I love spring cleaning. It’s an opportunity to throw open the windows, let some fresh air in and clear out everything that’s been piling up around the house.
You might think you happily coexist with that messy desk or dining room table, but your brain and science know better.
A couple of years ago researchers at Princeton University’s Neuroscience Institute published a study that said multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.
Translation: Clutter restricts your brain’s ability to focus. It also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter distracts you, saps your energy and keeps you from getting things done.
Karen Jessee doesn’t need scientific proof to know how clutter affects our lives. The professional organizer and owner of Simply Organized in Wilmington has heard it all from clients. “I hear the words ‘suffocated,’ ‘overwhelmed,’ ‘I can’t focus,’ and those area paralyzing words,” she said.
So how does clutter happen? Jessee calls it “the stuff of life.” You think you’ll use it later, it has sentimental value, and you paid good money for it. Or maybe divorce, death or a change in financial status has affected your ability to deal with it.
Getting it out of your life can be daunting—even painful. Researchers at Yale University have discovered that two areas of the brain associated with pain light up when we part with items we have a connection with.
There’s no shortage of advice when it comes to telling you how to get the upper hand with clutter but Jessee has some suggestions that just might work.
1. Think. Jessee urges clients to think about how they live their lives now—not how they lived in the past or how they expect to live in the future. Do you dress the way you used to dress? Do you cook and eat the way you used to cook and eat? If you could turn back the clock, would you buy the item again? “It’s not about the stuff,” she said. “It’s about you and who you are now.”
2. Start small. Pick the room you’d most like to see de-cluttered and start there. Seeing progress will encourage you to move on to other areas.
3. Cut down on storage spaces. Sales of home-organizing products pull in billions each year, according to Closets magazine. But all too often these filers and containers merely allow us to postpone the tough decisions regarding clutter.
4. Go paperless—or use less paper. Bills, receipts and envelopes can easily pile up in just a few days. Experts recommend you keep hard copies of only those documents you’ll need to reference, like home repairs, major purchases, tax records, birth/death/marriage certificates or divorce papers.
5. Create less to de-clutter. The best way to clutter-proof your home is to avoid collecting things in the first place. Before you purchase an item ask yourself if it’s really something you need or intend to use. Another strategy: Make room for a new item by getting rid of an old one. “Give someone else the chance to love it,” says Jessee.