Your Clutter Is Killing You: Here’s How to Save a Life

Having clutter in your home is like a being in a bad relationship. There comes a time when you finally realize you’ve had enough — it’s time to stand up for yourself and move on. Easier said than done, right? Especially when you see that sweet, familiar face of clutter everywhere you turn. In fact, clutter can get so familiar after a while that not only do you stop noticing it — you sort of get attached to it.

If you’re brave enough to admit this is you, take heart. You’re certainly not alone. In the 2013 book Fast-Forward Family: Home, Work, and Relationships in Middle-Class America, researchers from UCLA shared the results of their three-year study of the homes of 32 middle-class, dual-income families in the Los Angeles area. One thing they discovered was “75 percent of the families in our study…have acquired so much stuff that they have shifted masses of household objects into garages and expelled one or all of their cars onto adjoining driveways and streets.”

And if that weren’t bad enough, there’s more: The researchers also found that clutter leads to elevated stress and, potentially, depression. It’s like what Tim Friemel at CityStash told me: “Considering the fact that Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, it’s a no-brainer that you should try to make your indoor spaces as welcoming, relaxed, and clutter-free as you possibly can.”

Here are some ideas for how to get this farewell party started — and how to keep it going the next morning:

Establish Strict Limitations

A good way to limit the amount of clutter that’s allowed into your home is to limit the amount of space where that clutter may peacefully exist. For example, limit your holiday decorations to whatever can fit inside a single box. Limit your video game collection to one shelf of the bookcase. Limit your number of jackets to a handful of hangers. Tell your clutter where it can and cannot go. Believe it or not, your clutter will listen and obey.

Clean for a Cause

As you gaze up at the musty mountaintops of old clothes and shoes you’ve collected since high school — okay, hoarded — think about how many needy people you could help by donating your wardrobe of yesteryear. If you need ideas for places that accept gently used items, check out Miss Minimalist’s helpful list of 101 places where your clutter can actually do some good.

After you’ve made some headway and feel motivated to keep giving things away, set a basket or box in the corner of a closet where you can quickly toss any items you decide to donate. Then add things to this box on a regular basis — say, five items a week. Make it a habit. Once that box is full, deliver the items to your charity of choice and repeat.

Don’t Leave Room for Maybes

When purging a cluttered spot in your home, make three piles of stuff: “Trash It,” “Donate It,” and “Keep It.” Your “Keep It” pile should obviously be your smallest one. And while you’re sorting, don’t give yourself more than five seconds to decide where something goes. Make a decision and stick with it. Your first instinct is almost always your best. Think of this purge as a mini-move — be brutal.

Stash Your Clutter

If your “Keep It” pile isn’t as diminutive as you’d like it to be, you might consider boxing it all up and stashing it away in a storage unit where it can no longer depress you or threaten your friends while you’re hanging out on a Saturday night. Any ol’ U-Haul unit will do; but if you’re looking for something a little more convenient, there are a number of companies that will pick up your loaded boxes and store them for you without you ever having to leave your home. One of these convenience storage companies I particularly love is CityStash. (Their blog is a great place to find decluttering tips, by the way). But the important thing is getting that clutter out, freeing up more space in your home, your mind, and your life — by whatever means necessary.

Reclaim Your Space

If you need even more motivation to pare down your possessions and toss stuff, try coming up with a new use for one of the cluttered spaces in your home. After all, the more excited you are about reclaiming a corner of the dining room (which, for some reason, is currently filled with mangled lawn furniture) and transforming it into a mini bar, the more likely you are to get started decluttering. Give yourself some motivation, for goodness’ sake. Make it worth your while.

So is it time to end your unhealthy relationship with your stuff? Yeah, probably. People say opposites attract. But in this case, clutter just attracts more clutter. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s definitely time to do something. And not to be overdramatic here, but if you don’t kill your clutter soon, your clutter might just kill you.

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