Don't be 'stuffocated': Here's how to declutter, discard without angst

  • Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 05, 2015 12:21 IST

A copy of Marie Kondo's bestselling 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing' lies buried among a pile of books I plan to read soon. It's been there since November. I also have it on Kindle, which makes it easier to read on the go. I still haven't read it.

Last week, I was gifted yet another copy by a considerate friend in whom I had confided my grand plans to organise my life and environment to reach a zen state of tranquility. Instead making me methodical and calm, the book just added to my clutter and my stress over getting started.

It's not easy to let go of your possessions. It's natural to hang on to mementoes and keep some essentials at hand for future use. But many of us take this to an extreme, accumulating and hoarding things of little or no use that soon take over our personal space.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

* Lowers stress, improves mood
Several studies show that living and working in organised homes and workplaces improves mood, lowers stress and increases creativity. Clutter overwhelms the senses with extraneous stimuli that make you feel stressed and tired by reinforcing the feeling of having to deal with unfinished, endless work.

* Makes you active, healthier
People who take charge of their surroundings also tend to be more in control of their health, with studies showing tidier people are more active and are more likely to have a healthy weight. Clutter leads to dust and insects and rodent infestations, which trigger infections, allergies and diseases such as chronic obstructive lung diseases.

* Clutter adds to clutter
Clutter adds to clutter. It's well established that littered surroundings encourage more littering -- in India, it's not unusual to spot people spitting at railway stations and bus depots, but it rarely happens at relatively cleaner airports. A guest is less likely to leave magazines and newspapers on the floor if you don't do it.

* How to clean up your act
For many, more than nostalgia, the big barrier against cleaning up is laziness. Most people would rather spend my weekend relaxing than tidying up closets and rearranging bookshelves, little realising that this often adds to stress in the following weeks.

My mum's spring-cleaning advice was simple: clothes and possessions that you haven't used over the past one year should be given away. Instead of getting angsty over what to keep and what to get rid of, ask yourself what you need and you cannot do without.

* Categorise and clear up
Kondo's method of organisation involves a transformative one-off overhaul instead of weekly cleaning up. She suggests tackling clutter by subject and starting with the easiest things to part with -- clothes, followed by books, documents, miscellany and, the most difficult, mementos and photos (which my organised friends have scanned and cataloged on cloud).

Both advice work for me. Without going though Kondo's recommended lovingly touching and thanking my possessions before giving them away, I can quite see myself attacking bookshelves and closets once a year to give away stuff instead of struggling to clean up through the year. And mum's method allows me to keep my lovingly preserved Asterix and DC Comics, which my son's friends enviously drool over.

* When clutter spells trouble
If your bookshelves and closets are bursting at the seams and you are still struggling to give things away, you could have a hoarding disorder, which affects 2% to 6% of adults in varying degrees. It's a psychiatric disorder, with brain imaging (fMRI) revealing that while deciding what to do with things that belonged to them, hoarders displayed more activity in two specific brain regions --the anterior cingulate cortex and insula -- involved in processing emotion.
Compared with healthy people and patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder, hoarders took longer to decide whether to keep or discard an object. They also displayed greater anxiety, indecisiveness and sadness while making the choice than the two other groups, reported Yale researchers in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

* Treating hoarding disorder
These results suggest that hoarders lack the ability to make relative judgments about their own possessions, which makes simple decisions about whether to keep or discard become absolutely overwhelming and aversive to them.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice to help the person better understand why he or she is hoarding, and to improve decision making, organisational, and problem-solving skills. CBT can be done one-on-one with a therapist or in a group.

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