The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
Let it go and lighten your heavy load
Apart from the obvious visual benefits of a good declutter, experts say that keeping a clean and well-ordered house also has health and lifestyle gains including weight loss
I’M ASHAMED to admit that until this weekend, I owned eight denim jackets.
Seven of them are now with Lifeline, along with six pairs of boots, five crystal vases, nine tablecloths and three boxes of Star Wars Lego.
The Roald Dahl-inspired Big Friendly Giant papiermâché puppet my son made way back in Year 4, and which was bigger than he was, is sleeping peacefully in the wheelie bin. Decluttering feels good. So good, that I’m going to press on, because I’ve discovered there’s science behind the spring clean, proving its worth on so many levels.
Want to be more productive, reduce your risk of allergies?
Want to stress less, be happier? Lose weight even? Liberate your living spaces. Peter Walsh, an Australian declutter guru based in the US, says many people struggle to downsize because they attach meaning to possessions.
This sounds silly, doesn’t it, because we know that material things don’t matter in the long run, yet we cling to them all the same.
Walsh, who was a regular guest on Oprah, says “stuff” has the power to evoke emotion, remind us of occasions, people we miss, happier days.
In throwing things out, we can feel as if we are betraying those memories.
Sentimentality is fine in small doses, but logic dictates that we cannot move through life accumulating without also discarding.
The question then becomes: What to keep?
In the bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo advises pull- ing everything out of cupboards, bookcases and from under beds and choosing to save only those items that “spark joy”. Everything else must go. If that’s too radical – and frankly, I can’t see it working in the pantry (how much joy can be sparked from a packet of soup mix; and isn’t that the point of use-by dates, to tell us what to cull?) – then popular wisdom suggests storing in boxes the things you’re unsure about and if, in a year’s time, you haven’t missed them, then ditch them.
When your house is in order, so too is your mind.
David Tolin and researchers at America’s Anxiety Disorder Centre in Connecticut have done brain scans on compulsive hoarders.
People were asked to choose, on the spot and with a shredder present, between items to keep or have destroyed. Chronic hoarders became stressed to
the point of being unable to make a decision, while “normal” hoarders, whose homes were cluttered but not to the point of calling in the authorities or a reality TV rescue crew, could decide relatively easily.
Psychiatrists have found that through cognitive therapy, compulsive hoarders can learn to live with less.
And when this happens, bingo, their stress levels drop.
Why? Functionality improves – previously restrictive and perhaps unhygienic areas can be used and enjoyed.
There is physically less to worry about and more space to move freely and, by extension, think clearly.
Natalie Schrier, a New Yorker who makes a crust clearing other people’s clutter, says well-organised homes and offices are an investment in our wellbeing and, ultimately, boost productivity.
The time we spend looking for, or replacing, things can be used far more efficiently. Schrier has a point. Had I kept an organised wardrobe, with like items hung together, I’d have seen that one denim jacket is sufficient – and just think of the dollars I’d have saved.
Being organised and clutter-free also makes it easier to keep spaces clean.
There is less to dust, wipe, disinfect, polish and fewer places for dirt, mould and spring pollens to settle.
But one of the most interesting reasons to downsize must be dropping weight. How does this happen? In his 2015 book, Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight, Peter Walsh cites studies that suggest hoarders are typically overweight.
He then calls on common sense, saying a bedroom that’s neat and tidy is more conducive to sleep – and quality sleep, as the experts tell us, is important in regulating weight (not to mention mood).
Further, Walsh says if you are eating at a clutter-free table, you can focus on the food and better appreciate the flavour, meaning you’re less likely to overeat.
Whether this is true, I don’t know, but from experience, I do know that when my home is tidy and cupboard doors and drawers close without jamming stuff in, I feel less harried and more content.
I like being able to see what is hanging in my wardrobe without having to prise coathangers apart.
As for my seven denim jackets, what happens to them in their next life is not my concern – and I’m all the lighter for letting them go.
Less is more.
I LIKE BEING ABLE TO SEE WHAT IS HANGING IN MY WARDROBE
Kylie Lang is the editor of Qweekend magazine, every Saturday in The Courier-Mail. firstname.lastname@example.org twitter: @kylie_lang