Decluttering And Your Mind

Are you getting that antsy feeling to clean up that seems so common in the early spring?

Even more so, have you seen Tidying Up on Netflix or read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and you’re now feeling the urge the ruthlessly declutter your home?

The trend is sweeping the nation since Marie Kondo’s show began airing on Netflix.

All of this is leading to not just tons of new donations being made to secondhand stores and piles of sorted belongings rising, but also conversations about the mental health effects of sorting your home and lessening your number of belongings.

Most are positive, but there are some who claim that the KonMari method has negative effects, or even that it does not work.

Even without the book or show, minimalism has certainly been on the rise the last few years in the Seattle area. Decluttering and the enjoyment of simple forms just fits our mindset here in the Pacific Northwest.

Artefact, the high-tech industrial firm in Seattle had a whole article written on it’s minimalist interior design, even.


What is minimalism?

There are two main theories about when minimalism began.

Some believe it began in the early 1900s, when glass, steel, and concrete first became widely available.

Others believe it began with the art movement named after it in the 1960s.

Whenever it began, minimalism is a trend characterized by open spaces, minimal focal points, and lack of clutter.

For some, it’s no more than that, a trend.

For others, minimalism complements their spiritual beliefs. A sparse living space may remind an individual to be grateful for the things they do have, be a reminder to combat greed, or serve another purpose.


How does “Tidying Up” work?

Since Marie Kondo arriving on the scene, decluttering and organizing your space has less to do with the lack of items as it does each individual item’s significance.

Marie Kondo’s “KonMari” method’s primary tenet is to only keep items in your home that “spark joy.”

Her book, and the advice on her show, start with your clothes, touching each item to see what makes you feel happy, and throwing out or donating everything that doesn’t.

This moves on throughout your house, one category at a time.

What items you do keep, you need to find a permanent “home” for, a place in your house.

The book and show are full of tips and tricks for better storage methods.

By the end of the process, keeping only things that make you happy, and finding a place for each thing in your home, this method is supposed to guarantee that you will not fall back into an overly cluttered home again.

How does this all connect to mental health? There are many benefits and drawbacks to extreme tidiness

Getting rid of excess possessions or practicing minimalism at home can have many benefits.

For one, the less you have, the less you have to clean up. Many people using this method claim they have more time to spend with family or spouses, guilt-free since implementing an extreme tidying up routine.

Secondly, committing to minimalism as a lifestyle requires not accumulating things at the rate you did before, so that your house won’t become cluttered again.

This allows people more financial freedom in the long run. They can save that money, spend it on activities and experiences instead of things, or buy nicer individual things, since they’re buying fewer of them.

Freeing yourself from clutter also helps you look forward, as we associate memories with items, especially of what we were doing in our lives at the time that we acquired them.

For the KonMari method, that means only keeping things that remind you of happy times. In other methods, that could just mean removing all items of nostalgia to keep yourself looking ahead instead of back.

In general, minimalism tends to lower your stress at home. It is easier to find your belongings, there is less pressure to move into a bigger space, and so on.

The fact is that, while clutter may have different effects on each person, and our clutter may affect us in different ways, in general, clutter stresses us out.

This seems to be the root reason that Marie Kondo’s book and show are affecting so many people. They present a concrete way to reduce stress in your life, with step by step instructions, and, on the show, the sorting process is sometimes even fun.

However, there are always those ready to criticise a new trend.

While many are jumping on the extreme tidiness bandwagon, others are pointing out potential drawbacks and challenges.

One of the biggest dissenters to the wave of declutterers are overwhelmed parents.

Marie Kondo’s book, specifically, does not have instructions for clearing out and storing toys.

Minimalism also requires all members of the household to take part in the battle with clutter, and children are highly unlikely to share that drive with parents and other adults.

And above all, children require a lot of “stuff.”

Anyone who has ever had to drag a stroller, diaper bag, favored blankie, booster seat, pacifier, and backup pacifier out just for a trip to the grocery store is acutely aware of this.

Some other drawbacks stem from the one-size-fits all instructions that minimalism instructions tend to have. For instance, Tidying Up suggests folding ALL of your clothes, but many people find both time and space saving reasons to hang as many items as possible.


Psychologists chime in on minimalism and highly tidy living

Cleanliness feels good.

In the most basic sense of clean or dirty, 75% of people report getting a better night’s sleep with clean sheets.

In terms of decluttering a space, the appeal is rooted in psychology.

YouTube if full of videos panning well-organized spaces like color-coordinated bookshelves, and Pinterest is full of images of homes with open floor plans and coffee tables with just the one book on them.  

Beyond the visual appeal though, many studies show psychological and physiological benefits to tidying up.

For instance, NiCole R. Keith, Ph.D., a research scientist at Indiana University, found lower rates of heart disease in those with clean homes, even in the highest-risk age groups.

The theory behind the correlation is that those who keep their homes clean are being more active and living healthier than those who do not. The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that the way people describe their homes’ cleanliness levels can help predict whether or not they are experiencing depression. Those who describe their homes as messy or “full of unfinished projects,” were more likely to be depressed or fatigued than those who describe their home as a place of rest.

Researchers at Princeton found that clutter actually makes it harder to focus on one task, as a “visual vortex” of clutter draws your brainpower away from what you’re doing by constantly reminding you of information not related to your current goal.

At an almost subconscious level of our minds, cleanliness and organization in our homes reassures us that we have some control over our lives, and can keep the chaos of the rest of the world at bay in at least some respects.

In this way, minimalism and extreme tidying support our efforts to be mindful.  Mindfulness reduces anxiety and stress by focusing on just this moment.

This task can be much easier to achieve without distractions. If your home is a refuge where you can go to relax, then it can also a refuge where you can go to focus.

Focusing on the moment prevents unnecessary worrying about the future, and can even combat painful feelings from the past.

If the extreme tidiness trend will help you achieve goals like feeling better and retaking control of your emotions (and your life), then give it a try.