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De-Junk Your Life

IT'S TOO MUCH STUFF! continued...

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."

DIRTY SECRETS

Getting a handle on the problem areas that drag you down doesn't mean you have to turn into Ms. Hospital Corners. In fact, a lived-in living room or a chock-full kids' playroom can be a source of warmth and connection for you and your family. "The world around us is messy. Mess isn't a black-and-white war between order and chaos," says David H. Freedman, coauthor of A Perfect Mess. And you may be more organized than your desk or countertop lets on. "People naturally tend to keep and place things in an order that fits the way they think and do things," says Freedman. That means that even if the messy piles on your desk are confusing to everyone else, they probably make sense to you in a way a color-coded file system wouldn't.

More evidence that (some) mess may sometimes be best: Hyper-organizing can get expensive and requires a lot of time. While working on their book, Freedman and his coauthor, Eric Abrahamson, were shocked to discover that people living in ultra-organized homes tended to spend three to four hours per day straightening and organizing. Who has time for that? Besides, living in a comfortably cluttered home can stir up creativity. "If you have a lot of information around you, it's easy to make connections between things," says Freedman. For example, a book that's set at the beach paired with an article about saving money on travel might spur you to plan a vacation. Point is, when you let some of your stuff hang out, you're giving yourself the mental permission to be flexible, make mistakes, and try new things — and after all, it's your stuff that makes a house a home. Believing and appreciating this is the first step to identifying — and tackling — those areas that truly do need a new order.

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