By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Hands down, keeping your stress in check is one of the best ways to stay healthy and keep the good vibes flowing. The better we are at managing our worries, the more effective our bodies are at resting and repairing themselves, and at resisting disease.
When I raise the topic, I find that people’s attention usually goes straight to their biggest problems: illness, money problems, unhappy relationships, family tensions, and jobs they don’t enjoy.
In fact, I’d be willing to bet that yours just did, too!
It’s completely understandable why that happens. But when you consistently focus on the “big stuff” that’s stressing you out, it’s easy to overlook some of the smaller ways you can reduce stress and bring more balance into your life. In this article, I’m going to tell you about one that you may have never thought of: reducing the amount of clutter in your home.
How Decluttering Can Help Reduce Stress (and Maybe Even Blood Pressure)
Now, I know what you’re going to say…“Doc, I barely get enough rest as it is, and now you’re telling me I need to make sure everything gets cleaned and put away each night?”
Yes and no.
Having a home that Martha Stewart would envy isn’t the goal. That would be even more stressful, if you ask me!
The goal is to simplify your environment by (1) clearing out things that you no longer need or that no longer bring you joy, and (2) cleaning up the areas where things tend to get messy and disorganized. I’m lucky, in that my wife, Jan, is a bit of a “clean freak,” and quickly restores order in our lovely home when life brings a little craziness our way.
You see, all of our things have energy, just like we do. When that energy is chaotic, in disrepair, or stagnant, it adds to the feelings of overwhelm that we already have. As we clean up that energy, it reduces our overall stress load and helps us become more resilient in the face of those big problems.
Or as the late Louise Hay (who I was a huge fan of) used to say: “a cluttered closet could mean a cluttered mind.”
Cleaning up clutter can also help us protect against—
- Elevated cortisol levels
- Lack of sleep
- High blood pressure
- Insulin resistance and diabetes
- Kidney disease
- Lack of focus
- Feelings of guilt and inadequacy
If you want to take on the clutter in your home, here’s a suggestion: Instead of starting with a closet or spare bedroom, start in your kitchen.
Here’s why. One of the reasons it’s so hard to get clutter under control is because the items we hang on to tend to be emotionally charged somehow. Most of us, for example, have things that were given to us by loved ones, which we neither need, want, nor use. So why not give them away? Usually it’s because of our own sentimental attachment and/or guilt. Or, sometimes we accumulate clutter because of our own fear that if we give something away, we won’t have it when we need it.
These feelings can easily derail the entire process. The kitchen, on the other hand, is more impersonal. Plus it’s a great way to start cleaning up your diet at the same time you clean up your living space.
Target Low Vibrational Foods and Cookware
Your goal here is to get rid of anything that could lower your cell vibration once it’s eaten—so anything unnatural or that could be considered “toxic” to the body.
I’d begin with food items in the fridge, cupboards, and pantry. Toss out anything that’s expired, then anything with added sugar, chemical preservatives, artificial dyes, or flavor enhancers. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce it, pitch it. (This will take care of most boxed and processed foods, and probably a few cans, too.)
It’s a good idea to keep a shopping list as you go, too, so you’ll know what you need to replace with healthier, higher vibrational options.
Next, dive into your collection of pots, pans, bowls, utensils, and other containers. In addition to the items you don’t use anymore, cull things known to be potential health hazards, like Teflon coated pans and soft plastic containers. It’s okay to use some discretion, though, since replacing cookware can get pricey. If you can’t afford to swap out a full set of pots and pans, for example, start with the ones that are the most scratched and worn, and change the rest over time.
Tips for Maintaining Your Momentum
Since none of us has the time to declutter an entire house at all at once, it’s important to have a strategy for sustaining your effort.
Here’s where you’ll realize another benefit of having tackled the kitchen first. Now that you’re eating more whole, natural, foods—foods that are alive with energy and which have been prepared in a higher-vibrational space—you should feel more energy and focus. Build off these, and let them carry you forward.
Here are some more ways to help keep those good vibes going:
- Clean up another impersonal space, like a bathroom or cleaning closet. Not only are these spaces small—which allows you to make steady, incremental progress—they’re another prime opportunity to get rid of toxic, low-vibrational household and personal care products.
- Set achievable goals. Once you run out of small spaces, you’ll have to take on bigger and potentially more problematic areas, like bedrooms. Rather than trying to do the whole thing in a weekend, divide the room into smaller projects. Clean out a closet one weekend, and a dresser the next. In an office, make the desk one goal, the file cabinet another goal, and the bookshelf a third.
- Don’t forget about your car. For a lot of people, vehicles can be a sort of home away from home. Giving them a good cleaning can help reduce the stress of commuting, errands, and appointments.
- Look for ways to donate and recycle unwanted items. Sometimes the process of decluttering can actually increase stress and guilt over how much you’re throwing out. Instead of trashing it all, look for ways to recycle or reuse. Instead of sending old books to the landfill, contact your library about taking them, sell them to a secondhand bookstore, or recycle them. Donate good-condition clothes to charities. See if your local animal shelter could benefit from old towels and linens.
- Work with a friend. It’s always easier to spot unnecessary items in a friend or family member’s home than in your own, so buddy-up with someone who has the same goals you do. Start with one house, offering each other encouragement and support, then move on to the other.
- Seek support. Remember, you’re not alone in your goal to reduce clutter and stress. Find like-minded people in online support groups or in your community. For tips on simplifying the process, look for books at your local library (there are plenty of them out there!).
I hope by now that it’s clear how cleaning out your house can help you reduce stress, and that you feel inspired to start your own purge. It’s a small step, but it may be just what you need to finally get a leg up on that “big” problem, too.
- Carter SB. Why mess causes stress: 8 reasons, 8 remedies. Psychology Today. 14 Mar 2012. Accessed September 15, 2017.
- National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Why is sleep important? Accessed September 15, 2017.
- Randall M. The physiology of stress: Cortisol and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. 3 Feb 2011.
- Saxbe DE and Repetti R. No place like home: home tours correlate with daily patterns of mood and cortisol. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2010 Jan;36(1):71–81.
- National Sleep Foundation. Bedroom poll summary of findings. 2010. Accessed September 15, 2017.
© Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.