Declutter Your Way to a Stress-Free Summer

Spring cleaning looks a bit different this year...

Some folks went overboard, bleaching and scrubbing every surface imaginable while trapped inside for months on end. Others struggled to do the bare minimum as they had to juggle working from home full-time with child care and schooling. But what if you couldn't do much because you didn't have anywhere to put all the junk?

Extended time surrounded by clutter increases stress. We saw a study a few years ago that showed the more cluttered a home is, the higher the stress levels of those who lived there. And increased stress contributes to everything from depression to weaker immune systems.

And the current climate hasn't helped much. Not only are we stressed out about unemployment, COVID-19, the economy, and political and social upheaval... but until recently, we couldn't do anything at home to combat it.

Stores ran out of many cleaning supplies. Donation centers closed. In some areas, residents couldn't use landfills and recycling centers. Here in Baltimore, bulk trash and other services were either suspended or modified to cope with the growing health crisis.

But with places opening back up, it's time to declutter and destress. That's why we wanted to share our favorite tips for clearing out some space...

1. Go slow. You don't want to tackle your entire house in one weekend. Remember, all the moving and cleaning is physically exhausting, but the act of letting things go also taxes us emotionally. Make a plan for your rooms and try to do one or two rooms per day. For more cluttered areas, set aside more time. You might take a three-day weekend to do the garage, for example.

2. Use stations. A helpful tip that my assistant Laura often employs is to set up four stations, such as boxes, trash bags, or simply marked areas of a room. Label them Keep, Trash, Donate, and Store. For each item you come across, assign it to one of these stations.

3. Figure out what to keep. When deciding what to keep, ask yourself these questions:

Do I use this item on a regular basis? It might surprise you to know we often wear just 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time. Keep this in mind when going through clothes... When was the last time you wore that outfit?

Do these clothes still fit? Don't hang onto clothes that no longer fit – not only does it take up room, but having a reminder of your failure to lose weight can actually trigger depression. That, in turn, can keep you from meeting your goals. What you think might be motivation is really just holding you back.

Does this object bring me joy? It sounds hokey, but we tend to keep items because we assign them value that they don't have. Remember, they have a sunk cost, meaning we can't resell them for what we paid. That means we have to figure out their usefulness and emotional value. Now, that doesn't mean throwing out all of your grandmother's antiques. If you're hanging onto a lot of items from a loved one, try to choose just a few that bring you the most joy and let go of the rest.

4. Donate. Often, donating items is easier – and more rewarding – than simply trashing them. Knowing someone else can use and enjoy the item helps us let it go. One tip that one of my researchers shared is if you're cleaning out your loved one's room in a retirement home, ask the facility about reselling items left behind. We know a few homes here in Maryland that offer a used furniture and home-goods store for residents and their families. It's a good way to find a new owner for furnishings.

5. Try the six-month test. Box up items you might be reluctant to give away. Mark the box with a date in the future – six months is usually a good test. Put the box out of sight. You can try the garage or the basement, for example. Go back in six months and see if you've used or missed anything in there. If it's out of sight, you'll grow less attached and letting go becomes easier.

6. Go digital. Paperwork is one of the worst offenders in clutter. My assistant Laura recommends going digital. She bought her parents a small desktop scanner to digitize all of their important paperwork.

7. Employ the "one in, two out" rule. Typically, we apply this to clothing. For every new piece of clothing you purchase, you must get rid of two pieces. But you can also apply this to books, DVDs, shoes, and even kitchen utensils.

8. Buy organizers after you purge. Buying organizing containers, shelving units, and more should happen after you clean and purge yourself of clutter. You want to make sure you purchase what you really need instead of guessing. Worse, buying something larger than you need means more room to accumulate clutter – the opposite of what you want!

Remember, take it easy on yourself as you declutter. Sometimes letting go of items is hard. But if you follow our tips, you'll not only clean your house, but lower your stress, too. That's a great way to start fresh after months of staying cooped up.

It's also a great way to clean up if you're looking for a new home. New home sales took a dive this year in the wake of the coronavirus, but April did pick up more sales. We think a bigger boom in real estate is coming. And for investors, it's a great time for this chaos hedge.

Our friend and colleague Steve Sjuggerud is launching a new project that dives into the real estate investment space. He's going to share how to make the most of this market, including investments in REITs... retailers... homebuilders, and more that you can act on immediately. You won't want to miss his webinar detailing these opportunities. Sign up right here for Steve's webinar on Wednesday, June 24.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
June 16, 2020