Cleaning Out the Clutter

(written for the ASTD Newsletter, June 2014)

Spring is nearly over, but it is never too late for some spring cleaning!  Have you ever noticed how much better you feel and how much more energy you have when you clean up some clutter, such as cleaning off your desk or filing a stack of paperwork?  We all know we feel much better in a clean environment, but did you realize there is research to support what we already know?  Clutter drains our energy making us less productive and more stressed.  Clutter can cause depression, anxiety, tiredness, lethargy, and shame.  There is also research to show a correlation between weight gain and clutter.  Clutter affects the way we feel about ourselves and the way others see us.  Clutter can cause confusion which keeps you from being able to focus on the things that are most important to you.  Clutter drains you of valuable time because you spend so much time looking for misplaced items such as keys, a piece of mail, shoes, etc.  Clutter also costs you money as bills get misplaced, late fees accrue, and you buy items to replace the items you can’t find.  Clutter interferes with our relationships as we may be embarrassed to have others see our mess or they may choose not to be around because they are uncomfortable in the messy environment.  Clutter can affect our self-esteem, especially when we feel overwhelmed and frustrated that we just “can’t seem to get a handle on it” and manage it more effectively.

So why do we let the clutter build up?  In the winter, we tend to “nest” by surrounding ourselves with comforting items like winter clothing, but in the spring those same items zap our energy.  This is why so many people do “spring cleaning” – to regain their energy by reducing the clutter.

Another reason people let the clutter build up is they get out of the habit of putting things in a home when they are done using them.  It doesn’t take long for a stack of mail or a pile of clothes to build up if they aren’t dealt with regularly.  Sometimes this problem begins because people haven’t taken the time to assign their possessions a “home” so they have no place to put them out of sight.  They land on flat surfaces such as tables, chairs, countertops, desktops, etc.  Seeing all of this clutter when you enter a room causes you to feel stressed, fatigued, drained and overwhelmed to the point that you don’t know where to begin.  So you don’t.  And the clutter continues to build.   This feeds the cycle of procrastination, depression and stress until people get to the extreme point of physical illness or relationship problems that cause them to face the clutter head-on.

So where is a good place to begin?  There is no right answer to this question because each of us has our own way to tackle it.  I recommend starting small.  Choose a spot that you declare “clutter-free” and create that space to give you energy when you are feeling overwhelmed.  It could be a space like a bathroom, or even the cupboard under the sink, or smaller yet, would be a drawer in the bathroom.  When you have success on a small level, you gain momentum and have more energy to tackle the next space.

When you have selected your small “clutter-free” zone, start looking at the stuff in that space and sort it into 3 piles (keep, donate, throw away) asking yourself these questions:  1. Do I love it or use it?  If you don’t love it or use it, you move to the next question – 2. Can someone else use it or enjoy it?  If the answer is no, move to the 3rd question – what has no use any more and needs to be thrown away?  When you can narrow down your “keep” pile, you feel free as you gain more space back in your life.  Continue to sort each area using the same 3 categories – keep, donate or throw away and before you know it, you will feel lighter, less stressed and more energetic!  This process raises your oxytocin level – the feel good chemical which makes this process good for your health as well as making it easier to find things, giving you more time back and reducing your stress.

Start small, continue moving through one area and one room at a time, sorting into the 3 categories.  Assign everything that you keep to a home and spend 15 minutes a day to put things back in their homes if they have strayed.  Make sure these homes are logical and easy to maintain (such as keeping keys near the door) or you will end up having the same areas growing into clutter piles, again.  Organize the remainder into nice containers so you can feel relaxed and enjoy the beauty of your environment.

The most challenging part is to maintain it on a daily basis.  Set schedules for daily, weekly and monthly cleaning and organizing tasks.  Sarah Felton of “Messies Anonymous” recommends following the 30 second rule – if it will take less than 30 seconds to put away right now, do it immediately!  (This includes putting away shoes, mail, etc.)  Pay attention to your “hot spots” which are the places clutter tends to accumulate for you.  Clean these areas each day so they don’t become a problem.  Once everything has been assigned a home, make sure you put things back as soon as you are done with them.  If you can keep up on it a little at a time, (15 minutes a day) you won’t feel overwhelmed with a mountain of clutter, again.

If you are interested in further reading, check out these sites: and

Next month, we will look at clearing out the clutter in your mind and electronic devices.

Kolleen Meyer-Krikac, owner of Balanced Life and Wilshire Business Suites, located in Lincoln, NE is a certified life coach and professional counselor in private practice.  She facilitates workshops, is a public speaker and enjoys helping people to “Dream, Plan, Achieve” the life they have always wanted.  You can reach Kolleen through this website, Linked In, Facebook or by calling her at (402)499-5547.

If you would like more information on cleaning out your clutter, we offer presentations and small coaching groups on this topic as well as one on one coaching.