De-Junk Your Life
By Anna Davies
How to understand (and then unload!) the clutter that drags you
Have you ever found yourself gazing longingly at the spare and tidy living
rooms, kitchens, and home offices in a furniture catalog and wishing you
could live in that world? No mess, everything neatly in its place — it's a
setup that would last, oh, approximately seven seconds here on planet Earth!
Fact is, you have a big, hectic, possibly messy real life — a life that
you'll enjoy a lot more if you can let the dream of rows of color-coded
under-the-bed storage boxes die for good.
IT'S TOO MUCH STUFF!
So your junk drawer is more like a junk room. Is that such a crime? Not
really — and it's perfectly understandable. "In a way, having clutter
surround you can be a comfort," says Julie Morgenstern, organizational
expert and author of five books, including When Organizing Isn't Enough.
She adds, "Clutter can ground you in your past, and partially defines who
you are" — which explains why it's so hard to part with all those
tchotchkes and papers, your favorite "skinny" pants, or even your
senior prom dress. But, as you know, it's anything but comforting when you
realize that the overdue electric bill is buried under a mound of papers, or
that those beloved pants have become wrinkled under a pile of all the
other clothes you're saving for the day you lose 20 pounds.
"The majority of people experience disorganization in some area of their
lives, but it becomes a problem when you begin to feel like your clutter is
controlling you," says Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of Fit to Live.
How toxic is your stuff situation? Take a clue from the emotions and sensations
that hit you when you walk through your front door — do you feel relaxed and
comforted (even if things aren't perfectly in their place), or does the sight
of toys scattered on the floor or unread magazines on the coffee table make you
want to turn tail and run right back out? "Your home is your emotional and
physical base," explains Peeke. "If you're coming home to
disorganization, you'll suddenly get a flood of all the wrong emotions — from
frustration to panic. And if the clutter is extreme enough, you're literally
living the panic response day in and day out, all the time."
That out-of-control feeling can affect your relationships, your work life,
and, surprisingly, even your waistline. "There's biological evidence that
the stress hormone cortisol can cause an appetite surge," says Peeke.
"If you're stressing about never being able to find things, it really can
lead to weight gain." Organizational dilemmas can also affect your
behavior, like when a confusing jumble of ingredients in the fridge makes you
pick up the phone for takeout or when a frustrating hunt for a file drives you
to an emergency cookie break. "Pay attention to how you feel about your
living space and how that may affect other areas of your life," suggests
To figure out the smartest — and most soulful — solutions to your own
clutter conundrums, you need to quit focusing on what might look messiest to
outsiders and instead focus on the spaces that make you feel most
overwhelmed. If it's the disorganized dash to cobble together dinner that gives
you angst, start in the kitchen. If your sleeping space is anything but
restful, begin with the bedroom. "Learn to think of your home as a metaphor
for your body," says Peeke. "If you really tune in to your emotions and
sensations, you can begin taking small steps toward healthy change."