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The psychology of decluttering

When William Morris wrote, ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’ in the 1880s, industrialisation was transforming hand craftsmanship into mass production. It is a statement that is as relevant today as when it was first written, and is a really good mantra to live your life by.

It makes you question what you value in life and how you live by those values. In a world of excess and an instant and endless supply of stuff to sate those hungry appetites of want, want, want, what is most important to you? Do you value beauty, space or memory over visual displays of wealth? Have a look around you right now. Do you see beautiful things? Functional things? Images or memories of your loved ones? The latest technology that you are not sentimentally attached to and will upgrade as soon as something more advanced comes out? Or just possessions that don’t fall into any of the above categories?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but we firmly believe that living a less cluttered existence with only functional and beautiful items in your home, is key to a less stressful life. Your living space is an extension of your personality and it can be argued that a busy and messy home is a visual reflection of what is going on inside your head. And maybe not surprisingly, having a clean and organised space has been proven to be good for you.

What are the benefits of decluttering?

Studies have shown that houses with great amounts of clutter induce higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and have the potential to make their occupants feel more depressed and fatigued. Combine that with the inability to focus properly on tasks in a busy environment because of the distractions falling within your peripheral vision, and the possible health conditions aggravated by dust and allergens hiding amongst piles of possessions, and you can see how this might easily be the case.

Lots of us attach memories to certain objects we live with, we are not sad to let things go that remind us of not so good things, but things with a positive connection are naturally more difficult to part with. Start with letting go of the items that bring back memories of unhappier times, and you will find it make you feel lighter inside. Not only are you freeing up valuable room in your house but you are cleansing yourself of the negative associations of the past. Focus then on display things that bring back positive and happy memories.

You project your personality to your friends and family through the look and feel of your decorating and design choices. Your home can shape your moods and should provide a feeling of protection from the outside world. If however, you dread returning home after because it is unclean or untidy, it is not serving the purpose it is meant for. If you work long hours, and can’t face the washing up when you get home, the problem will multiply until you do something about it. The British Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a study that showed that 20 minutes of vigorous cleaning once a week improved levels of anxiety and depression. By adjusting just the tiniest of habits within the home, like making your bed each morning, you will notice a big impact on your happiness.

With a streamlined and clean living environment, you are more likely to invite friends and family over to socialise, encouraging you to focus on positive emotions and experiences rather than material possessions. You’ve heard the old saying that the simple things in life bring the most pleasure, and it’s true.

Try these simple steps to start changing your cluttered mindset

  • Set yourself little goals that are easy to carry out and you will feel a sense of achievement when you finish them. Attacking all the cupboards in your house at once will make you more stressed, so try tackling one room at a time, and you will find you make much quicker progress as the task is not so overwhelming. Crossing each goal off your list when you’ve done it will make you feel more positive too.

  • Once you have started, you will find it becomes easier to keep the momentum up, and you will enjoy the newfound space and be grateful for the important things that you have decided to keep because they enhance your life or memories.

  • Throughout a lifetime, you amass a vast collection of things - some useful, some sentimental, some beautiful, some that are none of these. Storing useless or broken objects that you might ‘get round to’ utilising or mending one day takes up the space of something that you do use or need. Consider the relative cost of storing those items, for example in a storage unit, over the actual cost of replacing them when you really do need them.

  • The same goes for clothes that do not fit you or were an impulse buy. It might be tempting to hold onto that beautiful outfit but if you haven’t worn something for at least a year, then donate it to charity, recycle or try to sell it on, as you are not likely to wear it within the next year either. Don’t feel bad about getting rid of purchases that you now regret. Move on and clear it out.

  • No one can resist a freebie, but do you really need another set of travel toiletries from a hotel, or sachets of sugar with a trendy cafes logo on? Are your bathroom cupboards already full of shower caps and conditioner bottles that you will never use? The short term buzz of excitement when you pick it up doesn’t last long. If you don’t need it, then don’t take it.

  • If you’ve upgraded your phone or other tech recently, do you keep the old handsets in a drawer somewhere just in case? Will you ever use your old Nokia 3310?  These items can be recycled or if not too old, traded in at the time of the next upgrade. You will be able to find a pdf manual online for most pieces of tech, so there is no need to keep the massive multi language paper copies that you never referred to anyway.

  • Old paperwork and letters present a problem and a lot of people just keep everything in a drawer without any kind of filing system allowing it to be found easily if it’s needed. You only need to keep seven years worth of bills, receipts and paperwork for tax purposes, you do not need to keep most other documents for longer than a year or however long a warranty might last on a purchase. The rest can be shredded, and that can be very satisfying feeling! Make sure you keep any paperwork that needs to be retained well filed in one location so you can easily find it when you need it.

  • If there is something that you really can’t bear to part with, why not take a photo of it (or several from different angles if it makes you feel better) and then recycle or dispose of the item. A photo takes up a lot less space, and is there in an easily found place when you want to remember it. Will you remember an event any less if you don’t keep the ticket stub from it?

  • It is a well known fact that plants can enhance your home and your mood, and have been known to reduce stress and have a positive impact on your health releasing oxygen and helping to keep the air you breathe healthy. Try to introduce natural scents and natural light into your home, it will lift your mood and make your space more homely. A certain amount of work or commuting related stress will be an inevitable part of your day, try to avoid adding to it with a cluttered and messy home when you should be relaxing and enjoying it.

Have we inspired you?

There are so many small ways that you can start approaching a big life declutter, and it will have a positive effect on not only your environment but also on you, releasing Dopamine (the feel good chemicals).

Having spent a few months within the confines of your homes, you probably feel that the four walls are closing in on you - imagine if you had only a small but carefully considered amount of these items around you - would the space feel so small then? Why not come out of lockdown with a new goal of decluttering your living space - you’ll feel the benefits of improved sleep, less stress and anxiety, and a home full of things that you find both beautiful and useful.


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