We are affected on different levels by clutter.
In the context of our minds, clutter could manifest as racing thoughts, memories, or a wandering imagination. In our physical space, clutter could be dirty clothes on the floor, dirty dishes in the sink, or even an unorganized home. Individuals that experience mental clutter are more likely to live in a space with physical clutter.
In yoga, keeping a clean and tidy space is considered “sattvic,” the Sanskrit word that describes the quality of lightness and purity. Keeping a pure and light living space can also include washing and sanitizing often to reduce exposure to bacteria, dirt, and other pathogens that could cause disease.
In this article, I will explore how the outer space and inner space are mirrors for one another, how decluttering can help clear your mind and save you time, and I will present some strategies for maintaining a decluttered internal and external space.
What is Outside Mirrors What is Inside
When your outer world is in a state of disarray, dirty, or cluttered then it is more likely your inner world is in a state of disharmony as well. This is not necessarily a direct causal relationship, meaning that one does not always cause the other, but it has been proven that the two effect one another.
A Roster et al. study in 2016 studied how clutter affects one’s perception of their own well-being. The results showed that clutter negatively affected the participants subjective sense of well-being.
In 2017, a study by Ferrari et al. looked at clutter, procrastination, negative emotions, and other indicators. Their results showed that participants, who reported having a cluttered living space, experienced negative emotions, such as feeling overwhelmed by their possessions. Through statistical analyses they showed that clutter predicted procrastination, and that it strongly interfered with participants quality of life.
Two follow up studies by Ferrari et al. in 2018 were conducted. One showed that procrastinators, who reported living with clutter, found that it interfered with their quality of life, and the other found that procrastination may predict a lifelong tendency to respond to one’s environment in different maladaptive ways.
These studies are useful for us to consider how your well-being can be affected by clutter and why.
When you procrastinate decisions or completing tasks, it is more likely for the mind to become cluttered with thoughts about unfinished tasks. This mental clutter is mirrored into your physical living space. As these studies show, this ultimately affects your sense of well-being. If not addressed, these patterns can become lifelong behaviors.
Save Time, Clear Your Mind
So you’re ready to declutter! Where to start will depend on which areas of your life you find the most cluttered.
Many people find it easiest to start in their physical environment. Have you ever sat down to complete a project and found yourself unable to focus until all your laundry, dishes, or other organizing is done? This is a common problem that many people view as procrastination.
However, this need to organize may just be because you are unable to focus your thoughts until your physical space is clutter free and organized. In order to organize your mind, you may need to find yourself in an organized space.
By maintaining an organized space on an ongoing basis, you increase the likelihood that you will be able to have a clearer mind to approach any task, project, or everyday life. You are also saving yourself time by tending to things on an ongoing basis, so that you do not need to spend a full day completing built up tasks or searching for an important document you misplaced in your clutter!
The more clutter builds up, the more it becomes a daunting task that you may consciously or unconsciously try to avoid. This is true for physical and mental clutter.
In your physical space, you can start to create a routine of tidying. This can become like a meditation and act of service to yourself, anyone you live with, and even to the entire Universe as you maintain a sattvic and pure space.
It is useful to note here that your physical space could also extend to the virtual world, as many of us are storing thousands of photos and documents electronically.
3 tips for maintaining a physically organized and decluttered space:
Have a place for everything. Instead of putting something on the table (or computer desktop!), put it in its place (or folder). Think of this as a time to focus on your breath and the task at hand, creating a meditative practice.
Spend 5 minutes in the morning, midday, and/or at night tidying and putting things in their place.
If you have children, have a play area where you can be more lenient with tidying. This could be a room or an entire floor of your house depending on your space and needs. This could cut down on the clutter visible to you as you go about your day and also reduce the need to focus on constantly cleaning up after your children.
Mental clutter is just as important to pay attention to. If you feel drawn to address these things first, then go with what works for you. The important thing is to reduce clutter and find more space to create stillness and reduce inner and outer chaos. (Learn more in Befriend Your Chattering, Manic Mind & Meditate Through the Running Commentary.)
3 tips for creating and maintaining a mentally organized and decluttered state:
To-do lists. These are my favorite although they are not for everyone. You may find it helpful to keep daily to-do lists, or ongoing to-do lists that focus on specific areas of your life - such as financial, personal, social, and work - and if you’re like me, you may find it helpful to do both!
When you need to do something, and you can do it without disturbing your ease, just do it - or add it to a to-do list and forget about it! When we tend to things we need to do without procrastination, we can relax more easily into the present moment. This could include paying a bill, calling a friend, doing the dishes, or any number of things depending on your needs.
Give yourself a break! Be gentle with yourself. You can’t do it all. Allow yourself time and space to do nothing - aka to relax and be present.
Decrease Clutter, Stress, and Enhance Your Quality Of Life
Tending to clutter on an ongoing basis is a big lifestyle shift for many people. It is true that many of us have more on our plate than is possible to tend to.
When you adopt a strategy of ongoing reorganization and decluttering, you may be able to see more clearly how much you can truly manage. Maybe you find out that rather than being a chronic procrastinator, you actually have more ongoing projects and tasks than you can truly manage while still maintaining a sense of peace.
This could create an opportunity to reassess your commitments and even eliminate some unnecessary clutter in your life - this could also be possessions you no longer need or would serve someone else better!
Take the time and consideration that you need to calm the outer chaos and prioritize your inner peace. (Learn more in Get Your 'Monkey Mind' to Unwind Using These 4 Methods.)