How Clutter Affects Your Brain…

Which sides looks greener?

Which sides looks greener?

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.

Read the entire article here.

Letting go of the burden of stress…

Take a minute and let it go...

A friend of mine just sent me this in an email and I thought it would be perfect to share with you my readers:

A lecturer, when explaining stress management to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked, ‘How heavy is this glass of water?’ Answers called out ranged from 20g to 500g.

The lecturer replied, ‘The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.’

He continued, ‘And that’s the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, The burden will become increasingly heavy: And we won’t be able to carry on. ‘

‘As with the glass of water, You have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again.. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the burden.

So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down: don’t carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever burdens you’re carrying now, Let them down for a moment if you can.’

Put down anything that may be a burden to you right now. Don’t pick it up again until after you’ve rested a while.

8 steps to an organised and stress-free life

Never lose them again!

One of the most important things I teach my clients is how to build a “docking station”; the place you first go to as you come home. The place where you dump your stuff such as keys, handbag, phone, mail, sunglasses – all those little things you will either lose or forget about later.

This little habit saves a lot of stress as not only will you never lose anything again, but all the mail will be taken care of as soon as it comes inside the door – and no further!

Zen Habits has put together a list of 8 habit forming ideas that will make your life much more organised – and hence stress free!

  1. Get-in-the-door ritual. Whenever I get home, the first thing I do is put my stuff away. I have a designated spot for my keys, cash/cards, phone, and coins. Everything else either gets tossed or put wherever it belongs. If we brought something home like groceries or library books, those get put away, right away. This is an important little ritual because even people who have simplified their homes notice that possessions and junk can build up over time — and that starts with what you bring in. It’s no use simplifying and organizing if it just gets cluttered and disorganized every time you come home.
  2. Put clothes away. It’s so simple, but when I take clothes off, they either go in the hamper or I fold them & put them in my drawer or hang them in the closet. Others drape them over chairs or throw them on the floor or bed, and sorting through them later becomes a major chore. By doing it right away, things stay organized and I don’t have to worry about cleaning up later.
  3. Wash my bowl. When I finish eating, I wash my dishes by hand, mindfully. No mess to clean up later.
  4. Prepare meals in advance. Cooking your own meals is the healthiest (and most frugal) choice, but if you have to cook three to six times a day, it’ll get too cumbersome and you’re likely to give up. So I prepare my food in bulk (for 3-6 days in advance), and eat the same meals all week. It’s no harder than cooking smaller meals. I only make food that I adore, so I don’t get bored. It’s super easy to stay on a meal plan this way.
  5. Just step out the door. My motto for exercise. Most people have a hard time with motivation to do workouts, but not me. First of all, I only do workouts I love, so I actually look forward to them. But second, I never think about how I don’t feel like doing a workout — because I tell myself that all I have to do is get on my shoes and get out the door. The rest flows naturally.
  6. Clear distractions. When I’m ready to do a task, I clear all distractions. Small action, huge difference.
  7. Take a walk & reflect. Taking a short walk is such a simple thing to do — you can do it during your lunch break, or take a break when you’ve been working for a couple hours straight. It only needs to be 10-20 minutes. But oh boy, what a world of difference. Not only does the walk relieve stress and clear your head, it gives you an opportunity to reflect on what you’ve been doing, and reflection is one of the most important tools for changing your life.
  8. Breathe. When I get stressed, I simply breathe.

Read more here: http://zenhabits.net/lil/

Clearing the clutter after a loved one dies

A keepsake box for their treasures

My husband lost his mother last week.

Losing a parent or a loved one is the most stressful thing that can happen in our lives, but for many it doesn’t end there. Although my mother in law had little possessions as she was in a nursing home, for some having to deal with what is left behind is the hardest job of all.

A letter to Unclutterer.com from a lady who recently lost her husband caught my eye addressing this very topic:

The most important thing you need to remember during this process is that you are not trying to forget your husband.

Uncluttering your home does not mean you are banishing him or turning your back on his memory. Uncluttering is a way for you to bring the best of him with you into the future.

As you start this process, seek out the treasured items first. Find the handful of his things that you value most and that best honor your memories of him. You will instantly recognize these special items when you see them, and they will remind you of his life and the life you happily shared together. Store these items temporarily in a secure location.

All the remaining stuff in your home that reminds you of him can be given away to charity, given to friends and family, sold, or distributed in whatever way you wish to unclutter them from your space. This could be a one-time process taking just a matter of weeks, or it might be an on-going process taking years. You need to move at a pace that is right for you. Don’t feel pressured to part with things if you’re not ready — you can spend however long in the reconstruction period as you need to.

Once the clutter is gone, find a way to honor the treasured items you decided to keep. Frame and/or display these things so you can enjoy them. Let these wonderful objects continue to bring you happiness. Since you’ll only have kept the most valuable pieces (and I don’t mean financially valuable, I mean the pieces that make your heart sing), they will remind you of the good times you shared.

Finally, if you find this process difficult to go alone, I really believe that hiring a professional organizer can be a good idea.

Read more here: http://unclutterer.com/2010/11/05/ask-unclutterer-uncluttering-after-the-loss-of-a-loved-one/

 

5 strategies for surviving the stresses of travel

Gorgeous countryside wherever you look in NZ...

Having just returned from 10 days in New Zealand, I am still on the “travel high” – the high you get when your body still hasn’t adjusted itself back to regular time, when your travel clothes still haven’t been washed and you are busily downloading photos from your camera.

Unfortunately not everyone has such a great time when they travel; there are just so many little things that can go wrong that often do – if you let them!

A recent post by Zen Habits gave me some good insights into how to “go with the flow” and bounce back from any setback that is thrown your way:

From departure lounges all over the world to nice hotels on every continent, I see the same thing no matter where I go: some people are having the time of their lives, and others, well, would rather be at home.

There are probably several reasons for this phenomenon of unhappy tourists, but one of them is that  travel can be overly stressful and unnecessarily complicated. If travel becomes too complicated, you can end up defeating yourself before any external pressures even arrive.

To counter the stress, here are 5 “big-picture” strategies and 8 specific, practical tips you can use to simplify your next big trip. Some of them will help you save time and money – both worthy goals – but all will help you cut out some of the stress.

5 Big-Picture Strategies

Create Your Own Travel Philosophy – Prioritize what’s important to you, and plan your trip according to that. A lot of people have expectations or ideas about travel that they have received from others. I think it’s better to decide for yourself what you value about travel as well as how you like to travel.

As for me, I like to do it all. I go between nice hotels like the one I’m at in Egypt and $10 hostels… or even sleeping on the floor of airports from Dallas to Singapore. Yes, I know it’s crazy, but that’s the point – I travel on my own terms. Why not discover what you enjoy and do that?

Become comfortable with some amounts of stress – I don’t think it’s possible to travel completely stress-free; I’m more interested in finding a low-stress solution. You might be able to avoid any stress at all by escaping reality on a deserted island, but that kind of trip is rarely gratifying in the end. Focus instead on reducing stress by making simple choices.

Goal-Setting and Vacations – It sounds strange to some, but I suspect manyZen Habits readers will “get it” – I recommend setting a few personal goals for every trip, even a vacation. My goals may be as simple as running a few miles every day or writing two pages in my journal every morning, or they may be more detailed like completing a writing project I’ve been working on. If you have daily habits of productivity and goal-setting, you don’t need to completely set them aside just because you’re away from home.

Forgive yourself for mistakes – I’ve been to 94 countries so far in my quest tovisit every country in the world, and I’ve probably made every mistake you can think of. A couple of months ago in between visits to Iraq and Eastern Europe, I even double-booked myself on two completely non-refundable flights home to Seattle. Yes, I assure you – if a travel mistake is possible, I have most likely made it. Along the way, I’ve learned that whenever I do something stupid, I have to let it go at some point.

Travel Zen – Even if you didn’t make the mistake, lots of disruptions and challenges can easily set you back while you’re in a distant land. Here’s where I invoke the Travel Zen mantra: “Life is an adventure.” If I wanted routine, I could have stayed home.

To read more go here: http://zenhabits.net/13-ways-to-simplify-international-travel/

 

 

7 Top Tips to Finding the Elusive Work-Life Balance

There has to be more to life than this?

As well as the Ultimate Blog Challenge, I have also joined another Facebook challenge called the 30-Day ‘Tude Challenge!  In this group we have shared our goals for the beginning of the new year and what we can achieve in 30 days, step by step.

My goal was to spend less time in front of my laptop and more time in the “real world”. Unfortunately the horrific floods in Brisbane put a stop to that as I was constantly online researching and sharing information via social media to try and help those affected (while making sure the waters didn’t get to me!)

But then lo and behold in my inbox today came my fix of Zen Habits. He always seems to nail it on the head for whatever situation I happen to be in and today was no different: Finding the elusive work-life balance. Here are the seven tips that were outlined (No. 4 was particularly important for me):

1. Set a time to shut off work. Working all day and night means you are nothing but your job. Your life belongs to your employer (or if you’re the employer then your life belongs to your employees or customers). Take ownership of your life — find variety and ways to burn off stress and find enjoyment in life! Start by setting a time each day when you shut off work. Whether that’s 5 p.m. or 5:30 or 6 or 7 or 9 p.m. Some of you can set it even earlier if you start earlier — say 4 p.m. or something like that. Set that time and make it happen. After that shut-off time you will not do work or check email or think about work.

2. Find something to immerse yourself in after work. What do you love doing besides work? Do you love to read or run or play sports or hang out with friends or play with your kids or build model ships or play games? If you don’t already have a passion then pick something that sounds fun and give it a try. It doesn’t have to be expensive — it could be as simple as hiking around your neighborhood or volunteering at a charity or helping friends with household projects. Schedule it as soon after work as possible. And while you’re doing it try to completely immerse yourself. Don’t think about work — only think about the after-work activity.

3. Learn to be mindful and present. It’s not easy to just switch your mind off work but it’s a skill you can learn over time. The way to learn this isn’t to try to block work from your mind — it’s to learn to bring your mind back to whatever you’re doing after work. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing: it could be household chores or exercise or talking with someone or taking a bath or eating. Whatever it is … that’s all you want to focus on. Your mind will inevitably slip into something else. That’s OK. Bring it back gently and without reprimand. Slowly with practice you will get better at being present. Which means your work won’t always be on your mind.

4. Take breaks at work. Not everyone will have this flexibility but it’s worth doing if you can manage it. Basically if you’re working for 8 or 10 hours you don’t want to do it non-stop. You need to find balance even at work. So at least once an hour get up and walk around. Get outside if you can and take a walk. Stretch and massage your shoulders and get your blood moving. Do some squats or pushups if you want to start getting fit. Talk to someone. Drink water. Eat fruits and vegetables. Your break just needs to be 5-10 minutes but it’s important.

5. Increase your skills while at work — to prepare for leaving work. If you are very skilled at what you do then you become worth more. In fact it’s often possible to quit your job and start your own business if you’re good enough. And it doesn’t take a lot of money to work for yourself — you can start a business with practically no money. I started mine while still working full time: my job funded my startup business. Even if you don’t go into business for yourself you’ll be worth more with a high skill level. So devote your work hours to learning and perfecting your work skills.

6. Find ways to increase your income while decreasing hours. As your skills increase your value increases. Slowly pick jobs or projects that earn more money per hour. This often means changing jobs but it might be a promotion or change in roles. It could mean starting your own business or becoming a consultant. If you already have your own business or work for yourself then you should slowly be picking jobs or business projects that pay more for every hour you spend working on them. By increasing income you can decrease hours and free up more time for yourself.

7. Learn that you are not defined by work. You can be happy without your job. Your value isn’t completely tied to your work. For example: I’m a writer but it’s not the only thing I am. I’m also a father and husband and know that those are my most important roles — not my role as a writer. I am more than that as well: I run and read and learn and help others and am constantly experimenting with life. I can do things other than my job and be fulfilled. So can you. And once you discover this you’ll free yourself to find a life outside of work. Then balance is simply a matter of logistics — you just need to make it happen by taking small steps.

Read more here: http://zenhabits.net/life-balance/

The roots of clutter — external, behavioral, and internal

I loved this post from Erin at Unclutterer.com

It is so important to work out WHY you have clutter before you can begin to tackle it.

Goodness…where did I leave the baby?

There are innumerable reasons people are plagued by clutter. Most reasons, however, fall into one of three categories:

  1. External: This clutter might be from living with a cluttered parent/roommate/spouse, physical disability, or inherited clutter
  2. Behavioral: This clutter might be from mediocre decision-making skills, lack of energy, or poor categorization and classification skills
  3. Internal: This clutter might be from grief, depression, anxiety, distrust, or being overly sentimental

Clutter rooted in external causes can be tricky to overcome. Since you can’t transform someone else into an unclutterer, you may be continually plagued with clutter as long as you live in the same space as your parent/roommate/spouse. If you’re struggling with inherited clutter, the situation may be stressful as you take the time to sort through the property you’ve acquired, but the clutter will likely be temporary. It can be difficult to predict or solve external causes of clutter, but there are often ways to manage it, and sometimes even solve it.

Clutter resulting from behavioral causes can be more manageable than the other categories of clutter. You can learn and/or improve skill sets, change habits, and find ways to increase energy levels. It can take awhile to overcome these behaviors, but it is possible for people of sound mind and body to do so within a reasonable amount of time.

Read more on internal clutter here: http://unclutterer.com/2010/11/18/the-roots-of-clutter-external-behavioral-and-internal/

How to deal with a disorganised house mate…

A warning to the wife!

When I asked my friends and family for their decluttering dilemmas, I had responses varying from paperwork in the home office to tackling Tupperware in the kitchen. One recurring challenge that really struck me however, was the problem of what to do if you are organised and your partner isn’t.

Take my husband (please!). Being a Professional Organiser, I am extremely organised and declutter everything that is not nailed down around the house. The one area of the house I am not allowed to touch is the “man cave” – the garage and shed. This is his domain and whatever he chooses to keep or toss is his business and I respect that.

A post from Unclutterer.com “hits the nail on the head” on this topic:

Being part of a mismatched couple is quite common. By “mismatched,” I mean couples where one of the people in the relationship is clean and organised and the other person in the relationship is messy and disorganised. This doesn’t necessarily cause a problem until it starts to put a strain on the relationship.

When considering moving in with someone (romantic or otherwise), a person’s level of tidiness and cleanliness should be part of the equation. Maybe this should also be part of pre-marriage counseling?

If you’re already in a living arrangement and are disappointed by your partner or flatmate’s level of order, it may be time for a little chat.

Here are some points to remember:

  • No nagging. Treating someone with disrespect is never a good option. Either the person honors what you say the first time you say it, or they don’t.
  • No bringing up the past. Set a time limit for how long after something happens that it can be discussed (like two weeks). If you don’t bring up the frustration within that time limit, you have to let it go. Also, if you’ve already discussed something, you don’t bring it up again to rehash over and over.
  • Discuss the real problem. If you’re upset that your boyfriend repeatedly leaves his underpants on the bedroom floor your frustration has very little to do with the underpants. You’re upset because you believe he doesn’t care about the cleanliness level in the living space.

Sometimes, the person who is messier than the other doesn’t care if the house is tidy or clean. When this is the case, and if you’re the one who prefers a more orderly home, prepare to take on full responsibility for cleaning up after the other person. This may sound unfair, but think about the pent up resentment it will save.

Happily do the work because you’re the one who gets the sense of joy from an organised space. If that pair of underpants in the middle of the bedroom floor annoys you, just pick them up and put them in the laundry basket. The five seconds it will take you to move them are less than the time you will be angry with your partner if you don’t move them.

Another solution is putting some systems in place to deal with the mess where it happens. For instance, I have introduced a “docking station” in my home; a small table for car keys, sunglasses, wallets, spare change, handbag etc to be dumped as soon as you come in the front door. My husband and I know exactly where our personal items are and it stops the age old questions and arguments over “where did you put the car keys/my glasses, why can’t I ever find any change for the paper?”

You just need to think about how you live and find solutions that meet your actual needs and those who live in the space with you.

Another great idea is to designate clean rooms or messy rooms in your home. The lounge room is usually a “public space” that visitors would see, so this means it must be free of clutter. Whereas visitors would rarely come into your office or bedroom so they can be a bit less stringent with a once-a-week cleanup.

Finally, if you’ve tried all of the previous options and nothing is working for you, try seeking outside help such as a professional organiser or if the problem is more relationship based, maybe a couple’s counselor. It could be in the form of a cleaner twice a month. Let someone else handle the deep cleaning so that the light work is less of a burden and it gives you more time to enjoy together.

PS – My husband must have gotten a whiff of my blog today, he is currently under the house decluttering and organising his tool collection!

Read the entire article here.

When in doubt – simplify!

By Leo Babauta from Zen Habits

Sit back & let it all go...

It’s the time of year when everyone is in a crazy rush: to shop to decorate to get ingredients to go to parties to travel to get last-minute work done to go to the kids’ Christmas pageants to go caroling to get those to-dos done.

There is a single answer to just about all your problems — Christmas or otherwise:

Simplify.

It’s the answer to your time-management problems: instead of trying to figure out how to manage your schedule try simplifying it. Do less. Say no to projects and meetings. Cut back on commitments. Have less on your schedule and you’ll eliminate the problem of trying to manage it all. You’ll also have less stress and love life more.

It’s the answer to your financial problems: instead of trying to manage all your bills and debts try simplifying. Spend less. Shop less. Do without for a bit. Cut back on your bills. Have fewer credit accounts. Eliminate debt and have less stress.

It’s also the answer to your storage problems: instead of trying to find more storage for all your stuff try simplifying. Reduce clutter. Having less stuff requires less storage (even a smaller home) and is less stressful. You’ll also save lots of money in storage and maintenance.

For more go to: http://zenhabits.net/always-simple/

 

Serenity Now: 103 Ways to De-Stress Your Life

Life is not a Seinfeld episode!

This fabulous article was forwarded to me from Spabeautyschools.com in the US . It originally written with the college student in mind, but as we know stress doesn’t end in college – it’s usually where it starts!

By Stacy Lipson

Stress is inevitable in the college setting. But if you’re constantly feeling frazzled or stressed, it may be time to evaluate your daily habits. Over time, chronic stress can have a negative impact on your physical and emotional health. Read these tips to learn more about reducing your stress level.


Health, Fitness, and Emotional Wellness

1. Do cardio. According to the American College of Medicine guidelines, healthy adults under the age of 65 should do moderately intense cardio five days a week.

2. Yoga, anyone? “Yoga helps you work your whole body and focus on breathing,” says Jessica Rose Cohn, graduate student at Rowan University.

3. Scale to new heights. Sophomore Tony Wang at the University of Pennsylvania loves to rock climb. “When I start climbing, everything else melts away,” says Wang.

4. Work out. “Exercise increases serotonin and endorphin production,” says Beth Shaw, author of Yoga Fit. “This can help students reduce their stress level.”

5. Go to the gym on a regular basis. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, 30 minutes of exercise a day can prevent weight gain and offer maximum health benefits.

6. Moderate your alcohol use. That one’s easy!

7. Visualize achieving your goal. “Visualizing helps slow you down,” says Jeff Davidson, author ofSimpler Living.

8. Maintain good posture. “Sit up in your chair with a tall spine,” says Gavin McKay, fitness instructor at Philadelphia-based Fusion Cross Training. “No lying down or slumping back in your chair.”

9. Go for a walk. “Clear your mind by using walking meditation,” says Todd Scott, fitness instructor at Platoon Fitness,Bryn Mawr, Pa. “As you find yourself drifting back toward little details, let it pass,” says Scott.

10. Talk out your feelings. Venting your concerns can do wonders for the stressed-out soul.

11. Ask for help. Take advantage of your college or employee health center, which normally offers a number of free or low-cost sessions with a therapist.

12. Don’t multitask. “If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or stressed, allow yourself to concentrate on the task at hand,” says Davidson.

13. Take a mental vacation. Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D. who practices in Wexford, Penn. recommends taking a break by allowing your mind to drift towards a place you’d like to visit.

14. Attempt pilates. “I love doing Pilates videos in the privacy of my own room, or at a studio,” says Ariela Rose, a Pilates Group Fitness Leader at Vigor Works in Philadelphia.

15. Hang out with friends. “I like to de-stress by hanging out with my friends in their dorms,” says Ali Greenman, a senior studying human communications at Shippensburg University, Shippensburg, PA.

16. Pet an animal. A study by the Journal of American College Health found that a pet therapy program could temporarily fill the absence of previous support systems.

17. Volunteer. Doing something for someone else can improve your self-esteem and impact someone else’s life.

18. Take frequent breaks. “You work better when you’re refreshed,” says Jeannette Samanen, Ph.D. who practices in Philadelphia

19. Eliminate background distractions. Davidson recommends turning off electronic devices when you’re working to help reduce distractions.

20. Slow down. Take time out for yourself. The work will still be there when you get back.

21. Stop smoking. Smoking can have an adverse effect on your health.

22. Even happy events can be stressful. Holidays can be nerve-racking. Reduce anxiety by planning for the holiday weeks in advance.

23. Join a support group. There’s no shame in asking for extra help.

24. Work to resolve conflicts with other people. Learn how to communicate more clearly with people whose personality traits differ from yours.

For the remaining 79 tips go to: http://www.spabeautyschools.com/article/v/10015/serenity-now-103-ways-de-stress/