7 Ways Decluttering Improves Your Health
Plus, simple strategies to get you started
Could cleaning out the junk drawer in the kitchen help you lose 5 pounds? Can finally tossing that stack of magazines (into the recycling bin, of course) soothe stress? A growing (but neat?) stack of research suggests clutter is bad for your health. And home organization experts say tidying up doesn’t just improve the look of your home — it improves your well-being, too.
Here are seven ways decluttering your living space can improve your health, plus simple ways to get started.
Related: 5 Ways to Help a Compulsive Hoarder
1. It helps you lose weight. Researchers noticed a link between hoarding and being overweight that extends to those of us with less-serious organizational problems, too. In one study, people whose houses were extra-cluttered were 77 percent more likely to carry extra pounds, according to “Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight: The Six-Week Total-Life Slim Down” by Peter Walsh. Walsh writes that clutter and being overweight reflect our too-busy lifestyle — we buy too much stuff and don’t pay attention to the state of our bodies or our homes.
Start here: Walsh’s decluttering plan begins with cleaning out kitchen cabinets, countertops and your dining area, as well as booting unhealthful foods from the fridge, freezer and pantry.
2. It encourages you to eat healthier. In a 2013 study from the University of Minnesota, 34 people spent time either in a messy room or one that was neat and organized. Afterward, they picked out snacks. Sixty-seven percent from the organized room chose an apple over a candy bar, while 80 percent of people from the untidy room chose the chocolate bar.
Start here: Create order by setting aside just 15 minutes a day to tackle a messy drawer, shelf or corner of a room, suggests Gerald Nestadt, MD, MPH, director of the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Program at Johns Hopkins University.
3. It lowers stress. In a University of California Los Angeles study of families living in disorganized homes, researchers discovered something surprising: Levels of the "stress hormone" cortisol were higher in mothers when they were at home and lower when they were out of the house.
Related: Are You Making Your Stress Worse?
Start here: Stake out clutter-free zones, say organization experts at the West Virginia University Extension Service. Maybe you can’t keep everything neat, so aim for important spaces: the kitchen table, countertops, the sofa. Clear them off every day so you have room for life’s important moments, like enjoying a family dinner or settling in together for a movie.
4. It gives you more time. Americans waste nine million hours every day hunting for things they’ve lost or misplaced, according to the National Association of Professional Organizers. And the American Cleaning Institute estimates getting rid of clutter could cut housework by 40 percent.
Start here: Before you can save time, you have to spend time paring down your belongings. Try the “four box method,” suggests the West Virginia University Extension Service. Label three big boxes “Put Away,” “Give Away/Sell” and “Storage.” The fourth box is for trash (you can use a trash can or trash bag instead). Then take care of the boxes right away by finding homes for what you’re keeping, taking the give-away pile to a thrift shop and stowing away the storage box.
Keeping only items you find useful or especially beautiful, suggests author Donna Smallin in her book, “Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness.”
5. It lowers the risk of falls. Most bone fractures are the result of a fall at home — and clutter on steps or in walking areas plays a big role, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Start here: Keep the steps clear; don't pile them with things you intend to take upstairs. Clear newspapers, electric cords and everything else out of the way so you can walk safely through your home, including the basement and garage. It will help if you subscribe only to magazines you really read, and get off as many catalog mailing lists as you can.
6. It helps you breathe easier. Wherever there's dust, there are probably dust mites, which can cause allergic reactions and make asthma worse.
Start here: Store the fabric and stuffed items dust mites love — such as soft toys, pillows and blankets — in closets or closed containers, suggests the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service. Keep rugs and upholstered furniture clutter-free so you can vacuum them regularly.
7. It increases your mental focus. Having too much to look at — the basket of bills to pay, the pile of unfolded laundry, last week’s newspapers — isn’t just distracting. Visual clutter can crimp your brain’s capacity to process information, according to a 2012 study from the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.
Start here: Taking care of “unfinished business clutter" — the sweater you have to return, the overdue library book, the un-sent birthday cards — clears physical space as well as mental and emotional space in your life, notes Michelle Passoff in the book “Lighten Up!: Free Yourself from Clutter.”
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