Clutter is a constant in our lives. Just walking in from the mailbox brings a fresh stack of it. I was surprised to find that clutter affects women most. But then again, knowing how my husband can overlook a cluttered entry way, maybe not too surprised.
There’s scientific research on why women are affected. It’s all about cortisol levels. Cortisol is released in our bodies when faced with a stressful situation. It’s there to help us get through the fight. We can all reflect on times when we needed our cortisol to kick in.
Whether we knew it or not, cortisol helped us get through something big. Maybe we had to leave somewhere quickly for our safety, we went through a divorce, or deadlines at work were looming. Whatever your story, you’ll find a time you needed cortisol to help you get through.
Clutter can induce a physiological response to increase levels of cortisol. Too much cortisol for too long of a time is bad thing. If you keep a high level of stress all day, then go home to stress, your body doesn’t have time to recover.
Time to come down from the cortisol levels of the day is needed for rest, sleep, and rejuvenation. Recovery time doesn’t come as easily for women as for men. Men can clutter up their space just as easily as women do, yet it’s women who find cluttered homes stressful. Clutter makes our home stressful. We tend to be affected by clutter, whether we clean the clutter or not.
What is clutter? Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University states, “Clutter is an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces.” In an article in the New York Times, Ferrai goes on to say that among older adults, clutter problems were also associated with life dissatisfaction.
“It can negatively impact mental well-being, particularly among women.” As we begin to pay more attention to this, clearing clutter seems like a logical step to lower cortisol for our health and well-being.
“Research shows that people who struggle with clutter were 77% more likely to be overweight or obese. The body has a system of hormonal checks and balances that may promote weight gain when you’re stressed out. Cortisol not only promotes weight gain, but it can also affect where you put on the weight. Researchers have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause fat deposition in the abdominal area rather than in the hips. This fat deposition has been referred to as ‘toxic fat’, since abdominal fat deposition is strongly correlated with the development of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.” (Take the belly fat quiz here.)
A cluttered kitchen and home can create a vulnerability to making unhealthy food choices. If you must clean space on your kitchen counter to create a meal, most likely you’ll opt for a fast solution. This could be chips and dip or anything not requiring space for prep as a home cooked meal requires.
My office needs lots of attention. I let stacks of important papers and bills collect in a pile. To keep it organized I must spend a few minutes daily or weekly, filing the papers or shredding them. If I don’t, the result is a late fee on bills then calls to the 800 number to see if they’ll deduct the fee. Cleaning the office clutter takes time. It’s really a simple task that I’m lazy about doing.
Dr. Ferrari noted that clutter is also often the result of an “over-attachment” to our personal items, which makes it difficult to part with them. I went through all my photo albums, divided, and organized them to give to my two boys. I had several boxes of photos plus old photo albums and boxes of memorabilia.
The memories that filled those boxes are priceless. At one time, I had a strong attachment to all those pictures. After divorce from their father, I couldn’t look at them the same way anymore. My boys needed the pictures to remember the good times.
They now have snapshots in time – spent in the ball fields, birthday parties, and their significant events. I kept one small box of the most important pictures for myself. This eliminated so much space while giving me a feeling of relief. Sometimes letting things go feels good.
Why do we avoid taking care of clutter? Because it’s hard work! As with my office, we can be lazy! We might want to avoid being triggered into memories, or the attachment to the meaning of certain things, making it an overwhelming task. It’s so much easier to turn a blind eye to it all. But, if it will help you relax, reduce your weight and stress, would it be worth it? You decide.
One big way to reduce clutter is to cut back on buying things. For me to do this, I stop shopping. Whenever I shop, I come home with something. Do I need it? Maybe. Mostly it’s a want not a need. The name for this is over consumption.
It takes willpower for me to stay out of stores (the exception being the grocery store). I have a friend who is a pro at this. If we are anywhere that people are handing out free stuff, or flyers, etc., she will not take it. She attributes reading the book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, by Karen Kingston, to changing her life. Acquiring less is a step to less clutter.
Get some help. If you put the word clutter in Pinterest or Google, the response is astounding on the number of suggestions to conquer this problem. Not all of these will work for you, but some will. If you find yourself off to a great start but your enthusiasm drops and you stop, you may need help from a life coach.
There are Clutter Coaches that specialize in organizing, or Life Coaches who will help you through any life challenge to get to a better place. The accountability they offer helps you stick with the project until it’s accomplished.
When I downsized from a large home to a townhome, I took advantage of some organizer tools to help me. Examples are, shelves for bathroom supplies, organizers for drawers, or shelving for closet organization. These are fun to use, and really do accomplish the goal of finding the object next time I’m searching for it.
I like the idea of setting a time that you’ll work on it daily. Maybe it’s 20 minutes or two hours. But set the time and stick to it. When that time is up it’s time to stop. Stop! Take the project on the next day for your set period. Slow and steady wins the race!
For your health, well-being, sense of calm and accomplishment, clear the clutter in 2022. This could be the one goal you set for the new year. Welcome to less stress, a trimmer waistline, and a healthier body!
Have you ever thought that clutter could lead to stubborn belly fat? What have you done to reduce clutter in your life? Where is the most clutter in your home? Do you have brain fog or brain clutter? What works best for you?