The Chaos in Your Life That's Keeping You Up at Night

The junk drawer...

Everyone has at least one in their home (probably more). It's the drawer where you throw all those miscellaneous items that don't seem to have a place anywhere else... scissors, pens that don't write, keys that you've forgotten what they open, glitter from your son's latest "art project"...

I've heard a few folks say that their new stay-at-home lives, thanks to COVID-19, seems to add more clutter. And all that clutter comes at a cost.

It turns out, living in a cluttered environment is stressful. In addition to influencing your mood and stress levels, clutter negatively impacts your sleep, anxiety levels, memory, ability to focus, and even the amount of junk food you eat. It also decreases our ability to discern facial expressions and can therefore distract us from meaningfully connecting with other people. And women experience the stress of clutter more than men.

Unfortunately, many parts of the natural process of aging make it difficult to stay on top of our long-held cleaning and purging routines. But it's even more important to live clutter-free as we age. Research shows that older brains spend more time and effort reconstructing memories than younger brains during memory recall tasks. And clutter just makes our memories even worse.

The good news is that getting help – if needed – and tackling your clutter will help you feel both accomplished and in control of your life.

If you find yourself in a place where you are in charge of doing this for an aging parent, consider asking a close friend or family member for help. It can be a very emotionally taxing job to do alone, especially when you stop and consider how age has changed your loved ones.

Be sensitive to those seeking your help throughout this process. You may run into some resistance with this task and not know exactly why. Turns out, some people experience a chemical reaction in their brains in response to throwing things out. It's the same chemical reaction as when people experience pain. So, the act of getting rid of stuff is physically painful for some people. This is an extreme case, but it's something you may experience – either firsthand or in helping someone else.

How to Declutter Your Life

Throwing stuff out is hard... So give yourself permission to clear out some space in your life and maybe even share some of your things with others. Don't let it overwhelm you. "To do" lists are a simple way to keep track of what you need to do and what you've done. But if you find your to-do list getting out of control, use the 1-3-5 rule: aim to accomplish one big thing, three medium things, and five small things in a day.

Here are some tips on how to get your purging process started and how to maintain a clutter-free space...

First, visualize how your new clutter-free space will look and feel and use that as a motivator. How will it make you feel to have more space to move around in and less stuff in your visual field competing for your attention? Consider each item you plan to give away with care and don't allow yourself to get distracted by thoughts of being wasteful.

A great way to start purging is by giving away things to your children. Old furniture, jewelry, valuable artwork, family knickknacks... all of these unused things could have a new home in the arms of your kids or grandkids. They don't need to be taking up space in your house any longer. Photos can be digitized, and family photo albums can be passed along. You might even want to give your kids some of their inheritance money early so that you can watch them enjoy it.

When selecting items to give away, take inventory of absolutely everything that you already own in that category – meaning build a pile of every single shirt that you own on the floor and then really take in just how much is there. If you hesitate at all while trying to decide whether or not to discard an item, follow your gut reaction and let it go. It's not wrong to hesitate, it just means that you still have an attachment to that item. Take some time to realize why that item is no longer serving a purpose in your life, even though it once did. Start with the easy things and save the sentimental things for last.

When you are finished giving things away and organizing your space, develop a system for cleaning and build that routine into your weekly schedule. That may mean hiring a house cleaner to help you stay on top of it, or even downsizing to a smaller house. If you start to clean a room at the ceiling level and gradually work your way down to the floor, you can eliminate a lot of redundancy in the process.

You are going to love existing in your new stress-reduced environment. You might even want to take some before and after pictures to celebrate your hard work and keep things from ever going back to the way they once were. Put the two photos on your now spotless fridge and give yourself a mental high-five every time you see it.

What We're Reading...

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

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
January 5, 2021