The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey revealed several significant sources of stress in modern life, including work, money, crime, and the state of the nation. Your home should be a sanctuary against all of this -- a place that helps you to relax and forget about your worries. But as psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter points out, a messy, cluttered house can actually end up increasing your stress levels. If this sounds like your home, don’t worry -- you can fix this problem by adopting a few simple habits.
Stress has a way of trickling into other areas of your life. It can affect your relationships, your performance at work, and even your health, increasing your risk of conditions such as heart disease, asthma, and depression. But stress is only a problem when you don’t feel you can cope with the issues you face. In these cases, you can either reduce the source of the stress -- which isn’t always possible -- or increase your ability to cope. Creating a decluttered living space falls into the second category -- it gives you more resilience against the stresses of daily life.
Use Designated Places
Every item in your house should have its own designated place. Items that you don’t use often (or ever!) should be stored in boxes in the garage or basement, so free up space in the rest of the house. The same applies for spares -- if you have three pairs of scissors, designate a place for one, and store the other two away. Clutter attracts clutter, so get into the habit of always putting things back in their place -- jewelry goes back in the jewelry box, not on the nightstand, books go back on the shelf, not on the coffee table, and so on.
Toss It, Sell It, Give It
Keep two boxes or bags somewhere labelled “Stuff to Sell” and “Stuff to Give.” When you come across any item, get into the habit of asking yourself, “Do I really need this?” If not, decide whether you’ll toss it in the trash, sell it, or give it away -- and then put it in the relevant container. Have a set day each week to put items up for sale or to take your “Give” items to thrift stores or other charities that accept donations.
Always be Tidying
Stop thinking of cleaning, tidying and decluttering as single events that you take part in every so often. Instead, always be tidying. When you are going into a new room, see if there's an out-of-place item that you can take with you. Tidy the kitchen surfaces while the kettle is boiling. Wipe the bathroom sink after you've washed your hands. You get the idea.
Don’t forget those often-forgotten tidying tasks, like cleaning baseboards, dusting hard-to-reach areas, and wiping down walls and inside the cabinets. All of these projects are easy to incorporate into your decluttering routines. For example, when you’re ridding your book case of knick knacks, dust the top of it. When you’re purging excess toiletries from under your bathroom sink, give the cabinet a good wipe down. After all, what’s the point of decluttering if it exposes all of the gunk that’s crept into your home? Of course, you'll still need to do a bigger, more intensive cleaning and tidying job every once in a while, but the “always be tidying” philosophy will turn that from a whole-day chore into just a couple of hours of work.
One Room at a Time
Many people procrastinate when faced with large, difficult, boring tasks. The problem with cleaning is that the longer you leave it, the bigger the task becomes! You create a downward spiral of procrastination that's hard to get out of. So, break the task down -- do one room each week. In your chosen room, go through every item and either put it back where it belongs, into storage, or into your sell/give containers as appropriate. The bedroom is particularly important -- studies have shown that people prone to hoarding sleep poorly in cluttered rooms, and poor sleep can increase your stress levels even further, so make your bedroom a tidy, relaxing space.
The key to a decluttered home is to maintain these four habits over time. Even if you just do a few minutes of decluttering each day, the results will add up. Where will you start today?
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