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Home organization: Take ACTION
The clutter in our homes reflects our lives — clothes we haven’t worn in years, souvenirs from long-ago trips, gifts from friends or family that never had a place, unopened mail. As clutter builds, so does stress.
In fact, research shows that clutter has negative impacts on anxiety, mental health, nutrition and cognitive abilities. BeWell outlines specific ACTIONs (Activate, Collect, Tackle, Invest, Own, Never Give Up) that can help us all better organize our homes, courtesy of Patty Purpur de Vries, MS, former BeWell director.
Activate your imagination
Your first step is simple: visualize how you’d like your home to be. “Imagine walking into your home and feeling it’s a peaceful space. You have exactly what you need and value. Everything has a place, and you can quickly find anything you need,” De Vries says.
To narrow down what you want to keep, ask yourself: If you chose to significantly downsize, what items would be most important to keep?
She also advises identifying your motivation to figure out which direction to go: Is it purely about cutting down on visual clutter? Do you want to be able to readily find things? Does the space overwhelm you?
Once you’ve visualized your peaceful space, find a tiny way to move in the direction of your vision. For example, starting with a small space, like a corner, or even a single box or shelf, gives you a sense of accomplishment that can help fuel your progress towards achieving your vision. Says De Vries, “Breaking down a large project into a series of small steps makes it manageable.”
Organizing your home can seem like a big task, so you may want to ask friends or co-workers for help organizing.
Personal organizers are another resource to support you and your goals. De Vries mentions that outside help can aid in organizing items you’re emotionally attached to and have difficulty parting with.
For a shared space, you may need to get the support of others who use that space. De Vries suggests sharing your vision and how the clutter personally impacts you. If those who share the space are more data-driven, share the research about the stress clutter causes. “Be careful not to attack the person who owns the clutter. Instead, support their struggles with the items and impacted space,” de Vries advises.
To start organizing, she suggests labeling three boxes as:
- Give Away
- Keep (and organize)
Then, sort your clutter appropriately.
Tackle your fears
We keep some stuff because we fear we may need it someday, even though it may have lost its usefulness. Many of those items, such as old clothes or technology, are things that others could use right now.
A mindset of abundance can help you share your unused items with the less fortunate. If you realize you are fully taken care of and secure in your life, and you feel gratitude for that security, you will find it is easier to share your abundance with others.
Invest in tomorrow
The progress you make today will make for less stress tomorrow. If you find yourself procrastinating, motivate yourself by revisiting the image of your peaceful space and how you’ll feel once reality reflects your vision.
De Vries has a few tips to identify your abundance so you can achieve your vision:
- Start putting your clothes back into your closet facing the opposite way. If a year goes by and you still have clothing facing the old way, it means you haven’t worn that item. It may be time to “let it go.” You can try similar exercises with other excess or clutter.
- Put questionable items in a box and label it with a date a year from now. When the deadline approaches, let go of the items you haven’t missed. Only keep the items that you would choose to purchase now.
- Identify and keep the items that bring you joy. Let go of the items that don’t, such as items that remind you of a difficult time or that you feel neutral toward. For special keepsakes that bring her joy, de Vries keeps a single glass-enclosed cabinet that displays her treasures.
Own the outcome
To maintain your clutter-free space, de Vries suggests being mindful of the peace and enjoyment you find in the space. Owning the positive benefits of your hard work will make you more likely to maintain the space.
Never give up
When you start to collect excess stuff, slow down and figure out the root cause: Are you letting stress from other parts of your life overflow into your space? Has there been a change in your daily routine? Are you fearful of letting stuff go in case you need it later?
De Vries suggests reviewing your goals and the vision for your space and activating your mindset of abundance. You may have to adjust your routine to achieve your vision. For example:
- Instead of piling up the mail when you get home, sort it immediately near the recycling bin.
- Cancel subscriptions that cause you anxiety because you fall behind in reading the materials.
By Katie Shumake
Written October 2018 and updated April 2022