Judith Kolberg is accustomed to walking into cluttered homes. As a professional organizer, the Decatur, Ga., woman helps clients straighten messy closets, tame stacks of paperwork, and bring order to their chaos.
In the past 25 years, she’s also entered the homes of about a dozen people who could be diagnosed as hoarders -- and countless others who came close.
“It’s a pretty sensory experience, let me put it that way. There’s obviously the assault on your eyes of the quantity of the clutter, then...
A cluttered environment can limit your ability to focus and process information, a recent study shows. Scientists used brain scans to map the responses of people who were looking at a computer screen with pictures arranged in different ways. The more disorganized the images, the more divided the brain's attention became, leading the researchers to conclude that being organized could help boost productivity.
Sounds great, right? But getting organized isn't so easy. That's because your clutter is about more than just stuff, says Melva Green, MD, co-author of Breathing Room: Open Your Heart by Decluttering Your Home. "Physical clutter is often an outward manifestation of emotions like fear, grief, shame, and guilt," she says.
The Emotions Behind Clutter
To deal with clutter, you also have to deal with the emotions your clutter represents. Green suggests three steps to get started.
Identify your end goal. Time to put your bedroom in order? Think about what you want to get out of the space, says Green. "Romance? Rest? Women might say they want more intimacy, but first you have to get the clutter off your bed!" Naming the goal helps you be intentional about creating the space that you desire.
Enlist a friend. When you're ready to start going through your stuff, ask a friend to come over. "A third party can help you when you feel stuck, motivate you when you feel overwhelmed, and encourage you to let go of things you're holding on to that you don't need -- physically and emotionally," Green says.
Ask three questions. As you're cleaning, with each item you pick up, ask yourself: How does this serve me? Can I live without this? How does it keep me from being content with who I am now? "The key," Green says, "is to be grateful for the things you have -- and then be willing to let them go."