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How de-cluttering calms the mind

Organising the home and getting rid of excess stuff not only sparks joy, it also helps us focus better

Cluttered surroundings have a deep impact on not just the physical but also on the mental and emotional well-being of a person (Unsplash)

Ever experienced the urge to start cleaning your desk, your room, the seldom-visited corner of the bathroom just when you have a deadline staring you in the face? It’s probably more than a procrastination tactic — studies have shown that cleaning, decluttering and organizing the space around you have a calming effect on the mind that allows you to focus better on the task at hand.

Over the past year, as the pandemic forced all of us to spend more time indoors than we did in years, our relationship with our homes and the physical objects that surround us have also changed. We have been forced to pay more attention to the home — it’s not just the place we come to after a day spent outdoors but our entire world. It’s akin to being in a permanent ‘nesting’ mode — the so-called state that expectant mothers go into just before delivery when they convert their immediate surroundings to be the most comfortable space for a baby. Except now, we are all nesting — and a big part of this heightened attention is the urge to de-clutter and create more space.

Also read: How to grieve and heal during the pandemic

“As we continue to spend most of our time at home, many of us have also probably realised how much we hold on to… objects that have outlived their use or things we bought on a whim that have never been used. Our relationship with these objects, and the way we buy and consume, has also changed,” says Rohini Rajagopalan, a certified professional organiser and founder of Organise With Ease, a organising and de-cluttering service. Rajagopalan, who is conducting a ‘bootcamp’ to help people take control of their spaces, believes that the pandemic has provided us with a “huge reality check” in terms of taking stock of what we own, what we like to use, what we are holding on to, and why.

Rohini Rajagopalan
Rohini Rajagopalan

Organising queen Marie Kondo and her spectacularly successful KonMari Method of home organization may have brought these beliefs into focus — and given us handy verbal shortcuts to talk about our relationships with things we possess — but psychologists were studying the effects of clearing up much before Kondo emerged on the scene with her now-legendary ‘does this spark joy?’ question.

In 2010, researchers from the department of psychology at the University of California-Los Angeles conducted a study on the correlation between verbal descriptions of our homes and mood. The researchers surmised that the way people describe their homes may reflect whether their time at home feels restorative or stressful, and how this impacts the production of cortisol — the stress hormone — during a 24-hour period. They found that those with higher stressful home scores had increased depressed mood over the course of the day, whereas those with higher restorative home scores had decreased depressed mood over the day. Meanwhile, a 2011 study by Princeton University researchers found that cluttered spaces impact our ability to focus on a particular task. This is related to the visual cortex, which can become distracted and overwhelmed by objects not related to the task at hand.

“Cluttered surroundings or unorganized spaces have a deep impact on not just the physical but also on the mental and emotional well-being of a person. Studies have shown that physical clutter competes for your attention, decreases performance, reduces focus and increases stress. We seldom acknowledge the cause of our problems to be clutter and blame other factors to be obstacles in our life. To address these effects, it becomes essential to first declutter,” says Gayatri Gandhi, a Gurgaon-based KonMari consultant and founder of Joy Factory, a home organisation service.

Before and After photos of an a project by Gayatri Gandhi's Joy Factory
Before and After photos of an a project by Gayatri Gandhi's Joy Factory (Joy Factory)

Besides using the trademarked KonMari Method developed by Kondo, which encourages a way of life in which one retains things that ‘spark joy’ and discards those that don’t, Gandhi has developed her own system of organization taking inspiration from it. “The C2S2 approach developed by us aims to make the tidying process streamlined, effective and exciting. C2S2 stands for C-Collect, C-Choose, S-Scrap, S-Store, and is applied to every category, starting from clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items to sentimental items,” explains Gandhi. This is the workflow Joy Factory follows: Items pertaining to the same category are first collected at a central place to evaluate the volume of items owned. Then people are encouraged to ask the question, ‘Does it Spark Joy?’ so as to make an informed decision about what they will choose to keep. Items that will be let go of are then ‘acknowledged and thanked’ for the purpose they served — this step forms an essential part of the step ‘scrap’. And finally, they come to storing, which is imperative to the complete tidying journey. “Items must be stored such that they are visually appealing, easy to access and vertically stacked. It’s about giving each item its own home,” explains Gandhi.

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The pandemic and lockdown have also shown us that there’s no point in holding on to “nice things” for a future event — be it the best crockery which is reserved for guests who will visit our home maybe once a year, or our favourite perfumes which we hoard for a special occasion, says Rajagopalan. Keeping things around that we don’t use is like “living in the same house with a person with whom we don’t interact or even make eye-contact,” she says. “The uncertainty of this period has made us aware of living in the moment — using the good crockery to have your everyday lunch and dinner or using the expensive wine glasses to serve soft drinks to your children to make them feel special.”

Gandhi agrees. “The biggest change that I have seen is the realization amongst people to live each day to the fullest and not wait for ‘someday’ or ‘someone’ to make things happen,” she says.

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    31.05.2021 | 10:41 PM IST

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