The problem with clutter is it takes up a lot of space. It takes up space in your home – in cupboards, behind closed doors, on top of wardrobes.
But it also takes up a lot of space in your mind. And while your conscious mind might not be aware of it, your subconscious mind will be. All those things you bought and never used. Those jeans in the wardrobe that still have the price ticket on. That pile of paperwork that you never got around to filing. They are all taking up valuable mental space.
Clutter also occupies a lot of your time. Time spent searching for that thing you need…you’re sure you put it somewhere, but where? Time spent moving the clutter from one place to another, or reorganising the clutter so that it looks more, well, organised.
But the main problem with clutter is what it costs you. Yes of course there is a monetary cost. And it’s not only how much was spent over the years buying all that stuff, there’s also the opportunity cost - what could that money have been used for instead?
Don’t forget too the cost of having to maintain a house big enough to hold all that clutter – how much does that spare bedroom actually cost you in £ per square inch? What if you had a smaller, less expensive house – what sort of freedom might that offer?
But it’s not really just about the money. It’s also about the psychological and emotional cost of clutter. When you walk into your home how does it make you feel? Do you feel glad to be home or mildly stressed about all the things that need doing? Does your home uplift you, or depress you?
Consider how much stress is caused by your clutter. The stress of looking for things you have misplaced, of feeling overwhelmed or disorganised when it comes to getting ready in the morning.
As declutterers we definitely see a link between clutter and mental health. It is very clear to us that a cluttered and disordered environment can contribute to anxiety and depression. We often find that clients who are seeking help for their clutter problem are feeling extremely stressed. There can be a sense of overwhelm, not really knowing where to start. It’s almost as it the clutter is weighing them down, physically and mentally – they are literally stuck.
It is also true that for someone with anxiety or depression the thought of decluttering can be overwhelming. Just getting through life is hard enough. So it becomes a kind of chicken and egg situation – does the anxiety lead to clutter or does the clutter lead to anxiety? Possibly both.
What often happens though is that when someone begins to declutter, it does feel hard at first. But just by making a start, an emotional shift starts to happen. From feeling out of control and overwhelmed, people start to feel more positive.
Our clients often tell us that one of the main benefits of decluttering is a greater clarity of mind. Getting rid of their clutter has helped them to feel calmer and more in control. We often hear from them months later with stories of all the things they have been motivated to do since we saw them. It’s as if the decluttering has been a catalyst for other positive changes in their life.
Now we totally understand that sometimes it’s hard to let go of clutter especially when there is an emotional attachment. Sometimes people see decluttering as wasteful because it means letting go of things that might have value. There is often a feeling of “I paid xyz for this so it must be worth something”.
But if you look at it a different way, you could see the clutter as a drain on your mental and physical resources. It’s not adding value to your life, it’s detracting from it. And once you start to see clutter in this way, it becomes so much easier to let it go!
In fact letting go of clutter actually creates value - because it gives you more time, more money, and more freedom. Doesn’t that sound good?
So if you’re feeling motivated to make a start on tackling some of your own clutter, you might be wondering where on earth do you start?
Well, our advice is always to start with the big picture. How do you want your home to feel? What sort of lifestyle are you aiming for? What are your overall goals and intentions when it comes to decluttering?
The next step is to think about what bugs you the most. By which we mean, when you walk around your home, is there one specific area or room that fills you with dread?
It could be a room where you're constantly tripping over things, or one in which you are always moving things from one surface to another - it could even be somewhere that is so bad you can't even bear to be in there anymore! It might not be a whole room, it could be something like the coat cupboard that is so full you can't close the door, or the kitchen cupboard full of Tupperware that all falls out when you try to find something.
The third step is to break it down, to make it more manageable. If a whole house is too much, focus on just one room. If a whole room is too much, focus on just one cupboard or set of shelves. If that’s too much, just one drawer or box.
Breaking it down in this way means you are more likely to be able to find or make time for your decluttering. It also means that it is less overwhelming, and gives you a sense of achievement as you complete each job.
We do understand that decluttering can be challenging. It does take a certain amount of time and energy. However we promise you that once you get into the swing of it you will start to find it easier. We have certainly never come across anyone who regretted decluttering. You never know you might even enjoy it!
Claire Furner and her colleague Sue Boatman run New Leaves, a decluttering, organising and homestaging business based in the Cotswolds.
You can find them on Instagram @newleavesinteriors or take a look at their website www.newleaves.info