Is Clutter Affecting Your Family's Health? Key Tips for Building Better Habits

Is Clutter Affecting Your Family's Health? Key Tips for Building Better Habits

You love your kids, but do you love the clutter that comes with them? From toys and clothes to school books and pencil cases, an inalienable element of family life is stuff. While those stray tchotchkes may seem harmless, there’s a huge body of evidence that mess is harmful to our mental health.

Clutter makes us stressed. A 2010 study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology linked untidy living environments with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A separate study, published in PLOS Biology journal, found that clutter inevitably results in worse decision making. And if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s evidence linking messy homes with weight gain, as documented in the book “Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?” from organizational expert Peter Walsh.

The good news is that like any fearsome adversary, clutter can be overcome. All you need is some willpower, paired with some good habits.

Set a goal (and stick to it)

Like any ambitious project you might embark upon, it’s important you establish realistic goals. Why is that important? Because all the evidence shows that if you create concrete ambitions, rather than vague lofty goals that exist only in your head, you’re more likely to stick to them.

A study from Dominican University psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews found that those who write goals, communicate them to a friend or loved one, and share regular status had a 76 percent success rate. That’s an incredible 33 percent higher than those who had unwritten goals.

When it comes to sorting out your home, it makes sense to think about where you need to focus your attention. By planning your work and establishing realistic timeframes, you’re more likely to tackle the clutter that’s burdening you.

Deal with problems as they arise

It’s a situation you’re probably familiar with. You’ve cooked an elaborate dinner. The vegetables have been peeled and chopped. The pans are dirty. The plates are stacked. The used cutlery is spread across your counter askew.

You should clean it, but you’re tired, so you leave it. The next day, you return home from work confronted with by your filthy kitchen. You throw a ready meal in the microwave and promise you’ll clean tomorrow, as another dirty plate gets tossed on the pile. The next day, the same story. Rinse and repeat, until eventually your kitchen resembles a restaurant in danger of being closed by the health department, and you’re eating off paper plates.

If you procrastinate on tidying, your work compounds, ultimately making life harder for you. By getting into the habit of addressing messes head-on, you make life easier for yourself.

Tackle those low-hanging fruit

Gretchen Rubin is a prolific author on the subject of clutter and habit making. She swears by the “one-minute rule.” You’ve probably guessed what that involves. If a task can be done in a minute, you should do it immediately.

As Rubin points out, the magic of the “one-minute rule” is that you don’t have to think about priorities. You just do it. And this, she says, will make you feel “more serene, less overwhelmed.” When tackling clutter, it always helps to find those low-hanging fruit. The stray t-shirt that needs to be picked up from the bedroom floor. The coffee grounds still languishing in your percolator. The empty shampoo bottles festering at the bottom of your shower. The empty soda cans on your desk.

Targeting those easy problems will make you happier, and ultimately they’ll reduce the burden faced in your tidying efforts.

Get digital

You’ve got a phone in your pocket. At first glance, it may not seem it, but it’s your most valuable weapon in your tidying arsenal.

Pomodoro apps can allow you to set a cadence for tidying, allowing you to tackle your mess in short intervals that are interspersed with short five-minute breaks. By setting an alarm, you can remind yourself each day to tidy your home. And if you’re really stuck, apps like TaskRabbit can allow you to recruit some outside help – for a fee.

And if you really want to level up your tidying, you can invest in more specialist tools. The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100 will let you quickly digitize your important documents like bank statements and utility bills. You can even configure it to automatically forward your scans to a safe place, like a cloud storage provider such as DropBox. Once you’ve dealt with your documents, you can then safely shred them, allowing you to save space – and maybe get some peace of mind.

Do you have a healthy or unhealthy amount of stuff in your home? These easy tips can help you regain control of your home and your life, positively affecting your physical and mental health, relationships, career, and finances.