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5 Ways Clutter May Be Affecting Your Health

Organizing your home or office isn’t only about getting spaces in order. It also involves enhancing your general health. In this issue, we’ll explore how tidying up spaces you live and work in can actually help you breathe easier, sleep better, and lose weight. You might think that random piles of clothes, dusty books stacked on shelves, and those dreaded “junk drawers” aren’t really harming anyone, but that is not the case. If your spaces are cluttered, they are likely affecting your health. Let’s go over how clutter affects health, and how you can resolve it if it is a problem for you.

1. Getting restful sleep is impacted by clutter.
When you’re preparing for bed, and the last thing you see is a hamper overflowing with clothes or paperwork scattered all over surfaces in your bedroom, it can cause anxiety and restlessness. Several studies conducted by sleep specialists show that the sleep patterns of subjects who have cluttered bedrooms are much worse than those who have clean and organized rooms.

Resolution: If your bedroom is less than organized, spend some time putting clothes away (schedule it if you have to), purging things you no longer need, sorting paperwork, and cleaning up. If it’s too close to bedtime, you will likely be overly exhausted so don’t push this off until the last minute. One reward of taking this step is better quality sleep. You could also use a meditation app like Calm to get an even deeper slumber.

2. Your breathing and allergies can be aggravated by clutter.
Clutter itself can be a real eyesore, but it’s what lingers in physical chaos that is the larger issue. Dust is a common problem that aggravates allergies. Allergies to dust can cause symptoms including: sneezing, coughing, itchiness, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest. Sources of allergies like dust mites, mold, pollen, and pet hair are attracted to cluttered areas. To get rid of dust mites you have to purge the clutter and clean clothing, linens, towels, stuffed animals, carpet, and upholstery that was part of the mess.

Resolution: Once you de-clutter an area, wipe down and vacuum everything thoroughly. Wash linens you find and donate old stuffed animals, especially if they are dusty. You can also use air purifiers and house plants to improve the quality of air in your home or office.

3. Your energy levels are influenced by clutter.
You have probably entered a cluttered room that immediately diminished your energy with the overwhelm. When you are surrounded by massive amounts of clutter, the result is overstimulation that hinders you from processing information and your capacity to focus.

Resolution: If you find yourself avoiding undesirable tasks like sorting piles of stuff or opening heaps of mail, then work for 20-30 minutes and take 5 minute breaks in between. If you want to reward yourself then do something you enjoy, like listening to your favorite music or having a healthy snack. Just don’t get caught up in this part. After 5 minutes is up, go right back to getting tasks done and you’ll be able to refocus due to the short break.

4. Unwanted weight gain can be instigated by clutter.
Studies show that people who have disorganized homes have a more difficult time losing weight. This makes sense because even if you have healthy fruit stored in the back of drawer (and unhealthy snacks are easier to access), then they are more likely to be eaten. In fact, Peter Walsh, has found that there is a connection between clutter, higher stress, and weight gain. In his book Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight, he shares research that indicates when stress increases, hormone levels increase and the result is overeating. Additionally, a Cornell University study revealed that the presence of foods such as candy, cereal, and soft drinks in homes were associated with weight gain in individuals that ranged from 20 to 30 pounds.

A certified health and wellness coach, Maria Bernaris, presented at the last NAPO-NY meeting. She spoke on the topic of organizing and detoxing kitchens. Her philosophy is that kitchens need to be organized in order to maintain a peaceful, uninterrupted flow of energy. Having an organized kitchen ensures that you will be able to find the foods you need to eat or cook quickly.

Resolution: Reorganize your kitchen and pantry to help you lose weight by placing tempting unhealthy foods (as few as you can tolerate) in hard-to-reach cabinets, and keeping healthy foods front and center. If you feel unhappy, unfocused, and stressed out, your health-centered goals will be overshadowed. But if you de-clutter most of the junk food, then you’ll be able to relax because you will have less unhealthy temptations. This means you’ll be able to focus more on taking care of yourself.

5. Your mental health is affected by clutter.
It is normal that most people to have trouble parting with sentimental items like childhood toys, high school yearbooks, wedding memorabilia, or family heirlooms. But keeping these belongings when we’ve truly outgrown them can actually be a burden emotionally, physically, and financially. A Yale University study compared the brains of hoarders and non-hoarders. It showed increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and insular cortex when subjects were shown things they would have to part with. These two regions of the brain are associated with pain and conflict. Clutter can overload your mind, increase your stress levels, and even prevent you from thinking creatively.

Resolution: Even though it can be an emotional process to de-clutter spaces in your home or office (especially after some type of loss), you can try sorting through it with a supportive friend. If you struggle parting with certain items you suspect you may have outgrown, your friend can ask you questions like, “How long has it been since you used that?” “When are you planning to wear this?” “How often will you use this” or, “Are you ever actually going to display that?” Keep the possessions that serve you, bring you happiness or enhance your life. There are many ways to part with the things that don’t fulfill you, such as donating them, giving them to someone else who can benefit from them, recycling them, or throwing them out.