When we have finished decluttering at a clients home, I always get the same response: “I feel so much lighter now!” And it is true – decluttering your physical environment also declutters your thinking and emotions too. Here is a great article I found on Lifehacker.com that goes into this phenomenon in a bit more detail.
How clutter happens
You collect things for a number of reasons–maybe you think you’ll need to use it later, it has sentimental value, or you spent good money on it so you feel you need to keep the item, even if you haven’t touched or used it in weeks, months, or years. You might be holding on to that book you bought a year ago that you swear you’ll read or those killer pair of shoes that you’ll bring out for just the right occasion. But the reality is, you probably made a mistake in buying those things and it literally hurts your brain to come to terms with that fact.
Researchers at Yale identified that two areas in your brain associated with pain, the anterior cingulate cortex and insula, light up in response to letting go of items you own and feel a connection towards: This is the same area of the brain that lights up when you feel physical pain from a paper cut or drinking coffee that’s too hot. Your brain views the loss of one of your valued possessions as the same as something that causes you physical pain. And the more you’ve committed emotionally or financially to an item, the more you want to keep it around.
When you introduce new items into your life, you immediately associate value with these items, making it harder for you to give them up in the future. This psychological connection to things is what leads to the accumulation of stuff.
Clutter’s Impact on Your Brain
Whether it be your closet or office desk, excess things in your surroundings can have a negative impact on your ability to focus and process information. That’s exactly what neuroscientists at Princeton University found when they looked at people’s task performance in an organized versus disorganized environment. The results of the study showed that physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress.
A team of UCLA researchers recently observed 32 Los Angeles families and found that all of the mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their belongings. Similar to what multitasking does to your brain, physical clutter overloads your senses, making you feel stressed, and impairs your ability to think creatively.
Clutter isn’t just physical
Files on your computer, notifications from your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and anything that goes “ping” in the night competes for your attention. This creates a digital form of clutter that erodes your ability to focus and perform creative tasks. Mark Hurst, author of Bit Literacy, a New York Times best seller on controlling the flow of information in the digital age, put it best when he said: When you have to-do items constantly floating around in your head or you hear a ping or vibrate every few minutes from your phone, your brain doesn’t get a chance to fully enter creative flow or process experiences. When your brain has too much on its plate, it splits its power up. The result? You become awful at:
- filtering information
- switching quickly between tasks
- keeping a strong working memory
The overconsumption of digital stuff has the same effect on your brain as physical clutter.