We have always talked about how decluttering is good for the soul, but it turns out it really influences our brains. We often use cleaning and straightening up to get out of a funk or to de-fuzz our minds. It gives us a sense of accomplishment. We know our brains do better processing in a clean and organized space. We love an area that’s predictable and calm. But science shows there is a psychological effect as we live longer in the clean space.
Decluttering can also help you to let go of certain possessions that may be holding you back. After one day of cleaning, you may feel a range of emotions. You may feel sad at first when giving up some possessions, but this will pass. Then relief and invigoration sets in. You will feel energized as you work. You feel a sense of accomplishment and mastery. Just looking at a messy environment raises our cortisol level, the stress hormone. So, the effects are physiological as well.
After a week or so, you will likely be looking for your next decluttering or organizing project. These things really build upon themselves. Your brain will be looking again for that rush of accomplishment felt the first time. Of course, there can be a few pitfalls like forgetting where you put something, but that is minor. You will have a new narrative, a fresh positivity. I am not a mess; I am clean and organized.
After a while, say 3 months or so, you will feel less stressed, more in control, and less overwhelmed. You will feel empowered. You will realize that often the anticipated difficulty of the task can be quite different than the reality of actually doing the work. The sense of competence can have a positive effect on other areas of your life. Give it a try.
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH AND DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO