In my professional opinion, one of the best remedies for an anxious mind is organizing a closet. You may not feel confident in your relationship at present, or how to handle a conflict with your child, or if your boss is going to select you for that upcoming promotion. But you can know if your clothes are going to be organized by color or season, how many pairs of shoes will make the cut, and which purses are display worthy. Bonus- you usually find hidden treasures along the way. It’s the perfect task for regaining mastery and control over your environment when you feel the ground around you start to shake. Plus, it requires focus, strengthening your mindfulness muscle and the result is a huge endorphin boost!
It’s why I often include cleaning and organizing as recommended technique for my anxious clients. A study out of University of California confirms that a cluttered house contributes to a cluttered mind. Their study, published in the scientific journal “Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin”, analyzed how people described their home and its impact on their mood. Individuals who used words like “cluttered” or “full of unfinished projects” were more likely to be depressed and fatigued than those who described their homes as “restful” and “restorative.” The researchers also found that people with cluttered homes had elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. There are several reasons clutter creates stress but let’s just unpack a few.
- Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what we need to be focusing on. For example, when you’re trying to be present for your child while they struggle through homework but all you can think about is the nagging reminder of chores all around you.
- Clutter makes it challenging to relax our body and mind. It affects us mentally due to the chaotic state of our home, and physically because it doesn’t give our eyes a peaceful place to rest. The chaos serves as a constant reminder of the chaos in our life-it’s hard to find respite.
- Excessive clutter—defined as clutter which prevents us from moving about freely in our home—causes guilt, dread, shame, and embarrassment if someone were to drop by.
- The longer messes are allowed to sit, the more they accumulate. Thus, making it harder to motivate oneself to address it. We put it off. Marking it a seemingly “impossible task” because of the time and energy we perceive it will take to conquer it. This hopeless feeling fuels anxiety.
- Clutter frustrates us because we cannot find what we need quickly. That could be homework, an important piece of mail, your kid’s beloved toy or your keys when you’re trying to make it out the door on time.
Since not all of us can afford to hire a professional cleaning service but all of us could afford a little more peace of mind, here’s some ways to de-clutter and de-stress.
- Focus on one area at a time. There’s a reason I only prescribe one task-a closet, the office, the pantry, etc. Especially when we’re still developing the habit of cleanliness to treat anxiety. Taking on too many projects will have the opposite effect, leaving you overwhelmed. Pick one area of your home at a time and make it a space that calms your mind.
- Do a little bit each day. When it comes to keeping a clean home overall, I recommend breaking it into daily tasks that leave you with a satisfied feeling at the end of each work week. Create a daily to-do list, like making your bed each morning and putting all dishes away before bed. Aim for allotting one big task per day such as dusting on Mondays, bathrooms on Tuesdays, floors on Wednesdays…you get the idea. If able, task each member of the family with an item and make it a team building experience. By the weekend, you’ll be ready for quality time that isn’t bombarded by the weight of laundry.
- Limit possessions. The less you bring in, the less you’ll have to throw out. You can help your kids with this principle too. Try the “one toy in, two toys out” rule. Every time they are rewarded with a new item, have them pick two items they don’t play with any more to donate. And hold yourself to the same standard. If you want a new sweater, pick something in your closet to toss.
- Adopt Mary Poppins Motto. Keeping a clean home can be fun! “Find the fun and ‘snap’ the job’s a game!”. Create little competitions and rewards for yourself and your family members or crank up the tunes when doing chores! My Dad always thought brooms made excellent air guitars. Plus, think of the calories you’ll burn if you cha-cha while vacuuming.
- Establish healthy habits that will last. Find what works for you and stick to it! Maybe it’s the one activity at a time rule with your kids, a filing system for household paperwork, a chore chart, a new way of organizing clothes in your closet or a Tupperware system for the pantry. Different techniques work for different people/families. Find what comes easiest to you and you’ll have greater odds of sticking with it!
I believe mastering our physical state will lead to mastery over our mental state and vice versa. Give yourself the confidence boost of regaining control in one area, and it has the power to create a domino effect across all aspects of your life.