8 Ways Overcome Clutter Anxiety and Take Back Control of Your Life

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by the mess around you that you could barely breathe?

You’re not alone.

Living in a constant state of chaos and disorganization causes anxiety, inability to focus, and significant loss of productivity. Numerous scientific studies show that clutter is bad for you, both physically and mentally, yet millions of us continue to drown in a sea of our own possessions.

In fact, most of us live in houses so full of “stuff” that we’ve run out of places to put it. It’s the American way of life. Unfortunately, it may also be killing us.

The Dark Side of Clutter

A cluttered environment over-stimulates your brain, making it impossible to let go and relax. The physical stuff strewn around your home is a constant reminder of your uncompleted tasks. For many, this leads to feelings of shame and embarrassment. Our shame sometimes grows so strong that we choose to isolate themselves. We avoid unexpected drop-in guests at all costs for fear of exposing our unkept homes.

It’s not a far stretch to see how clutter-anxiety can quickly lead to depression. As the weight of our mess starts to take on a life of its own, we feel a loss of control. We doubt our ability to make it stop and often resign ourselves to a lifetime of physical chaos.

The Role of Emotional Attachment

Decluttering and minimizing your life is an emotionally draining process. Many of the items we have in our homes have sentimental value. We couldn’t imagine throwing away the pictures our children drew for us, ticket stubs from our first date, or souvenirs from our favorite vacation, so we keep them around even though they serve no purpose in our current lives.

Getting rid of items we perceive to have monetary value also creates feelings of guilt. We set them aside for later, thinking we’ll eventually sell them or give them to a friend at the perfect moment. Unfortunately, more often than not, our busy schedules take over and those items stay where we put them, a constant reminder of our inadequacy.

The truth is, we’re suffering not only from a cluttered environment but also from a cluttered state of mind. To escape the cycle, we must learn how to conquer both.

8 Simple Tips for Overcoming Clutter Anxiety

The eight steps for clearing clutter are simple, but they probably won’t be easy. After living in a state of chaos for most of our lives, it takes a serious effort to change the way we think. Only when we shift our mindset can we truly tackle our clutter and come out on top. Practice these steps consistently and you’ll begin empowering yourself to release your attachments and create the freedom you crave.

1. Understand That Organizing is Not the Answer

If you’ve tried organizing your stuff and failed, it’s no surprise. When you have too many material items, no amount of organizing will give you the space you need.

To truly find peace in your home, you must be able to easily access everything you own, and each item must have a designated storage place. This often means getting rid of possessions to make room for the things you’ve decided to keep. Although the process may be difficult, the results will pay off tenfold.

Having fewer items in your home will help you maintain a minimal level of cleanliness without undue effort. What’s more, you’ll be able to speed-clean your house when guests are on their way. No longer will you have to make up excuses to keep people out of your home. When you begin to realize that fewer possessions mean more freedom, it becomes easier to let go.

2. Start with the Obvious

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your mess, start with the most obvious problems. Do the dishes and take out the trash. A clear counter and freshly-wiped sink will help you feel in control and calm some of your stress. Commit to doing this every morning and evening and you’ll have removed at least one source of anxiety.

When it’s time to declutter, do so by type of item rather than by room. Pick up a trash bag and go from room to room, getting rid of any garbage that’s accumulated. Do the same with laundry, dishes, toys, shoes, and coats. Once the surface clutter is cleared, you’re better able to focus and create a plan for tackling the bigger projects.

3. Set a Time Limit

Thinking about tackling your entire mess at once is enough to create a paralyzing sense of overwhelm. Keep yourself calm by starting small. Ignore the bigger picture and instead focus on one single drawer or a corner of your desk.

Set a timer for 5 to 15 minutes and vow to keep going until the time is up. Don’t force yourself into anything more and don’t settle for anything less. Many times, you’ll have built up some momentum and will want to keep going. Take advantage of this and keep it up until you don’t feel like doing it anymore. On days that you’re just not feeling it, stop when the timer’s done and congratulate yourself for keeping your commitment.

4. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

When your home is overly-cluttered or in a state of disarray, it’s easy to fall into patterns of negative self-talk. Try not to place blame or focus too much on how things got the way they are. Instead, be proud of yourself for committing to a positive change.

When depression or anxiety hit, keeping this commitment can be a serious challenge. Your mind will start to tell you that don’t deserve a clean house, you’ll always be a slob, and it’s impossible to make a change. It’s up to you to recognize this as foolishness, shut down that destructive inner-dialogue, and re-frame your thoughts.

5. Pay Attention to How You Feel

Have you ever noticed that messes you didn’t even see when you woke up in the morning feel overwhelming by the end of the day? That’s because the longer we’re exposed to chaos, the more of an effect it has on our mental state. If you’re feeling irritable and edgy for no reason, look around at your environment. If your mess is causing stress, stop what you’re doing and clear one area in your immediate surroundings.

After a space is cleared, no matter how small, take the time to soak in the change. Notice how it makes you feel. Has your breathing slowed down? Do you feel calmer and more at peace? Acknowledging the connection between your mind, body, emotions, and environment is the first step towards mastering it.

6. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Make it a point each day to appreciate the way your efforts are improving your life. Is it easier to get ready for work? Do you spend less time searching for your shoes, keys, and phone? Are you feeling more patient with your spouse and kids? Find at least five reasons each day to feel good about the journey you’re on and write them down.

Keeping a gratitude journal helps foster a positive mental state, improves self-esteem, reduces stress, and will make you an overall happier person.

7. Reward Yourself

It seems counter-intuitive to reward yourself for clearing stuff by getting more stuff, but it may be just the motivation you need.

If you cleared out 10 pounds of old, crappy makeup, go out and buy one nice set of eyeshadow or some fresh mascara. Did you get rid of a whole closet full of clothes that no longer fit? Pick up a few flattering pieces to replace them.

A nice candle in a room you’ve finished organizing or a new pencil holder for your freshly-cleared desk are pleasant reminders of a job well done. Just be careful not to over-do it. Only purchase one or two items at a time, and make sure everything you buy has its own designated space.

8. Recognize the Power of the Ripple Effect

Don’t underestimate the power of consistency. One small task, repeated daily, will eventually lead to a complete overhaul of your entire life.

When you first start clearing, you might feel like you’re not making progress quickly enough. In fact, sometimes the mess gets worse before it gets better. Don’t dismay. The chaos didn’t happen overnight, so you can’t expect it to go away as soon as you decide to start decluttering. Start today, be consistent, and you’ll be well on your way to the organized, peaceful life you’ve always dreamed of.