September 24, 2019 in Uncategorized

The Nature of Clutter

We now have more and more options for purchasing and acquiring things than ever before.  More immediate ways of getting things to us, many of us suddenly realize that they are having an issue with clutter. Merriam-Webster defines clutter as “a crowded or confused mass or collection” or “to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness”. Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago who studies the causes of clutter and its impact on emotional well-being defines clutter as “an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces.” Clutter can affect you in many different ways. You might notice you forget things like your keys or perhaps you’ve started paying bills late. Another indication that clutter has taken hold is you keep moving things around to go through the day. The key is that clutter can sneak up on us. We often keep items that no longer serve us for different reasons. A colleague, Geralin Thomas, has a great post on her website regarding “The Psychology of Clutter” that goes into detail about reasons clutter accumulates in our homes and lives. Check out Geralin’s post here. Most reasons why people allow clutter in their lives boils down to one overriding concept, and that is the term “I should” “I should keep it because it was a gift”, or “I should keep it because I once had an intention to complete it”. Living clutter-free is easier than you might think.

What is clutter – different types

Clutter can exist in three primary forms.

Physical clutter

Physical clutter is usually such that your space is compromised or limited due to too many items in the area. It could be you’ve created pathways in your stuff to move through your space or having stacks and piles of stuff lying around the areas of your home or workspace.

Digital clutter

Clutter that exists in a digital form. This can have just as much of an impact as physical clutter. Digital clutter is usually around your email inbox or files that have become overwhelming and too numerous to keep track.

Paper Clutter

Bills that are in a pile on the kitchen counter, knowing that the tax receipts are “somewhere”, and unopened mail are some of the most common forms of paper clutter.

How Clutter Affects You

The effects of clutter are centered around the primary thought that you aren’t achieving your full potential. Many studies exist on how clutter affects you. A 2010 study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology linked here found that couples in the Los Angeles area with at least one school-aged child in the house and a perceived cluttered home had higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that’s linked to the fight or flight response. In these scenarios, the response is constantly turned on. The result of this system being always on can lead to some pretty serious health effects:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

Other ways clutter negatively affects you: The feeling of shame and loneliness from knowing your home and space is out of control or  lack of focus from feelings of overwhelm. It’s important to remember that everything in your life takes emotional energy to maintain whether you see it every day or not. Also, obesity has been linked to severe clutter and hoarding disorder.

4 Ways to Beat Back Clutter

Clutter can be conquered with a little work and often with the help of a Professional Organizer. With these four quick, easy steps, you can be on your way to a more clutter-free life

The first step

Always, always the first step is decluttering. This step can be both the easiest and the most difficult, sometimes at the same time. If you’re decluttering a physical space, begin by establishing four categories of items you’ll be going through. Discard, donate, don’t know, and keep. When I work with clients maintaining momentum is critical to success. The “don’t know” category is like taking a test where you answer all the questions you can right away and then come back to the ones that need a bit more work. Things that you can’t decide on quickly, go in the “don’t know.” From time to time, go back through the don’t know, and the decisions will be more comfortable. The same goes for digital clutter and paper clutter. The only difference is there usually isn’t a donate category.


Second, after you’ve sorted all the items is deciding on locations for everything. With physical clutter, I follow the 5S methodology for placement of essential things. 5S is a traditional way of organizing critical items. You can read more about 5S here. Begin by placing things that you often use closer than those that you use less frequently. If you’re working on a digital project, this could be setting up email folders or flagging that keep relevant emails easy to access. If you’re decluttering a paper project, setting up a file system that keeps critical documents at your fingertips, while less essential documents could be filed in a longer term location.


The third step to becoming clutter-free is acquiring different storage containers for the objects you’ve decided to keep. For physical clutter, you could have lined leather boxes, decorative fiber containers, or plastic tubs. For digital projects, you might think of a program that will help you keep your emails organized.


Lastly, and in my opinion, the most important is to establish a review process to keep your system running. For physical clutter, please give some thought when purchasing items, or going to thrift stores or perhaps Costco. Keep a donation box in your closet to keep your closet organized. Online shopping has contributed to clutter as it’s so easy to order virtually anything. Make a habit of taking a day before pressing the “ORDER” button.

One of the most important things to remember after you’ve decluttered: When your space is free of clutter, your mind is free to imagine a future than the clutter in your life has been holding hostage. One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is to help clients experience the joy of living a more clutter-free life. if you’re ready to live your best life through decluttering, click here to contact us today

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Todd Allan

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Todd Allan

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