Are you home? At work? Look around. How tidy would you consider the space you’re in right now? If there are items around that do not belong, they could be negatively affecting your own personal happiness, productivity and other crucial areas of your life.
Getting Rid of Things that Could (Literally) Hurt Your Brain
Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found that hoarders — people who typically keep many, many things in their lives — showed increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and insula regions of the brain when asked to sort out their stuff. Those regions are also associated with physical pain. The researchers found a correlation between the strength of activity in these brain regions and the strength of the negative feelings a hoarder expressed about getting rid of an item.
If the same area of a hoarder’s brain activates when you get a paper cut and when you have to let go of belongings, what does that say about human beings and their feelings toward possessions? When a person gets into the habit of hoarding stuff, their brain perceives the loss of possession the same way as something that causes physical pain. The more financial or emotional commitment involved, the harder the item is to ditch.
On the other hand, non-hoarders in the study did not have the same level of brain activity when letting go of things. You could be doing your brain a big favor by getting into the habit of keeping personal possessions to a minimum.
When and How to Declutter
Below are a few basic actions to take right now to help clear out the clutter.
- Get more storage. Whether it’s a few 18-gallon bins in the basement or a lidded basket by the sofa, extra storage can create homes for things. Just be sure to go through them regularly and get rid of things you no longer need.
- Set limits. This goes for both tangible and digital items. Avoid buying a new book until you’re finished with the one you’re currently reading, and consider a book swap when you’ve finished. Spend some time going through files on your computer’s hard drive — if it’s not immediately necessary anymore, delete it or move it to a cloud-based file.
- Finish what you started. Set a deadline for projects that aren’t finished. Deadlines keep you, and your commitment to the item, accountable.
- Reduce consumption. Avoid buying items just because they’re on sale or taking home things because they were free. Resisting temptation will help stop more clutter before it happens.
- Sort through your big storage spaces. This is arguably the most difficult part of decluttering because it’s so time-intensive, but clearing out the basement, attic, and closets seasonally can help keep things organized and make room for items that need homes.
Some Mess May Be Okay
The concept of clutter isn’t always black or white — or in this case, tidy or untidy. For some, the answer is in finding a happy medium. Your organization system needs to work for you, and there are benefits to both messy and orderly environments. When your space is tidy, you might be on top of things more, including your diet, daily tasks and projects. On days when you find your surroundings messier — but don’t let it stress you out — you might feel more creative and big-picture idea-driven.
If there’s no clear-cut answer, how can an individual figure out what’s best? It may come down to taking a look around and examining the feelings associated with the current situation. Some clutter may be good, such as when:
- It’s not hampering productivity.
- The potentially “cluttered” displays promote positive emotions.
The point is, if the clutter in your life — in the house, on the desk, wherever — isn’t keeping you from completing tasks and it makes you happy, leave it alone. It all comes down to finding your own personal version of minimalism. The hard part is maintaining that balance, but successfully managing your stuff can do wonders for your creativity, productivity and overall happiness.