• Melissa Hills

Can physical clutter create mental stress?

Life is busy, the house is a mess, parenting is becoming overwhelming, you’re stressed and feel like everything is crashing down on you. When did life get so exhausting and hard? You struggle to keep up with daily tasks around the house, and your patience is wearing thin. When you walk in the front door after a long day at work or out doing errands, do you expect to find a peaceful retreat, or do you walk in to chaos?

I know for me I struggle to find the peace and calm in my house when that is exactly what I need. Now it could just be because I have 5 children, my pregnant-self is over-emotional and exhausted, and I’m trying to be the director of a very full house. They are perfectly legitimate reasons. We have seven people’s worth of stuff in our house. That’s seven times the number of shoes, books, clothing, toys, food, mess… It’s not easy.!! Clutter creeps in and things get to a point where it’s too overwhelming to deal with. I feel stressed and overwhelmed with so many things. The children’s behaviour rubs me the wrong way. I feel like I failed when my children tell me they have run out of clean socks or can’t find their school shoes. I get frustrated when it takes us 3 times as long to leave the house because we must search for things. That then transfers to physical exhaustion. Come the end of the day, I have no energy left to enjoy the evening; all I want to do is crash on the couch and recover. My husband gets the end drabs of me rather than the best. He feels stressed, I feel stressed.

I have noticed a very close correlation between the state of my house and the state of my mental health. It plays out differently for different people, and even in different stages of your life. For a while I was feeling anxious and like I wasn’t coping; for other times it came out as stress and frustration, and my children wore the brunt of it. Sometimes I ended up curling in a ball on my bed not being able to do anything more because I couldn’t deal with the mess. I had had enough!

So, this is what I did: I got rid of stuff. I decided that we were all too overwhelmed with the things we were trying to store in our home that we had no idea how to look after it all and keep it tidy. Why did we need 10-15 containers of toys when the children only played with one or two at a time, and always went back to their favourites? Why keep shelves full of children’s books when they kept being pulled out on to the floor just to find the several that get read repeatedly? Why spend a couple of minutes searching for the right cooking utensil among all the kitchen gadgets that you hardly use? Why cram a wardrobe full of clothes when you don’t wear half of them? Why have 10 colouring books, and endless amounts of pencils and papers when just a handful will do?

I started to notice small changes in my mental health. I felt a weight being lifted from my shoulders. I also noticed a change in my family: I wasn’t nagging my children as much to tidy up and I noticed some behavioural issues lessen. My husband wasn’t as stressed when he walked in the door after a day at work. We hadn’t done anything else other than let things go. I wasn’t suddenly a super-organised and tidy person. My children still didn’t put things away properly every time. The difference was our physical space was emptier. It meant belongs fit better in their homes. The visual clutter lessened as did our mental clutter. Looking around the rooms was visually more appealing, and that definitely helps create order and calm in our minds.

Have you heard of Marie Kondo? She is a professional tidier/organiser from Japan and is known around the world for the words ‘spark joy’. She works with people to organise their homes and to do it fully and completely – once! Not once a year, or a couple times a year. Her philosophy is to only keep in your home what sparks joy – what makes you feel good, and what you enjoy using. She has a show on Netflix called Tidying Up, and I encourage you to watch it if it interests you. The families/couples who go on to the show start off stressed, overwhelmed, and their relationships are feeling the tension. But as they go on this journey together to only keep what Sparks Joy, you can see the weight being taken from their shoulders; they look calmer and more at peace. By the end of the show there is a big difference between the before and after, but not just in their home, but also in the people. The only difference… they reduced their possessions. They didn’t change anything else. Coincidence? I think not.

In the last couple weeks my husband and I have made an intentional effort to work through our home and keep only the things that we find are useful and we enjoy having. We haven’t worked through everything – we’ve only just started – but we have already noticed a change in our family. We somehow are keeping things tidier and by the end of the day, I don’t feel so worn out. During the day, I feel more in control of things. In the mornings, my children are ready for school in time with no stress and frustration because they can’t find a certain item. That makes this 8-month pregnant women so happy!

There is more peace, calm, and enjoyment in our home. And for that, I am truly grateful.

A home with fewer possessions is: more spacious, more calming, and more focused on the people who live inside it.

Joshua Becker

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Philippians 1:6