Seven Ways to Declutter Your Life

Stop what you're doing and close your eyes for a moment...

When you have them closed, picture the area around you in its most inviting and peaceful state. Maybe the lights are slightly dimmer or there's some nice music playing. What does it smell like? Are you there alone or are others in the room with you?

If I had to guess, I'd say that when looking around your pleasant environment, there is no mess or clutter to be found. That's because mess goes hand in hand with stress.

A few years ago, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, linked higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) to women who described their homes as messy or cluttered.

The researchers did in-home visits to monitor the connection between clutter and stress. They found that clutter led to higher cortisol levels (the so-called "stress hormone"). And increased stress contributes to everything from depression to a weaker immune system.

Spring is a naturally great time to declutter. The spring brings a newness after the cold, dark winter has passed. Flowers are in bloom and wild animals are out and about. This may be why "spring cleaning" is something folks still do, year after year... It's good for your mental health, after all.

Studies show that cleaning can:

  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Reduce depression, improve your mood, and help you focus better
  • Help you avoid injuries (falls), asthma, and illness
  • Encourage you to eat healthier and exercise more

So, if you need a little help getting started, we've put together seven of our favorite tips to help you:

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.

Plan your approach 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.

When cleaning, work from the ceiling to the floor. And use household products to clean,  like peroxide and vinegar with orange, rather than harsh and toxic chemicals.

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?
  • Do these clothes still fit?
  • Does this object bring me joy?

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.

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. Health & Wealth Bulletin managing editor Laura recommends going digital. She bought her parents a small desktop scanner to digitize all their important paperwork. (You can find document scanners on Amazon for around $100.)

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.

This month, start your new cleaning routine. You don't have to do it all at once. I like to spread my cleaning out over a number of weeks. It allows you to utilize the mind-clearing and movement-based benefits for a longer period of time.

Do what I do and mark your cleaning days on the calendar. That serves as a great reminder to reap the benefits of tidying up your space.

What We're Reading...

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

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
May 17, 2022