Spring has sprung and with it the seasonal appeal to purge and tidy up our living quarters. Did you know that clutter affects mental wellness? Clearing out those accumulated things – and feelings – can help free up space and benefit your well-being. In this season of renewal, The Calli Institute offers tips to oust the clutter for mental health spring cleaning.

All Kinds of Clutter

Simply put, clutter is a collection of things in a disorderly or chaotic manner. We all have or have had clutter at some point or another. And whether it’s the ordinary, everyday clutter or collected clutter, the heaps of disorganization very likely affect our mood or our view of the world around us. But what’s the difference?

Ordinary clutter. Ordinary clutter is the daily stuff that piles up. Everything from mail to the laundry to the dishes or anything else we put off “for now” because we don’t have the time to put it away or clean it up. The sticky notes on your monitor or the papers that need to be filed or the items that sit on the stairs waiting to be carried up or down on someone’s next trip. Everyone has this type of clutter. And while it’s normal, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause us stress.

Collected clutter. Then there’s collected clutter. That’s the stuff we purposely put out of sight and by extension out of mind. Those old clothes you’re hanging onto because you might wear them again, someday? Collected clutter. Stacks of magazines from years ago that you swear you’re only keeping because you really want to read those articles – one of these days? Keychains and pens and trinkets thrown in a junk drawer because you don’t have a place for them but think you need to keep them? Collected clutter. It’s all around us, whether it’s visible or not.

Emotional clutter. Clutter doesn’t have to be tangible. Let’s not forget about emotional clutter. Feelings of anger, holding a grudge, old habits and routines, self-doubt and worry, toxic relationships, or overdue financial responsibilities take up excess time and effort. Those heavy things that weigh you down can be considered emotional clutter.

With clutter, some things we keep for sentimental reasons. Maybe it belonged to a friend or relative, or it was a gift from someone special. We tie emotions to those items and guilt ourselves into keeping them. Or we might think that if excess things are in a neat pile (or tucked away in a drawer or cabinet) that it’s not really clutter. Because it’s organized. But really, that’s just organized clutter.

Feeling Clutterly Overwhelmed

So, how does all this affect us?

Clutter is chaotic. And demanding. And tiresome. Clutter’s physical and emotional burden creates stress and confusion. When a person is overwhelmed, logical thinking gives way to irritability and magnified stress, which ultimately affects mental wellness.

Our minds are programmed to choose organization, and clutter is the exact opposite. To the brain, a cluttered existence signifies imperfection or unfinished business. And that incomplete task – or tasks – creates tension and feelings of anxiety.

Clutter can make it difficult to concentrate, get things done, or even sleep. A cluttered environment can put people on edge and make them feel continuously stressed, strained, and fidgety. Being in nonstop defensive mode can be physically and psychologically draining which, in turn affects sleep patterns, the immune system, and how we related to others.

All of this is both understandable and common. Clutter is a part of our lives. But the good news is there are steps to take to free yourself from the clutter and the mental stress it creates.

Get a Handle on Decluttering

The things you’ve collected, the things that have piled up, and the things that you’ve stored away may seem like a lot to tackle. And it might be. But chipping away a little at a time can help you stay focused on and positive about decluttering.

Start small. The idea of purging the things you no longer need or value can seem daunting. So, start small to keep from becoming overwhelmed. Go through one stack of papers or one closet or one box and see how you feel before moving on.

Unload as you go. Try to stay on top of everyday clutter. Find a place for things or throw them out as you acquire them. Toss out junk mail after you’ve seen it. Wash and put away dishes or laundry after use. Recycle or donate magazines and gadgets that you know will simply take up space.

Challenge yourself. You can find lists of decluttering challenges all over the internet, and any one of them can be a helpful (and fun) game to help you get rid of things.

  • The 12-12-12 Challenge has you search your home for 12 items to throw out, 12 items to donate, and 12 items to properly put away. That’s 36 items gone or correctly stored.
  • Reverse the hangers in your closet to determine the clothes you wear and the ones that are filling space. After a certain time period – maybe a month – remove and donate any clothing still on the unturned hangers.
  • Pack up items that you think might want but haven’t touched in a while. If, after a set amount of time, you still have items in the box, you’ll know you no longer need them and can donate them as well.
  • Find one item for each day of the month to donate or discard. Start at the beginning of the month and add one item for each calendar day – one item on Day 1, two items on Day 2, and so on. You’ll accomplish a lot by month’s end.

Hang onto one. If you have a collection of mementos that hold sentimental value, consider keeping one and getting rid of the rest. That way you’ll still have the connection without the clutter.

Scrap it. Have old photos, notes, cards, or other small keepsakes? Consider putting together a scrapbook of those memories to have everything in one, neat, organized place to show others or reflect upon.

Repurpose. For nostalgic items that might be damaged or unusable in their original state, repurpose them to give them new life. You’ll still maintain your emotional connection while having something you can use.

These are just some ideas of ways to declutter things. But what can you do about that emotional clutter? We have ideas for handling those as well.

Recognize and make note of patterns, behaviors, or thoughts that no longer serve you. Each time you encounter these aimless intentions, try to focus on more positive reasoning. Shift your brain to follow a more productive and confident path and envision your favorable outcome. Revisit the scenario again and again to build confidence and help reprogram your thinking.

This may take practice but keep at it. And keep looking forward.

Lean on an Expert

We all have clutter. We collect and hang onto things over time. Learning to let go of the things – or feelings – we no longer need can take time, too, and it can feel like a lot.

These tips can get you started, but don’t feel as though you need to take on mental health spring cleaning alone. The wellness professionals at The Calli Institute are here to guide you through the process and offer support to help keep you on track. Ask us about our personalized, balanced approach to wellness and how it can empower you to become your best self.

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