Hello dear friends!
In all the various quests for health and healing, only a portion focus on the external environment, and even fewer actually address the impact of clutter. After all, hoarding stuff is as American as apple pie these days, and the vast majority of people don’t think for one second that it could be making us sicker. But thanks to the growing minimalism movement, and the few bloggers that are speaking up, more people are beginning to look at their material possessions in a different light.
For me, I’ve always considered myself a minimalist, regularly purging my closets and drawers with ruthless fervor. But over the years, I have experienced many eras of indulgence: too many Target runs, too many Amazon Prime packages showing up at the door, and too many fancy food items littering up my pantry. Let’s face it- it does feel good to shop, to buy, to consume. It’s well known by now that shopping gives our brains the same hit of pleasure that drugs, sex, and food do, and it can be extremely hard to stop that habit. Luckily for me, over the last year or so, I’ve really pulled back on the reigns and now live in relative minimalism.
But this post isn’t really to rattle off the ills of shopping…it’s to kindly invite you to examine the things you already have in your life, and whether they are helping or hindering your healing process. You may already have the ideal diet to manage your condition, take lots of high-quality supplements, see the right doctors, and work with the right therapists, but if you always come home to a room or house full of clutter and cheap crap, you may not be seeing the results that you want.
Here are just some of the downsides of having clutter:
1. It hard to keep clean
It’s estimated that women spend a year and a half over their lifetime cleaning their homes. That’s over 12,000 hours! For anyone who is chronically ill, that is a whole lot of time to spend just maintaining an acceptable level of hygiene for our stuff. The more things you own (and the larger residence you occupy), the more time you spend cleaning…makes sense, right? But seriously, who has the time and energy for that?
It’s also tougher to keep dust, allergens, and other environmental toxins out of your home when you have piles of junk everywhere. Many of us are highly sensitive to dust, fragrances, and other debris that gathers on, and is brought in by, material goods. And all that gunk can make us sicker.
2. It’s harder to move around freely
The more stuff you have cluttering up your floors and walkways, the higher your risk of injury, and for people who struggle to get around as it is are especially in danger. Have you ever been so sick that you stumbled to the bathroom or had to crawl to the kitchen? I’ve been there, and I was grateful to have a clean area to move in when I needed to. Picking things up off the floor and clearing off ledges, tables, and other surfaces can help keep you safe!
And on the other hand, we want to encourage play and movement whenever possible! Doing yoga, dancing, playing with your kids, or simply getting in a good stretch should be easy and inviting in your home. You certainly can’t do those things if you have piles of paperwork everywhere or excess furniture in your home.
3. It can fill you with dread
There have been multiple studies on the psychological effects of mess and clutter, but I can sum them all up right here: mess = stress. Many people experience dread in coming home to an overloaded and cluttered house, and get a pit in their stomach when they open their cavernous closets jam-packed with stuff. No wonder we all keep the doors closed! Out of sight, out of mind, right?
Not so fast. Even if you cram your clutter out of sight for a while, your brain is still aware it is there, and sends stress signals to your body as little reminders now and then. Plus, the longer you procrastinate on projects like these, the more stressed out you’ll become. And we all know that stress hinders our immune function, delays our cognitive abilities, ramps up our irritability, and puts us at risk for disease.
4. It taxes your brain
As we learn more and more about our neurobiology and how sensory inputs affect our brains, it’s becoming more apparent that external stimuli can have a powerful effect on our whole-body stress levels. It’s been demonstrated that the more individual items you have to look at day to day, the harder your brain has to work to keep track of everything, not to mention just keep up with simple tasks. And for any of us with brain fog or cognitive difficulties, putting added pressure on our precious synapses isn’t a wise move.
Take a look around the room where you spend the most amount of time. For the ill, this is usually a bedroom or living room, and for many others, it’s an office or classroom. Try to count all the different objects in your line of sight, and imagine what it’s like for your brain to have to process them all the time! No wonder you’re tired!
5. It saps your time
We’ve already mentioned how much time it takes just to clean and maintain our material possessions, which adds up to a hefty chunk. But what about all the hours we spend shopping for those things? This is the one area that is a big challenge for me personally, as I tend to go drive or shop when I want to get out of the house and get my mind off of things. I end up going to a grocery store or general store like Target 4-5 times per week! And of course, whether I want to or not, I end up buying stuff most of the time. It’s a tough habit to break.
Not to mention the time we spend doing online research and browsing before we make a purchase. Most people can click through items on Amazon for hours, and go down the rabbit hole of reviews, price comparisons, and recommendations. So whether we are checking the stats for a major purchase, returning stuff that didn’t work out, or “window shopping” (aka impulse buying), we spend a lot of time involved in our material clutter.
6. It costs money
Duh! One of the most straightforward aspects of our material possessions is how much money they all cost. It’s pretty easy to add up our receipts and get a running tally of what we spend on things we don’t need. And by needs, I actually mean needs. Like food, utilities, fuel, medicine…not necessarily new yoga pants or kitchen gadgets. Yes, I admit, I have looked back and cringed at all the junk I’ve spent my money on over the years, some of it ending up in the trash can or the giveaway pile.
When you are struggling with any kind of health issue, it can be tempting to engage in some “retail therapy”, but in reality, those dollars are better spent on healthier food, better supplements, mind-body therapies, and experiences that bring you true and lasting joy. One perk of minimalism is that you will free up more cash to invest in yourself and your health.
So now that you’re feeling overwhelmed, nervously eyeing all the stuff you have crammed into your house, let's talk solutions.
Here are some ways to alleviate this kind of stress!
- Try a short-term no-shopping pledge. Commit to going a whole week or month without buying anything new (obviously, basics like food/medicine/fuel don’t count here) and keep a journal with your reflections.
- Tackle one drawer at a time (don’t rush yourself) and purge any unwanted items, trash, and broken things.
- Do an experiment with simple décor. Just for a week, remove most of your decorations, knick knacks, artwork, etc…and observe the fresh and light feeling.
- Clean out your electronic clutter. Yes, this stuff counts- empty out your inboxes, voicemails, texts, bookmarks, and desktop icons. Use folders to discreetly save truly important documents and files.
- Go on a media fast. You may find that this is a good way to kick off any new minimalist lifestyle. For one day (or longer if you’re a total badass), turn off your TVs, phones, tablets, and computers. Go outside or explore your city. Or spend time in meditation, make art, take a nap, volunteer, or spend time with your family.
- Experiment with DIY products. I’ve successfully made all sorts of things like tooth powder, hairspray, herbal remedies, dry shampoo, soap, and cleaning products. This can give you a great sense of accomplishment and self-reliance, and can curb the shopping habit.
- Clean out your purse/bag/briefcase. Do you really need to be lugging all this junk around?
- Go electronic with your records. This is something I’m currently working on. It’s a great project to tackle on low-energy days, since all it takes is scanning documents into e-files. Paper clutter is a major issue for most people!
- Speaking of paper clutter, get your name off all those pesky mailing lists. Go to sites like CatalogChoice.com or use apps like PaperKarma to stop the flow of junk mail.
- And of course, recruit your family and friends! The more people you have on board with your desire to live with less junk, the better.