That drawer in your kitchen, your bathroom counter, the pile of bills and paperwork on your coffee table—most of us have a few areas of our house where clutter tends to build up.
There are a number of reasons for this. For one, we’re busy. Between work and socializing and kids, it’s hard to find time to set aside to organize and get rid of things.
But there’s another reason: it’s psychologically painful for us to get rid of things.
Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine recently found that two areas in your brain that are associated with physical pain, the insula and anterior cingulate cortex, showed increased activity when study participants had to let go of items that they owned and felt a connection with. In other words, to our bodies, getting rid of things that we value causes something akin to physical pain.
Not only is clutter “painful” for us, but it also negatively affects our ability to focus and process information. Research from Princeton University studied people’s task performance in an organized versus a disorganized environment. The study showed that clutter depletes our focus, leading to decreased performance and a higher level of stress. Another study from UCLA titled “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” found that mothers’ stress hormones increased when dealing with their belongings.
It’s clear that clutter isn’t just unsightly—it’s bad for you. Reducing clutter can reduce stress and increase productivity.
Here are seven tips for getting rid of clutter.
- Reflect on your clutter
- Spend 5 minutes on clutter per day
- Designate a place for papers
- Divide your nightstand
- Use a shoe organizer for bathroom supplies
- Try the Four-Box Method
- Do the hanger experiment
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Before you dive in, it helps to take some time to think about what your clutter consists of and why it’s building up.
Grab a pen and paper and answer this question: If your home were a reflection of what’s happening in your life and in your head, what would it be saying to you? Yes, you’re likely busy and stressed; many of us are. But what purpose is the clutter serving in your life? Does it distract you from things you don’t want to think about? Does going though it force you to confront parts of your life you want to ignore? Getting some clarity on your clutter will go a long way in helping you reducing the clutter in your life and preventing it from accumulating again.
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Yes—just 5 minutes. You probably won’t solve your clutter program in this period of time, but it’s a good start. This is also a great strategy if you have a big project to tackle and the thought of completing it has you feeling a bit overwhelmed. Spending five minutes sorting, throwing away, and organizing allows you to chip away at the clutter one day at a time.
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Paper is often one of the worst types of clutter because it adds up fast and often includes stress-inducing things like bills and work-related documents.
To reduce your paper clutter, make sure each type of paper has a designated place in your house. Deal with mail as soon as you get it. Recycle or shred junk mail, place bills in a bill-paying basket or folder, put things that need a response like invitations in a separate box or folder, and have a special place for coupons, too.
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Your bedroom should be a tranquil place, and clutter can bring the opposite of peace of mind. Place drawer-organizer boxes in your nightstand to separate the items inside and make them easy to see and find. Organizer boxes are also great for kitchen and office drawers.
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To reduce clutter in your bathroom, hang a shoe organizer on your bathroom door. Stick everything from razors to cotton balls to hair products in the pockets. Putting bathroom items in a shoe organizer gets things off the counter and out of messy drawers, and each item has its own spot. Shoe organizers are also a very useful way to organize cleaning products.
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Identify an area you want to de-clutter and bring four boxes: one for things to keep, one for things to throw away, one for things to donate, and the other for items to relocate. Put every item in one of these boxes. Some projects may take a half hour, and others may take weeks, but the idea is the same.
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Many of us hang on to clothes that we don’t wear very often, either because we’re attached to them or we feel like we’ll wear them someday. To figure out which clothes to discard, try the following method, which gained attention when Oprah Winfrey talked about it on her show.
First, hang all your clothes with the hangers facing in the opposite direction. After you wear something, hang it back up in the closet with the hanger in the right direction. After six months, you’ll have a better idea of which clothes to get rid of.