Decluttering for the Mind
I recently stumbled upon a very interesting video on YouTube called '3 ways I keep my house clean as a reformed slob' by The Financial Diet channel. The title caught my attention since I'm a bit of a slob myself. So I started watching and within 30 seconds of the video, something the narrator said struck a chord with me, "My messy environment was negatively impacting my mental health."
Is this true? Could our home environment have so much impact on our mental state? When I turned to Google for clarification, it turns out that there are loads of articles online that talk about clutter and its effects on mental health. I found this fascinating and I started to think of my own experience. Is there a drawer or a room in your house that has accumulated a lot of junk over the years? Do you ever have this feeling when you walk into the room and you go, "Oh gosh, I really need to sort this out one day and get my shit together!" How does this thought make you feel?
I definitely have a drawer, a cabinet and a room like that at home. When I walk into my changing room at home, I am welcomed by a great deal of clutter and now that I think about it, it does stress me out. I have bouts of anxiety and the thought that my own home was causing some of the mental distress was rather alarming. Our home should be a safe space, our very own fortress of solitude. A retreat from the loud and fast-paced world. But how can a home be a sanctuary for the mind and soul when it causes distress?
That's when I realised I needed to declutter my safe space. So I grabbed my phone, opened the checklist app and started a new checklist called "The Declutter Project." I spent some time thinking about the main sources of clutter in my home and listed everything down. In the past, I have tried to declutter but I wasn't very systematic or practical about the matter. I didn't have a proper plan and I would usually set unrealistic goals for myself. For example, I would aim to declutter the whole house just over a Saturday morning. And of course, I was bound to fail and this discouraged me from continuing.
This time around, I wanted to be more organised and practical in my approach. I made a list of all the clutter hotspots in my safe space and decided to tackle it one at a time whenever I got the chance. I try to tackle one hotspot every day or every two days. So far I've ticked off three items from my list. I start with the easiest ones and make my way down to the harder ones. I do this because if I start with something very difficult or daunting and I give up halfway, the whole project is derailed. However, if I start off with easier things like a drawer or a dressing table, I'm more likely to succeed and this gives me more confidence to keep going. Plus, by the time I reach the most daunting hotspots, I would have decluttered a large portion of the house and I would want to keep the momentum going.
The first thing I started with was sorting out our bills. My dad is one of the most organised people I know. He has a system in place for everything including all incoming bills. He files everything systematically and this makes it easier to trace back any documents he may require. I have inherited a lot of things from my father, but his highly systematic nature is not one of them. So needless to say, I often have bills strewn around the house. My coffee table drawer, filled with bills to the brim, was certainly a source of stress.
One of the suggestions made on the Youtube video I mentioned earlier is to create better systems for things around the house. In fact, the narrator speaks about mail piling up all over the place in her home due to a lack of proper systems. Luckily, I've had the opportunity to observe a very organised man for many, many years and thus, I decided to emulate my dad. I made a quick trip to the stationery shop and got myself two things: a ring folder and an index divider. I gathered all my bills and important documents and filed them in reverse chronological order (most recent bills on top). Now instead of an unsightly drawer full of unorganised bills, I have one folder and a hole puncher sitting neatly in my coffee table drawer. Anytime a bill arrives, it is to be paid and filed away for future reference.
Just this one task alone gave me so much satisfaction and motivation to keep going. Next, I decided to declutter some of our cabinets. G and I have a lot of books around the house. He's a big fan of fantasy fiction and I love cookbooks. The books were virtually everywhere: they were on our nightstand, in our cupboard and some even found their way to our coffee table. I wanted to store all these books in a central location that was covered so they don't gather too much dust. We have a small cabinet in the living room that would be perfect for this, except it was already filled with a lot of stuff. Stuff I used for a previous work engagement that I no longer needed.
I wanted to sort out these things into a couple of piles: keep, throw and give away. The give away pile is important. Often times, we don't really need something but we end up keeping it anyway because we feel it's such a waste to throw away. Instead, we convince ourselves that it might come in handy someday, chuck it away somewhere and forget about it. So I started taking everything out of the cabinet. For books that I didn't need anymore, I put them into a bag and made a mental note to donate them to a college library nearby. For papers and documents I didn't need anymore, I threw them out. I did check through them to make sure that any sensitive documents such as photostat copies of my IC were torn up before being thrown away. The world is a scary place these days and identity theft is a real threat. People can do wonders with something as basic as a photostat copy of your IC so as you spring clean, be mindful of what you throw out as well. This might be my paranoid side talking, but hey, it's better to be safe than sorry.
It took longer than expected to clear out the cabinet but after an hour or so, I was finally done. Then I went on a scavenger hunt around the house collecting books to be sorted and stored neatly. I gathered every book under our roof and stored them in our cabinet. Books that we've read at the back and books that we're currently reading and refer to a lot right at the front where they're most accessible. What was once a source of stress for me was now a functional, organised system for the books we love.
I still have several other items to tick off my list. Progress is slow but steady. As I make my way down the list, I feel content that the clutter that once occupied a room in my mind is slowly being cleared. From the ashes of clutter and distress arise calm and clarity of the mind. Decluttering my kitchen and living area has done me good. I cook and write with ease, feeling a little lighter than I did before in this space. I hope that when I complete this project, my home will truly be a safe space once more.