The Real Reason You Should Make the Time to Declutter

And no, it’s not about Instagram photo ops. Decluttering expert and author Tracy McCubbin shares why decluttering is so crucial to good health.

messy cluttered closet

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

“It’s time to declutter and get organized!!” seems to be the battle cry all over social media these days. Every post we scroll past shows perfect pantries or rainbow closets with 20 items hanging neatly in them. We think, “Wow that looks great. But it sure seems like a lot of work. Why should I bother?” While every influencer is telling us to declutter and organize, not one is telling why we should! Every magazine article tells us we’ll be happier after we declutter but again why will it make us happier? Why put all the work in when we are already short on time and totally stressed out.  Here’s why … because clutter causes stress.  Plain and simple.

In working with thousands of clients, I saw the stress clutter causes first hand. Time and time again, I’d witness families that couldn’t cook a healthy meal because the kitchen counters were so covered in clutter that it was just easier to get dinner from the drive thru. I’d hear stories of trying to get dressed in the morning that felt like a Tough Mudder race. I’d watch moms ask their kids to put away their games, only to be met with an epic meltdown because of the sheer volume of toys the kids had to deal with. And you know what each of these scenarios created? Stress!

I started to do some research on the science of clutter, and it turns out, I was right. Many studies have shown that clutter can affect our sleep, anxiety levels, and ability to focus because it elevates our cortisol.

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. The more of it we have in our bloodstream, the more stressed we feel. The short of breath, elevated heart rate, tight chest feeling? That’s cortisol. It’s helpful in a genuinely stressful situation, but we weren’t designed to idle there.  Research out of the University of California in Los Angeles Studies has shown that a cluttered home increases cortisol levels in women. The results can lead to anxiety, weight gain, and sleeplessness.  We’ve got enough of this already, why add to it by covering all your flat surfaces with mail you haven’t opened in weeks or months?

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Whenever I walk into a client’s bedroom and see clothes piled on the chair, stacks of paperwork & old taxes in the corners of the room, and unused exercise equipment crowding the floorplan, I ask how their sleep hygiene is and invariably they tell me they are dealing with insomnia.  Well no wonder! I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I was looking at my tax returns from 2002.

Multiple studies have also found a link between clutter and unhealthy eating habits. One study showed that cluttered kitchens led participants to eat twice as many cookies than participants in organized kitchens. Another study found people with extremely cluttered homes are 77% more likely to be overweight.  The struggle to eat right and maintain a healthy weight is real, why make it harder by adding clutter to the mix?

And the biggest cost of clutter may be its impact on our ability to focus. A study in 2016 showed that clutter increases our cognitive overload and reduces our short term memory. Think of everything you’re trying to juggle at home—where is the permission slip, who fed the dog, is this my week to be snack mom—and now try to do all of that in an environment that is working against you. 

Imagine your life as a plate. On the plate are your keys, sunglasses and wallet. Now add a bunch of clutter to it.  Pile on clothes you don’t wear. Stack up books that you’ve never read. Add the kitchen gadgets that have never been used. The plate now looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and feels like it’s going to topple over on your head at any moment. 

Now imagine taking away the stuff that is stressing out your brain in ways you may not even have been consciously aware of. And voila--there are the things you need to get out the door and go live your best life. That’s the benefit of decluttering.  Because decluttering isn’t about an Instagram brag or a Pinterest perfect post. Decluttering is about making your home the best launchpad for your life outside the home. Decluttering is destressing!

About our expert

Tracy McCubbin

Photo courtesy of Tracy McCubbin

Photo courtesy of Tracy McCubbin

Tracy McCubbin is a decluttering expert, founder of dClutterfly, and author of Making Space, Clutter Free: The Last Book on Decluttering You’ll Ever Need, due June 4, 2019.