Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)


Simplify Your Home

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

– William Morris

Your home should be a haven—a place where you feel peaceful, happy, and calm. But can you feel this way when your home is cluttered with stuff?

Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute published the results of a study they conducted in The Journal of Neuroscience that relates directly to uncluttered and organized living. According to their report, “Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex”:

Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.

In other word, when your environment is cluttered, the visual chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter distracts you so you’re unable to process information as well as you would in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.

For a moment, visualize a room with minimal furniture, free of clutter and extraneous knick-knacks. The room is tidy, organized, and minimal.

See yourself sitting in this room and notice how you feel.

Now visualize a room packed with furniture, magazines and books stacked on the tables, and every surface adorned with clutter and stuff.

How do you feel sitting in this room?

Clutter steals your focus, making you feel overwhelmed, distracted, and agitated. Your brain is so busy trying to process all of the visual stimuli that you can’t fully enjoy the moment.

Now maybe you feel sentimental about many of the objects in your home. But we invite you to embrace a new mindset about physical clutter and how it impacts your mental health. Decluttering your home might be a process that takes several iterations before you feel comfortable saying goodbye to things. But by simply starting the process, you’ll be surprised at the positive impact it has on your energy and state of mind.

Steve and Barrie have written about how to declutter your home in their book 10-Minute Declutter: The Stress Free Habit for Simplifying Your Home , where you’ll find detailed ideas on decluttering and organizing every room in your house.

You can declutter your home in less time than you think—and without feeling completely overwhelmed—when you tackle it in small chunks of time every day. Set aside just 10 minutes a day to work on your clutter, and within a few weeks your house will be in order.

Here is a 10-step process from the book to help you get started:

1. Set up a staging area.

You’ll need a place to temporarily stage all of the items you want to store elsewhere or give away. Find a room or space in your house where you can place these things until you’re ready to deal with them. You may decide to create a staging area in each room you’re working on rather than one main area. This works just fine as well, as long as you don’t mind having a pile of stuff sitting in a corner of the room.

2. Get boxes for the staging area.

You’ll need boxes in varying sizes for staging items to donate, give to other people, sell, or put into storage. Use inexpensive cardboard boxes for staging purposes. Later, you can purchase more durable storage containers for any items you want to store.

3. Have a timer, notebook, and pen handy.

Since you’ll be working in 10-minute increments, set a timer so you’ll know when to stop. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in 10 minutes. Also, keep a notebook and pen with you as you declutter and organize.

You’ll want to make notes on organizing supplies you may need to purchase or ideas you have for storage, donation, or selling items.

4. Set up a schedule.

Setting up a 10-minute declutter schedule means you’re adding a new habit to your day, which can be hard. Creating habits requires a few special skills to make sure you don’t give up. Choose the time of day you want to perform your declutter habit. Make sure it immediately follows a previously established habit like having your coffee in the morning or brushing your teeth. This trigger will cue you to perform your declutter habit. Then reward yourself after you perform your new habit.

For more on this, check out Steve’s article on how to build a habit in eight steps .

5. Begin where you spend most of your time.

If you’re confused about where to start your decluttering and organizing project, we suggest you begin where you spend the most time. For most people, that would be the kitchen, bedrooms, and family room. When you complete a room you use a lot, you’ll get a great feeling of satisfaction, as well as a boost of emotional energy and peace of mind.

6. Determine your system.

In order to keep your work to 10 minutes a day, consider moving through spaces top to bottom, left to right. For example, in your kitchen, begin with the top shelves of cabinets and declutter/clean the shelves on the left side first, then move to the right.

Remove everything from the left side shelves, then quickly sort what you know you want to put back onto the shelves. Wipe the shelf clean, and then replace the items you want to keep. Put the remaining items in the appropriate boxes to give away, sell, donate, or store elsewhere. With drawers, do the same—dump everything out, sort the absolute keepers, wipe out the drawer, replace the keepers, and put the rest in the appropriate boxes.

7. Avoid indecision.

One reason people have a hard time decluttering is because they can’t decide whether or not to let something go. There are a million and one reasons for this confusion, but you need to deal with indecision in the moment to successfully declutter.

That’s why we suggest you put only the absolute keepers back in the spaces you’ve decluttered. Get rid of anything you know for sure you don’t want or need. Anything you feel slightly ambivalent about or rarely use, put into a storage box to deal with later. Label the box, seal it up, and put it into a storage room.

8. Work quickly.

Have you noticed how easy it’s to get distracted when you’re cleaning and organizing? You pick something up, look at it, think about it, wonder what to do with it. With the 10-minute system, you’ve created a sense of urgency for yourself.

You’re trying to accomplish a task in a short amount of time. That’s why it’s so important to replace only the items you know you need. You can deal with the other questionable items later. You may discover you don’t need them at all after living without them in sight for a while.

9. Tell your family.

Be sure you inform those who live in the house with you that you are working on this declutter project. Better yet, ask for their support and help to complete the project even more quickly. At the very least, you want to be sure they don’t come behind you and re-clutter the spaces you’ve completed. If you have kids, it’s great to get them involved in 10-minute cleanup projects. They’ll enjoy racing against the clock to complete a task.

10. Enjoy the process.

Even the smallest accomplishments afford a great sense of satisfaction and pride. Every day, you’ll complete a small task that will lead to a streamlined, organized, tidy home. But rather than seeing these daily tasks as simply a means to that end, try to enjoy each 10-minute chunk of time. Put on some music and make it fun. Give yourself a nice reward once you complete the task—a cup of tea, reading for a few minutes, or a walk outside.

Marie Kondo, author of the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up , says “The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”

If you have a strong attachment to the past, whether through your thinking or your clutter, you cause yourself suffering. Let go. Release the physical objects that weigh you down. Focus your mind and your daily life on the present, and you’ll feel liberated and unencumbered.