“This course was inspirational for a lifestyle/behavior change vs. just short-term actions to declutter.” —ACE student in Decluttering class 


There are good reasons why courses in decluttering elicit comments such as these on evaluation forms. People recognize the fact that decreasing the clutter in our lives—whether physical, digital, or emotional—can help us to feel better. Why? 


Getting rid of clutter reduces stress 


In 2015, fully a third of respondents in a survey by the National Association of Professional Organizers said that they felt overwhelmed by the clutter in their lives and didn’t know where to begin to remedy the situation. The unused software on your computer that makes it run way too slowly; the zillions of pictures on your phone—so many that you can never find the one you want to show a friend; the jammed closets and drawers; the garage that is hopelessly piled with junk—all of these situations cause stress on our bodies and minds, which can build up over the years.  


That’s not just a theory. It’s backed up by research. For instance, a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that women who described their homes as cluttered had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their bloodstream, and were more likely to be fatigued or depressed, than women who described their homes as restful and restorative. A study by Indiana University found that cleaning can have a positive impact on physical health because it increases the amount of physical activity a person regularly engages in, and another one by Connecticut University found that during times of high stress, people sometimes find relief by doing menial jobs such as cleaning.  


Decluttering helps you feel better about yourself 


Even small steps to start decluttering have a wonderful calming effect. Taking that first step to declutter is like a breath of fresh air. One woman said: “I organized my sock drawer the other day, and now sometimes I open the drawer just to look at it – it just makes me feel good!” Every small accomplishment is something that can be celebrated, because it’s a step in the right direction. It’s the “glass half full” attitude, rather than the “glass half empty” one.  


Decluttering improves focus and concentration 


With so much stuff clamoring for your attention from so many different corners of your home, it's hard to know where to start, and sometimes, it’s even hard to start, period. But according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, people are more productive and better able to process information in an uncluttered and organized space. Once you begin to declutter your environment, it will get easier to continue. Every small decluttered space is a small oasis where you can breathe, relax, and focus on your next project. 


Have a plan 


Consider beginning by thinking about how you want to organize the space you need to tackle. Whether it’s digital or physical, and whether you need physical containers or digital folders, draw a diagram of how you want to organize your material. For instance, considering your images, you might want to create albums by subject matter (e.g., family, vacations, animals, work). If you’re looking to declutter your garage, you might need to purchase some sturdy shelving or cabinets, and you might organize items by type (e.g. tools, toys, lawn/garden, sports, pantry, car parts). Set up the folders on your computer, or order the shelves or cabinets as soon as possible so you’ll be ready to start. 


The Swiss cheese concept 


Take on decluttering piecemeal, a little at a time, like the holes in a slice of Swiss cheese. The feeling that you don’t have to tackle that entire folder of a thousand images and organize them all at once is reassuring, isn’t it? Start with 20, and organize those today. Then organize another 20 tomorrow; or maybe 50. It’s totally up to you. The idea is to be comfortable, to be easy on yourself so that you enjoy doing it. That way, you’ll be more likely to keep doing a little of it every day or so until the job is complete. There’s no time like the present. Start today! 



Decluttering: How It Boosts Mental Health – The Blurt Foundation 

How Mental Health and Cleaning Are Connected – VeryWellMind 

The Cost of Clutter in Your Life – VeryWellMind 


Written by Patricia Rockwood, Instructor and Staff Writer