There Is No Place Like Home. This quote by L. Frank Baum has never been truer than it is now. For the past six months we have literally not had any other place to go and, as a result, we all have gotten to know our homes more intimately than ever before. And some of us don’t like what we have discovered. What once felt like home – a good place to crash and watch TV after a stressful commute and a long day at the office – now feels awkwardly taxing and even confining. What happened?
The recipe is quite straightforward. Both adults working from home and the kids not going to school can create an enormous amount of tension and stress in the home. Even couples with no kids have had to navigate a new way of sharing space physically, mentally and emotionally.
One of the biggest results visible from this adjustment is the amount of clutter in the home. Many studies have already been performed showing the connection between clutter and health. Below, first I’m going to touch upon the inevitable link between our exterior space and our interior landscape, then I’ll list some of the discoveries of recent studies of how clutter can be damaging to our health. I’ll leave you with some tips on how to bring more harmony to our homes during these days of Covid.
As Is Out, So Is In™
When we let this simple truth ring through us, we acknowledge that our surroundings and our inner world are inextricably connected. We shape our environment and our environment shapes us. We create the cluttered exterior reality that hinders our vitality and health and, equally true, we create a free-flowing physical environment, one that increases our overall wellbeing and supports us in living a vibrant, fulfilling life.
From the perspective of Feng Shui, a harmonious home has a proper balance of flow and containment. Energy flows through the space effortlessly and, as a result, we also move freely in the space. On the other hand, a home that has proper containment includes areas where this energy can settle, giving us a place to ground and feel “homey.” When these two are out of balance, flow turns into chaos and containment becomes congestion. Too much flow feels very unsettling and too much congestion makes us feel stuck, both emotionally and physically. According to Eastern medicine, the main cause of illness is stagnation in the body. We don’t get our houses in order purely for aesthetic reasons, but for health reasons as well.
How Clutter Can Affect Your Health?
Imagine being late to an important appointment and you can’t find your car keys. You know that if you don’t get there on time, you not only miss your appointment, but you have to pay for it. Even if you find your keys, you end up rushing out the door, putting yourself and others at risk while franticly driving to the appointment. The blast of the stress hormone cortisol rushing through your system has a cascade effect, causing you to feel more anxious and less present.
Surveys show that women claiming their homes were cluttered had high levels of cortisol throughout the day, while those women who described their homes as well organized and peaceful did not. The load of cooking, caring for kids, doing laundry, and running work meetings via zoom is already significant, taxing everyone involved. But choreograph this daily dance within the context of physical chaos and we have a perfect storm. The connection between clutter and stress is obvious.
Now imagine going through a pile of weeks or months of unopened mail and finding a letter that says your car insurance has been cancelled due to an unpaid bill. Or envision discovering that all the contents of your storage unit now belong to the self-storage company because of failure to pay. Good-bye unused stuff. This may be a blessing in disguise, maybe not.
3. FOCUS AND MEMORY ISSUES
Our minds can only handle so much. When there is too much stuff fighting for our attention, we can get overwhelmed and simply not be able to manage tasks that take focus, or remember things that need our attention.
Less stuff equals less surfaces equals easier cleaning leads to less allergies and better health. Especially if you have a pet, eliminating clutter can make a huge difference.
If our home is filled with stuff, we are less likely going to invite friends over. During the pandemic that is less of an issue but in a long run, a cluttered home can lead to isolation which then leads to depression and anxiety.
5. WEIGHT GAIN
Clutter is stagnant energy. So is extra weight in our bodies. This “energetic weight” in our living space may not only show up on our waist line but also in our ability to move freely – clutter is like frozen water in our joints, hindering our movement and lessening our ability to flow with life.
6. FIRE HAZARD
Clutter provides more fuel for the fire, also making it easier to initiate it. Also, it is much harder to rescue people from a burning house if the firemen need to jump over mountains of mess. This may seem like a very extreme example but here in California, not so. Unfortunately.
6 Things You Can Do Today To Harmonize Your Home
The truth is, no one knows when this is over. 2020 has proven to be a wild card, so my suggestion to you is to make changes to your living space starting now, not later. It is one of the best things you can do for the well being of yourself and your family.
Think of your home as the immune system. If you live beyond your means, in other words, accumulate stuff that you do not need, the vitality of your home gets weaker and therefor does not provide you the protection you need in the current unpredictable world climate.
Here’s how you can get started:
1. Have a family meeting. Hold it in the traditional “talking stick” manner, giving each member a chance to talk uninterrupted, while everyone else gives their undivided attention. Make sure to address the following: A. What is the most favorite thing about spending more time at home B. What is the least favorite part of it? C. What would make it better? D. Ideas about how to handle clutter. After each person has had a chance to talk, come up with an action plan. What needs to be done to address all the issues that came up? Schedule a follow up meeting and ideally hold these meetings regularly, even when the ideal results have been achieved.
2. Start with the front door. Make this a clutter-free zone and keep it like that at all times. This is where the Chi (energy) enters your home and you want to make sure it can do that, and not be blocked by piles of shoes, bags and papers. Have a console table and/or a shelf with hooks where you can place keys and hang your wallet, purse etc. Keep shoes in a closet or on a designated rack. A bench or a chair at the entry way is also a good idea. This will create a sense of arrival and provide a moment of pause before entering the rest of the house.
3. Define how you want to use each space. If you have an exercise bike in the bedroom, it’s probably not serving the intention for that particular room, which is rest. Often the bike ends up as a clothing hanger. Look at each area through this same lens and give each room a purpose. It can be as simple as: rejuvenation, nourishment, togetherness, creativity, focus, play etc. You can be more creative with the names – make it fun and invite the whole family to contribute.
4. Trash bag tour. Take two big heavy-duty trash bags and walk through your entire home, placing trash or recyclable items in one of the bags, and things to donate to the other. Do not finish until the bags are full. There are approximately 300 000 items in an average American home, so be ensured that you will not end up with nothing. Even just after one tour you will notice the difference. And then commit to doing it weekly.
5. Organize. After purging, you want to make sure each item has a home. Any item that has no designated place in the house is called clutter. Simple as that.
6. Make it meaningful. Handpick items to each room that truly evoke meaning. Make the space yours. Imagine your home as an oasis, constantly nourishing and rejuvenating you, allowing you to feel held through these mad times. This world needs you now more than ever to be well. So let’s clean up the mess, shall we?