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De-Junk Your Life


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Anna Davies
Redbook Magazine Logo

How to understand (and then unload!) the clutter that drags you down.


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 Peeke.

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."

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