The Health-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

How tidying up clutter improves your health

Professional organizer, Marie Kondo’s international bestseller The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2014) and Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (2019) sent a shock wave through our consumer driven culture. Kondo’s signature “tidying up” process applies a sense of ritual and ceremony that we don’t often afford to our spaces and our belongings in the West. She guides us to ask “Does it spark joy?” and to thank the object as we let it go. Through this intentional process of reducing and reorganizing she helps us transform homes to reflect and support the lives we desire. In doing so, she shows how our surroundings, including our “clutter” impact our everyday lives (positively and negatively).

Our surroundings powerfully influence how we think, feel and make decisions. You’ve probably noticed that when you’re feeling stressed, you gravitate to natural environments like parks, lakes, forests, beaches because we find these spaces restorative. Many studies have shown that our mood and health are negatively impacted by environments that are crowded, have artificial light and excessive noise. But we also know that how we perceive our home impacts our health. This study showed that those people who described their homes as “messy” “chaotic” “unfinished” etc. had higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels than those that described their homes as “peaceful”, “calm”, “quiet.” These higher cortisol levels were linked to more stress, negative mood and more fatigue. In addition to being distracting and decreasing productivity, clutter increases our perception of stress making it more likely for us to seek coping strategies like comfort eating.

Another study found that people working in neat, organized spaces were twice as likely to pick an apple over a chocolate bar compared to those who worked in a messy space. Are your kitchen/dining and work areas neat and organized? Cleaning up the clutter can help you make better, healthier food choices.

If reducing clutter feels good and helps us become healthier, why is it so hard to do? Why do we have this tendency to accumulate things? Modern western society encourages and celebrates independence instead of acknowledging and nurturing our interdependence. We rarely acknowledge that we are mutually reliant on others and the natural environment. By nurturing this mutual relationship we’re reminded that we’re not alone and that individuals can only thrive when we know we are part of a community. Without this, many people - young and old - feel a lack of connection and a sense of isolation. Marketing feeds off of these insecurities and gives us endless options for quick solutions to “fill” that deeply uncomfortable void.

The cultural tide of consumption If we blindly follow the product marketing and the default set of societal values it leads us down a path where it’s easier to consume more pesticides in our foods than to avoid them. It’s easier to buy personal care products with toxic chemicals than buy products without. Reducing clutter means going against this cultural tide.

Our surroundings powerfully influence how we think, feel and make decisions.

Identifying clutter in our lives We usually think of clutter as a plurality of “things” grouped together in disorganized fashion that create “chaotic and disorderly living spaces” (Joseph Ferrari, Professor of Psychology). Things like the pile of papers on our dining room table or the clothes in our wardrobes that we rarely use. I think Peter Walsh described it best when he said “Clutter is anything that stands between you and the vision you have for your best life.” In other words, clutter is anything that prevents you from being healthier and more content. This can include excessively consuming news and television, negativity on social media or snacks/fast foods.

Clutter not only causes us to spend more time looking for our keys, clutter prevents us from choosing what’s more important to us. Evidence shows that when we have less clutter, we feel better, have healthier hormone patterns and we’re more likely to choose healthy eating behaviours.

Reducing clutter can be a catalyst to transforming health.

So where do we start? Start with reducing clutter in the spaces where you want to make healthy decisions. Maybe that’s your kitchen or your office space. Start with physical clutter then work to identify sources of emotional and mental clutter.

What kind of clutter do you have in your life? Are you holding onto items you regret buying? Leaving the wifi on overnight? Excessively consuming unhealthy messages from yourself, media and others? How do you “thank” that clutter and let it go? How do you clear the space to invite better and healthier?

Choose less. Invite better.

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