Why does decluttering feel so good?
I remember when I first adopted minimalism. In the tiniest of my New York apartments on the upper East side, I wound up with the largest closet I’ve had to date. But somehow that closet was stuffed to the brim and stressing me out every time I opened it. Which was odd, because I never had anything to wear in spite of that fact.
So one sunny, Saturday morning on the cusp of Spring, after a jaunt to the local deli for a bagel and coffee, I set out to declutter the thing, top to bottom.
I’d been reading a lot about minimalism at that point, and its impact on our stress levels. And I’d recently learned about cortisol, the stress hormone, and its affect on our waistlines as well. These topics had converged in my brain and resulted in a quest to reduce my stress levels, in order, of course, to shrink my waist.
I wanted to see if cleaning out my closet would help me get skinny.
I got rid of everything that didn’t fit. Everything I’d been hanging onto for years that I’d never worn. And a lot of impractical stuff that I didn’t even know why I’d bought or held onto in the first place. I bagged it all up and schlepped it over to the Housing Works Thrift Shop on 77th street.
When I got back, I neatly organized what was left by clothing type, and then color, and by the time I was done the closet was only half full, which felt amazing.
There was something magical about that big closet sitting there half-empty afterwards that finally let the power of minimalism to sink in for me. I felt a surge of energy and excitement just looking at it. I started to ask myself where else I could produce that same feeling of lightness and freedom in my life. (My bathroom cabinet would be up next.)
It’s hard to pinpoint the reason decluttering works to help you feel so light and free and energized. I used to find the theory that physical energy in our spaces correlates to the physical energy in our bodies to be a bit ‘woo-woo’ for my taste. I mean, could clutter and disarray in the physical world around us directly create clutter and disarray in the emotional world inside of us?
Like, is that a real thing?
Turns out, it is.
Psychology Today says “Clutter can increase stress by distracting us and overwhelming our senses with extraneous stimuli – toppling piles and unsightly messes as well as associated smells and noises.” And it goes further to say “Most Americans believe that home organization and cleanliness are among their top five stressors.”
I’m not great at math but, it seems like that means we could eliminate one fifth of our stress by simply decluttering our homes. I guess that’s why millions of people agree with Marie Kondo when she says the best way to organize your stuff if to get rid of most of it.
I’ve seen this theme pop up from time to time since then. Huff-Po mentioned it as well as a book out of UCLA research. One study even connects a clean home to your physical health and how much you exercise.
In a minimalist-inspired nutshell, decluttering feels good because it creates a sense of calm, reduces stress and even improves health.
So I suppose it’s not so ‘woo-woo’ after all. Cleaning out your closet does feel amazing. We’ve always known that. And minimalism takes that feeling and spreads it out across your entire life, vastly reducing our most common, modern complaints of not having enough time, money, space and energy.
It’s curious though, isn’t it? That we spend so much of our lives stressed about accumulating stuff (or stressed working in order to accumulate stuff) thinking it’s going to make us happy, when the reality is, getting rid of all that stuff is what actually does the trick? Funny.
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Also published on Medium.