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Is clutter and disorganization hurting your health?

Organizing and de-cluttering your life is good for both your mind and your body. Clutter on the floor, in your filing cabinet and on your desk can wreak havoc on everything from your stress levels to the safety of your home.

Robin Raflo Hurtado, LCSW, a geriatric outpatient care coordinator at Piedmont Sixty Plus Services, explains how clutter can harm your health both physically and mentally, and shares four easy tips for getting organized.

Physical health benefits of organization:

  • Reduce your risk of a fall
  • Reduce the risk of fire in your home
  • Eliminate germs and prevent a pest problem
  • Make it easier to find medication, exercise gear, important documents, etc.

Mental health benefits of organization:

  • Increase your productivity and task performance
  • Decrease your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone

"When your environment is calm, serene, and organized, your mind has a tendency to follow suit," says Hurtado. "Sometimes people report feeling chronic restlessness (feeling like work never gets “done"), distracted because their senses are in overdrive to process their surroundings, and like time is being wasted (inability to find things, etc.)."

Signs disorganization is impacting your life

"Some clutter is normal and may be the byproduct of a high-functioning, well-engaged mind," she says. "The question to ask is whether it functions for you."

Here are a few signs clutter is seriously impacting your quality of life:

  • Piles start growing in height and number
  • You experience a fall or injury due to cluttered pathways
  • You have pest problems related to clutter
  • You isolate yourself or feel embarrassed to have loved ones visit your home
  • It impacts your ability to find necessary items, manage your finances, stay on top of your housekeeping, etc.  

Clutter can signal bigger health issues

Too much "stuff" can be a sign of a larger health issue.

"Excessive clutter and disorganization are often symptoms of a bigger health problem, such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), depression or obsessive compulsive disorder," says Hurtado. "If this is the case, the behavior needs to change versus the logistics of the home, like space or layout."

4 ways to get a handle on clutter

If you could use some organization in your life, try these simple tips from Hurtado:

  1. Use the three-box method. Label three cardboard boxes "trash," "donate" or "keep." Go through one cluttered area in your home at a time and place items in the appropriate box. Ask yourself if you have used it in recent months, if someone else could put it to better use or if you should relocate/rearrange it within your home. Aim for at least 12 items in each box.
  2. Streamline your wardrobe by season. Choose 10 to 15 interchangeable outfits for work and weekends. Consider donating or selling clothing that didn't make the cut, particularly if you haven't worn it in more than six months.
  3. Examine your home for overlooked storage spaces, such as behind the doors, over the doors, in cupboards and inside the fridge. Inexpensive hooks, hanging organizers and shelf organizers give you more storage options without taking up excess space.
  4. Purchase several bins in the same color from the dollar store to easily organize your mail, keys, wallet, bills and other paper clutter. Using the same colors can promote a sense of calm and organization.

"Remember, it's not an all-or-nothing process," she says. "Just tackling one small area at a time can help you feel better about your surroundings rather than feel overwhelmed that the entire home needs an overhaul."

Check out more mental health and wellness tips.

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