October 28, 2022
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Photography by Lucas Ottone/Stocksy United
Whether it’s your home, your computer, or a pesky junk drawer, clutter can cause stress. Decluttering is a strategy I use to tackle stress and manage my migraine symptoms.
You’ve gone for a walk, tried some deep breathing, and made sure to stay hydrated, but you’re still stressed. Look around the room. Do you notice anything that might be adding to your stress level?
Whether it’s the kitchen counter or the files I keep on my desktop, clutter is a big stressor for me. I can feel the tension rising when I open my laptop and see a million folders or pass by the overflowing junk drawer in my kitchen.
These ballooning files and ketchup packets mirror what’s going on in my brain. I feel anxious yet compelled to hold onto them in case I need them later. At the same time, they’re a constant reminder of a to-do list that never gets any smaller.
Trying to tame the clutter might be hard at first, but there’s good reason to try. For one, decluttering can help reduce stress. Stress just so happens to be a common trigger of migraine.
Whether it’s your home, your computer, or a pesky junk drawer that’s driving your tension up, here’s why decluttering can be a great way to tackle stress and help manage migraine symptoms.
A 2018 research review found that physical environments affect how you think, feel, and relate to other people. There are more distractions in a messy workplace. It’s harder to decide where to focus your attention.
You may get frustrated trying to find things, which can lead to being late for meetings or events. You may find yourself feeling drained in general.
For me, it feels like I’m already two steps behind when I’m just starting the day.
Similarly, trying to relax in a cluttered home can feel impossible. You might find yourself snacking more, having trouble falling asleep, or procrastinating by scrolling through social media.
Sometimes, I’ll stumble onto a video on Instagram of someone’s DIY project that ends in a close-up shot of a perfectly organized pantry. After ruminating over my lack of labeled canisters, I find it helpful to acknowledge that clutter is having a real impact on my stress level.
Essentially, clutter is an accumulation of decisions I’ve been avoiding. Instead of making a deliberate choice about what to keep, donate, or discard, I avoid making a decision.
Since reorganizing an entire kitchen might feel like too big of a project, start small. Work on one shelf or one drawer at a time. Maybe start by throwing out any food that’s expired. And yes, that includes my treasured ketchup packets.
Store items in smaller containers or invest in a new cutlery tray. Small changes can help chip away at the mess, making your next trip to the kitchen less anxiety-provoking.
Here are some additional tips for decluttering at home or work:
Sometimes we hold onto things for sentimental reasons. This can be because they mark an important milestone like a wedding or graduation or because it reminds us of a short-term or long-term goal.
The latter is especially true for me when it comes to digital clutter like files, bookmarks, and photos. My desktop is littered with ideas for stories I want to write. I have countless web pages bookmarked and shopping carts full of clothing and furniture I’ll probably never buy.
These digital items are part wishful thinking and part avoidance behavior. The combination of the two can move me away from my goals.
Because we may have emotional attachments to our physical and digital clutter, it can often be more realistic to reorganize things than to get rid of them.
If you’re like me, you probably have a million photos and videos on your phone (most of mine are of my dogs).
Have a look at your computer. Do you really need multiple versions of a resume you haven’t updated in a while? Look for files like this that are no longer useful to use and drag them to the recycling bin.
Here are some additional tips for digital decluttering:
Decluttering might entail reorganizing your space, donating items, or getting rid of things that affect your mood and productivity. These small steps can help bring clarity and allow you to concentrate on other things.
Unburdening yourself of clutter can put you in a mindset to brainstorm, solve problems, and be creative. It can help you make peace with unfinished projects and develop greater confidence and feelings of self-worth.
Lastly, here are some things that help me with mental decluttering:
To be clear, feeling stressed about a cluttered home or office isn’t the same as hoarding or the associated condition, hoarding disorder, which requires the support of mental health professionals.
How you define clutter, and the meaning you attach to it, is unique to you. The point is, if clutter is bothering you, it might be time to rethink how you’re managing it. Managing your clutter can help you deal with stress more effectively.
Medically reviewed on October 28, 2022
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