Quarantine life has had one positive effect on my brain. It’s given me the opportunity to declutter my house and my life. Decluttering has improved my mood, my eating habits, and has decreased my stress level. Cleaning out clutter helps me move forward on many levels. Purging items I haven’t used, or are not likely to use, helps elevate my overall outlooks.
In a 2019 New York Times article entitled, “The Unbearable Heaviness of Clutter,” according to Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago, “Clutter is an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaos and disorderly living spaces.” Ferrari’s research team found that clutter can negatively impact mental well-being, particularly among women. Additionally, among older adults, clutter problems were also associated with life dissatisfaction.
Research shows that our brains don’t respond well to disorder. Constant visual reminders that things are cluttered and disorganized reduces our ability to focus and drains our cognitive resources. According to experts in organizational behavior, a chronically cluttered home environment can lead to a constant low-grade “fight or flight” response, making us feel stressed and increasing our cortisol levels. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone best known for producing the “fight or flight” response. It works with parts of your brain to control mood, motivation and fear. According to the Mayo Clinic, taking steps to manage your stress levels contribute to keeping your cortisol levels from disrupting your bodies processes, including:
· Digestive problems
· Heart disease
· Sleep problems
· Memory and concentration impairment
· Weight gain
That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with your life stressors. By keeping clutter around, you give your body a constant reaction to stress. When you recognize stressors and take steps to take care of yourself both emotionally and physically, you are taking steps to a healthier life.
In a research study entitled, “Clutter Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments,” researchers from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab had 101 female undergraduate students participate in either a standard kitchen condition, or in a chaotic kitchen strewn with mail, newspapers, and unwashed dishes. Participants were asked to recall a time when they felt in control, or a time when then they felt out of control. They were then given an all-you-can-eat snack supply of cookies, crackers, and carrots. The researchers found that the women in the messy kitchen, who wrote about being out of control ate twice as many calories from cookies than women who wrote about being out of control in the clean kitchen — an average of 103 (cookie) calories versus 61 (cookie) calories — respectively. The study clearly showed that a chaotic environment can create a vulnerability to making unhealthy food choices, and that one’s mind-set in a given environment can trigger — or buffer — against vulnerability.
Armed with this research, I decided to tackle my own kitchen. Like all of us these days, I am trying to make less trips to the grocery store each week. I felt that having an organized kitchen before I went grocery shopping would help me feel more in control. I also have a habit of repurchasing items, especially spices and items I don’t use every day. I found that when I’m trying to organize, making a list of what I have and a list of what I need helps keep me focused.
Now, I actually look forward to grocery shopping and returning home to my “new” kitchen. It really elevates my mood when I open my refrigerator, kitchen cabinets, or the pantry with everything in its place.
If reorganizing your kitchen seems like a heavy lift right now, start small. Try to rearrange that “junk drawer” in the kitchen, the one that seems to accumulate everything that comes into the house. If you are like me, and most people I know, completing a smaller task that heads in the same direction as you want to go can make you feel more energetic and ready to keep moving forward.
When we are better organized, we feel more productive, and we are able to rely on better coping strategies and spend less energy worrying about how to avoid certain habits or food choices. Organized cupboards and refrigerators don’t distract us and derail our attempts to eat better, snack on healthier options. I find that order helps keep me more motivated to do more food prep, in fact, sometimes it’s a pleasure rather than a chore.
Listen, I know what it’s like to have a house that seems like it’s in disarray, but I also know you can take control of it and free up your mind to concentrate on what’s really important: Your good health.
I have a plan that will help you declutter your way to a nutritious life. Sign up for a free consultation, and we can discuss ways we can work together to get you back on the path to a nutritious life.