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Why Our Mess Causes Stress

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Clutter is one of the easiest life stressors to fix -- and it can be as simple as taking control of your morning and evening routines with our organizing tips.
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Why Our Mess Causes Stress
{And What To Do About It}

March signals the arrival of spring, the time of year when we naturally yearn for a fresh start. This is the season of throwing open the windows, airing out the linens, and putting down the convertible top for the first time this year – even if the days are still a little crisp.

We’ve hibernated in winter’s cozy ‘hygge’ cocoon to its fullest. Now it’s time to get up and get moving!

Only problem is that it’s hard to open those windows with books stacked on the sills, or air out the linens on that guest bed piled with old clothes, or put down the convertible top with loose papers on the seats.

Our mess is stressing us out, and it seems more like clutter (instead of hope) is the only thing that truly springs eternal.

Our overabundance of stuff that we cleverly hid in the dark of winter is now coming to light in our own version of March Madness as we attempt to tackle spring cleaning.

In January, we shared a simple project plan to declutter our domain, so now we’re digging a little deeper into the mental cost of clutter. Often, if we can understand the how and why behind an issue that’s bothering us, we can better understand what steps to take to remedy it.

According to psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter, “clutter can play a significant role in how we feel about our homes, our workplaces, and ourselves. Messy homes and work spaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed. Yet, rarely is clutter recognized as a significant source of stress in our lives.”

Here’s how our mess causes us stress, according to Carter. It:

  • Bombards our minds with excessive stimuli to make our senses work overtime

  • Draws our attention away from what our focus should be on

  • Makes it more difficult to relax and signals that our work is never done

  • Creates anxiety that we’ll never get through to the bottom of the pile

  • Causes feelings of guilt and embarrassment, especially when others unexpectedly drop by

  • Inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow us to think, brainstorm, and problem solve

  • Frustrates us by preventing us from locating what we need quickly

Fortunately, unlike other more commonly recognized sources of stress (e.g., our jobs, our relationships), clutter is one of the easiest life stressors to fix – and it can be as simple as taking control of your morning and evening routines.

Instead of thinking of your mornings as a chaotic scramble and your evenings as an exhausting collapse, try to re-frame your focus: You get to get up and create a new day for yourself. You get to decide how you prioritize, act, and react to things throughout the day. You get to enjoy a relaxing wind-down to your day.

Clutter piles up slowly over the days, not all at once, so consider adding in these simple daily practices so that you run your day, instead of having it run you.

Before you start these daily practices, ask yourself this question:
What are my current sources of clutter-related stress and how can I gain control? 

Then, make a list and consider how you might tackle the things that will give you quick wins, can be ticked off the list one at a time over the next month, or in one fell swoop as a weekend clutter-busting project (see our clutter-clearing tips below).

Evening Practices

A successful morning starts the night before. Try spending 30 minutes doing these two things to reduce the clutter and sideline some of the stress:

1. Clean your kitchen + home ‘landing pad’

The first place we usually go in the morning is the kitchen (coffee, anyone?). Do you really want the first thing you see to be yesterday’s unfinished business? Seeing this clutter will only trigger stress and anxiety. Even if you’re tired from the day, at least load the dishes into the dishwasher (and run it) and then clear and wipe down the counters. At the very least, rinse off the dishes.

Likewise, take just a few minutes to straighten up your home’s ‘landing pad,’ the place where everyone’s stuff – backpacks, books, bags, papers – gets dumped. Separate the items you need to take action on and what can immediately be thrown away. Keep a small waste basket nearby for this. Keep it quick and simple.

2. Prep for tomorrow

This is basically Organization 101 but it bears repeating: Take time to prepare what you can to make tomorrow morning less hectic. You know the drill: Lay out clothes, make lunches, find your keys, sign any papers that need signing. You know your list best. Take time to reflect on where your mornings hit their biggest snag and how you can pre-empt any of them the night before.

Morning Practices

Before you plug in to your day, get a powerful start to your morning by asking yourself:
What’s just one thing I can do to make progress today? 

Asking this question gives you the chance to wake up and have the space to dream and think and plan kind of aimlessly from your authentic self. You know how when you’re driving down the street listening to the radio and suddenly a solution or idea about something in your life will pop up? This is the same.

1. Focus on traction versus to-do’s

If you’re familiar with motivational speaker Mel Robbins, then you may also have heard of her popular “30 by 7:30(am)” rule. The idea is to take a short block of time first thing in the morning to review your day ahead and identify 1-2 priorities you can work on today to move the ball forward.

The first two hours of your workday are usually the best two hours for your brain to focus on your big-picture goals before your day gets hijacked. You deserve 30 minutes at the top of your day to visualize the big things that must be done, with less important things following behind.

2.  Decide when to quit

We admit this step is a bit misleading but it’s intentionally so. Decide the time you’re going to stop working for the day and then stick to it. This keeps you honest and focused and helps draw boundaries between work and home – especially if you work from home.

Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? It basically states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. In simpler terms, the longer you give yourself to get something done, the more complex it becomes in your mind. And it will grow until it absolutely consumes your whole day.

So, if you set a time to end your day, you’re essentially erecting a functional framework in which to get your priorities done and other tasks checked off the list. And when you do quit your workday, take a few minutes to tidy up your workspace so that you’re returning to a clean workspace the next day.

After a week or two of implementing these daily practices, ask yourself:
What do I like about how things are going? What might get in the way?

Then, it’s helpful to create concise checklists and post them in a visible place.

Clear the Clutter!

Try these tips for a weekend session of clutter-busting:

  • Get the family involved. Enlist help and assign each person a room.

  • Create specific places for the items you often use, best located in closed spaces like cabinets and drawers.

  • Get rid of things you don’t need, want, or use. Set up recycle, donate, and toss bins. If you have items you want or need to keep but rarely use, consider a storage unit at Your Austin Storage to clear it out of your way. Not sure how much space you’ll need? Use our unit size estimator to  determine what size storage you need.

  • Return items to their designated place after each use. It only takes a minute to do so!

  • Make a pending folder. It keeps your workspace clear and makes it easier to put your hands on important papers.

  • Don’t let papers turn into piles! Take 15 minutes to get rid of newspapers, magazines, menus, and mail you no longer need.

Marie Kondo, Netlfix series

Spring is Here!

March 10: Daylight Savings Time Starts

Don’t forget to set your clock an hour ahead before bedtime on March 9.

Marie Kondo, Netlfix series

March 20: Spring Equinox | First Day of Spring

Take time to get out and celebrate this time of renewal and rebirth at some fun Austin events in March, including SXSW, Rodeo Austin, St. Patrick’s Day Festival, or the 90th ABC Kite Fest at Zilker Park, to name just a few ideas.

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