Declutter Your Space, Upgrade Your Brain

Declutter Your Space, Upgrade Your Brain

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Neat, tidy and organised. That’s how I’ve always been with my spaces and that is why I love to declutter. For as long as I can remember, I’ve taken pride in my belongings and treated them with respect. Call me woo-woo! However, I think that deep down, I’ve always known that everything was energy. I could feel that my dolls, toys, clothes and jewellery wanted to be treated with love and respect. 

I’ve also always enjoyed the act of taking care of my things. I remember being 6 years old and begging my mother for the cleaning products so I could clean my own room (who does that?!). When I was in primary school, I couldn’t understand how some of my friends would have messy rooms and don’t declutter them. I used to think to myself, how do they live like this? I would go over to my cousin’s house and beg to clean and tidy their bedrooms. I’d even ask my Aunty if I could do their whole house. (Um, maybe I missed my calling?!) 

For me, order and structure feel so good, it always has. And these days, tending to my physical spaces has become an important act of self-care. I feel clear and clutter-free within myself. Luckily, I married a man who feels the same way! These days, Nick and I are both incredibly neat, tidy and organised. For us, it’s not just a superficial thing, it goes deeper than that (although having a beautiful, tidy space is indeed aesthetically pleasing to both of us). We believe that outer clutter creates inner clutter. If your kitchen is chaotic, you’re going to feel chaotic. If your bedroom’s a mess, your inner world is probably feeling pretty messy too.

The good news is, that this connection between your inner and outer spaces goes both ways. It’s not just the negative impact that gets passed on; if you make positive changes you’ll feel a direct benefit. That is why decluttering and beautifying your spaces can have a truly profound effect on how you think, feel and operate.

The Science of Clutter

Ever walked into a room and instantly felt stressed? That feeling isn’t just in your head. A 2010 study found that women’s cortisol levels skyrocketed in cluttered environments. While men who contributed to the housework also experienced increased cortisol. The ones who did not contribute did not seem affected by the clutter. Make of that what you will! The reason for this stress response is simple: Clutter literally stimulates your brain. If your eyes are bombarded with clutter, those chaotic images are sent straight to your visual cortex, where your poor noodle starts trying to mentally process the mess. All these excessive stimuli put our brains into overdrive, which — over extended periods of time — can become incredibly draining and overwhelming. However, the impact doesn’t end there.

A 2016 study found that clutter-induced stress can lead to destructive coping behaviours like gorging on junk food, oversleeping, and bingeing on Netflix. Not healthy! And lots of marbles down the drain! It seems that clutter makes us feel out of control. So we subconsciously employ some not-so-great strategies to get back in control, but clearly not in the healthiest of ways. As you can see, clutter isn’t just an innocent mess. It’s having a real impact on your brain and your body, which means there are very good reasons to get serious about decluttering your living spaces.

Plan Your Attack

Make a commitment to yourself, right now, that you’re going to declutter your spaces. You can do one room at a time (heck, you can do one drawer at a time if you like!), or you can go all out and do your home, office and car in one weekend. It’s up to you.

Personally, we love the energy and momentum that comes with one big cleansing effort. Whichever approach you choose, decide on a time when you’re going to get started and pop it in your calendar right now, so that you can prioritise this important process (and not keep putting it off forevermore). Do what feels good for you. Even if it’s just one small thing. Perhaps, you’d rather fly solo. Or you might want to get your partner and kids involved. Today is the day you get serious about your spaces… and we know you’re going to love the impact it has on the rest of your life.

Your Roadmap Out of Clutter

Write a list of all the physical spaces in your life where you have belongings that require you to declutter. Your list might include:

  • Bedroom
  • Bathroom
  • Kitchen
  • Garage
  • Linen cupboard
  • Garden shed
  • Office
  • Desk
  • Kids’ bedrooms
  • Car
  • Under the stairs
  • Other storage areas

How To Declutter — The 7R Process

  1. Choose the area you want to declutter first. This might be a whole room (say, the kitchen) or it might be one part of that room (say, the cutlery drawer). You’re only going to declutter on this ONE space until it’s done, then you’ll move on to the next space — no chopping and changing! We want to be disciplined in our decluttering!
  2. Once you’ve chosen your space, take ALL the items in that space out of the drawer/cupboard that they’re in, and lay them out so they’re visible. (For example, pull out the entire contents of your wardrobe and place it on your bed.)
  3. Get five baskets or boxes (whatever you have in your house) and allocate them according to the 7 Rs:
    • Reorganize and Return — This is for items that belong in the space you’re currently focusing on, that need to be put in order and then returned back to their cupboard/drawer, etc.
    • Relocate — This is for items that don’t belong in this particular space and need to be relocated somewhere else in the house. (For example, a tea mug that’s found its way to your wardrobe.)
    • Requires Action — This is for items that require you to perform an extra step before putting them away. For example, a bill that needs to be paid before you file it, a sweater that needs mending, a coat that needs dry cleaning, a torch that requires new batteries, etc.
    • Regift — This is for items that need to be passed on to someone else, whether directly to a friend or family member, by selling them, or by giving them to charity.
    • Rubbish and Recycling — This is a final resort for the stuff that can’t be given to charity and needs to be thrown away or recycled. This includes old papers, scraps, broken items, or anything unuseable.
  4. With all your items and your five baskets in front of you, it’s now time to start sorting. Pick up each item, one by one, and allocate it into the appropriate basket. Some tips as you go:
    • The ONLY items that should go in the Reorganize and Return basket are those that add utility, beauty, or meaning to your home. For each item, ask yourself: Do I use and love this? Does this add beauty to my home and life? Does this add meaning to my home and life? If you’re not answering yes to any of those questions, the item belongs in a different basket.
    • Do NOT put items in the Reorganize and Return basket that you haven’t worn or used in the past year. Except in exceptional circumstances, that means you don’t need the item and it should be allocated to a different basket.
    • DON’T allow your inner Mean Girl to bully you into keeping things that should be released. ‘But I might need this one day!’ is NOT a valid reason to clog up your home (and therefore your brain) with stuff you don’t need and don’t use. (On that note, neither is ‘But it was expensive!’, ‘But it still works!’, or ‘But I feel bad for getting rid of it!’)
    • DON’T hang onto items out of a sense of obligation. Hold onto the meaning behind the gift (a.k.a. the love and generosity in the gesture), don’t hold onto the gift itself.
    • Ditch your doubles. You don’t need two or more things — it’s only taking up space. If you have two of them, gift one of them.
    • Remember, the Rubbish and Recycling basket is the last resort. Wherever possible, find another home or purpose for an item, before condemning it to a landfill. For example, old clothes that are too worn to be donated. It can be given a new life by cutting them up into rags for your kitchen or garage.
  5. When all the items in your space have been categorised into one of the five baskets, it’s time to action each of those baskets, in reverse order:
    • Rubbish and Recycling — Take this stuff out to your bin and toss it. Hopefully, you don’t have too much in there!
    • Regift — Bag up these items (reusable or recyclable bags only, please) and label them according to their destination: ‘For Sue’, ‘For Nanna’, ‘For charity’. Then go and put them on the front passenger seat of your car. The very next time you’re driving somewhere, deliver the bags to their new homes. (Do NOT let them sit in your garage or trunk for the next six months.)
    • Requires Action — Action whatever you can right now. (Hint: if it takes less than 5 minutes to action it, do it now.) For anything that can’t be actioned right away, prepare the item for action (e.g. put your soiled coat in a bag and take it to your car), then schedule a time to complete the action by writing it in your calendar (e.g. “Monday 9 a.m. — take the coat to dry cleaner).
    • Relocate — Relocate these items to their correct spots in your home.
    • Reorganize and Return — Now for the real fun: time to organise your current space and make it as user-friendly and/or aesthetically pleasing as possible. To streamline your spaces:
      • Store like with like.
      • Think of a kindergarten classroom: a home for every item, all items organised according to activity, and everything labelled. (A label maker is your friend!)
      • Consider how often you use things when deciding where they go. For example, if you only use your kettle once a week, it probably doesn’t need to live on the kitchen bench. Tuck it away in a kitchen cabinet so it’s out of sight. On the flip side, if you drink 10 cups of tea a day, the kettle should stay front and centre. (And you probably don’t want to store your tea bags on a hard-to-reach shelf at the back of the pantry.)
  6. When you’ve completed the 7R Process, it’s time to move on to the next one. Look at the list you made earlier and select the room/space you’d like to declutter next.
  7. Lather, rinse, repeat, oh and have fun with it!
  8. Sit back and enjoy your new, clutter-free space and the peace it brings to your mind.

Have you got any decluttering tips? I would love to hear. Share below if you are like me who LOVES to declutter and the feeling of an organised clutter-free space and how that makes you feel.

Melissa Signature New

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  1. Bernadette says:

    Melissa thank you for sharing! I agree completely that outer clutter creates inner clutter and I feel this in my body. If ever I’m a bit stressed I love to declutter and tidy as it instantly makes me feel calm and I feel so much lighter when I walk into that room or open that cupboard. If I bring into the house a new item or clothing/shoes etc I go into my wardrobe and release an old similar item, and this also feels calming as I’m not trying to jam something new into the wardrobe. Opening a kitchen cupboard and easily locating the utensils required instead of doing a squat and a long arm reach into the very back of a corner cupboard whilst holding 5 other baking dishes before you find the one you want, makes cooking flow so much more smoothly!

  2. Michelle says:

    Thank you Melissa! This is the motivation I need right now to declutter! I am naturally a messy person, but living in chaos increases my anxiety – so I need to constantly work on getting rid of stuff, keeping my spaces neat and not bringing anymore ‘things’ into my home – which is challenging with 5 kids!

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