you want to keep by looking at each one and deciding whether it brings joy to your life or improves overall wellbeing.

Declutter your routine 

We all have daily and weekly obligations as well as chores that need completing, but often we complete them without any routine or structure. Write down your daily and weekly tasks, then create a schedule, such as doing all your washing on a Saturday morning, then scheduling ironing on a Sunday. 

Creating structured routines that you follow daily or weekly may help you to destress. Another top tip is scheduling time in your evening, such as meal prepping or laying your clothes out, so that you have a less hectic morning. Additionally, be sure to leave your keys in one place, such as a key bowl or hook, so you don’t have to rush looking for them.

Declutter your mind 

A cluttered mind can leave us feeling unfocused and preoccupied. Mental clutter, such as worries about the future, ruminating about the past, or that never-ending mental to-do list, can be a real burden. 

To start decluttering your mind you can write down a to-do list, work through this list prioritising what is important, removing anything that isn’t. Keeping a journal is also a great idea to help you keep your mind decluttered. You can write about things you are worried about, plans or anything else that is draining your energy. 

Another top tip is writing down a list of things to do the next day before bed. This way it’ll be easier to get to sleep knowing you’ll remember all those little things that need to be done. This is also a handy tip for any worries. Write them down or discuss them with a loved one to free your mind so that you can get a better night’s sleep.

Declutter your devices 

Decluttering your digital life is just as important. You probably get tens of subscription emails a day, maybe even hundreds, that either never get read or you delete right away. It’s normally as simple as clicking unsubscribe at the end of one of these emails to stop any further emails from this company. So next time instead of deleting right away, click unsubscribe. 

Do you also have files on your computer from 2012? Sort through these files by looking at the date you last accessed them, that can be a good indication if you can delete the item or not. Organising your devices will give you a sense of accomplishment, as well as reducing any unnecessary stress associated with digital clutter.

Take Home Tips 

  • ‘Marie Kondo’ your belongings to reduce physical clutter.
  • If you feel like your commitments are overwhelming, do less (of the unimportant things).
  • Evening prep can really save you from a hectic morning rush.
  • Write lists to ease your worries.
  • Stay on top of your mail (online and paper) to stay organised and feel accomplished.

Fortunately, unlike other more commonly recognised sources of stress, clutter is one of the easiest life stressors to fix. So, why not take action and declutter your space, commitments, routine, mind and devices and give your mental wellbeing a positive boost. 

References

  1. Ferrari, R, J., & Roster, A, C. (2017). Delaying Disposing: Examining the Relationship between Procrastination and Clutter across Generations. Current Psychology. 37, 426-431.
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