Quarantine life has had one positive effect on my brain: it’s given me the opportunity to declutter my house and my life.
Decluttering has improved my mood and my eating habits, and it has decreased my stress level. Cleaning out clutter helps me move forward on many levels. Purging items I haven’t used, or are not likely to use, helps elevate my overall outlook.
The Science Behind Stress and Clutter
In a 2019 New York Times article entitled, “The Unbearable Heaviness of Clutter,” Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago, says, “Clutter is an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaos and disorderly living spaces.”
Ferrari’s research team found that clutter can negatively impact mental well-being, particularly in women. Additionally, among older adults, clutter problems were also associated with life dissatisfaction.
Research shows that our brains don’t respond well to disorder. Constant visual reminders that things are cluttered and disorganized reduces our ability to focus and drains our cognitive resources.
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According to experts in organizational behavior, a chronically cluttered home environment can lead to a constant low-grade “fight or flight” response, increasing our cortisol levels and making us feel stressed. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone best known for producing the “fight or flight” response. It works with parts of your brain to control mood, motivation, and fear.
What’s more, increased cortisol levels can disrupt a number of your body’s processes, and lead to things like:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Memory and concentration impairment
- Weight gain
That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with your life stressors, and eliminate them where possible. By keeping clutter around, you give your body a constant reaction to stress. Recognizing this and then taking steps to care for yourself both emotionally and physically helps you take steps toward a healthier life.
Clutter in the Kitchen
In a research study entitled, “Clutter Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments,” researchers from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab had 101 female undergraduate students participate in either a standard kitchen condition, or in a chaotic kitchen strewn with mail, newspapers, and unwashed dishes.
Participants were asked to recall a time when they felt in control, or a time when they felt out of control. They were then given an all-you-can-eat snack supply of cookies, crackers, and carrots. The researchers found that the women in the messy kitchen, who wrote about being out of control, ate twice as many calories from cookies than women who wrote about being out of control in the clean kitchen—an average of 103 (cookie) calories versus 61 (cookie) calories, respectively.
The study suggests that a chaotic environment can create a vulnerability to making unhealthy food choices, and that one’s mindset in a given environment can trigger—or buffer—against vulnerability.
Armed with this research, I decided to tackle my own kitchen.
Like all of us these days, I am trying to make fewer trips to the grocery store each week. I felt that having an organized kitchen before I went grocery shopping would help me feel more in control. I also have a habit of repurchasing items, especially spices and items I don’t use every day. I found that making a list of what I have and a list of what I need helps keep me focused.
Since my reorganization, I actually look forward to grocery shopping and returning home to my “new” kitchen. It really elevates my mood when I open my refrigerator, kitchen cabinets, or pantry and see everything in its place.
Declutter Your Kitchen, Make Healthier Choices
When we are better organized, we feel more productive, and we are able to rely on better coping strategies and spend less energy worrying about how to avoid certain habits or food choices. Organized cupboards and refrigerators don’t distract us and derail our attempts to eat better meals or snack on healthier options. I find that order helps keep me more motivated to do more food prep. In fact, sometimes it’s a pleasure rather than a chore.
If reorganizing your kitchen seems like a heavy lift right now, start small. If you are like me, and most people I know, completing a smaller task that heads in the same direction as you want to go can make you feel more energetic and ready to keep moving forward. Here are a few ideas:
- Try rearranging that “junk drawer” in the kitchen, the one that seems to accumulate everything that comes into the house.
- Clean off countertops, leaving only the things you use every day or that bring you joy.
- Toss out all expired dressings, sauces, or marinades. (While you’re at it, say goodbye to any condiments that don’t fit into your Nutritious Life, like sugar-laden or highly processed options.)
Listen, I know what it’s like to have a house that seems like it’s in disarray, but I also know you can take control of it and free up your mind to concentrate on what’s really important: Your good health.
I have a plan that will help you declutter your way to a nutritious life. Sign up for a free consultation, and we can discuss ways we can work together to get you back on the path to a nutritious life.