Clutter Brain


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View from my kitchen window that inspired this blog post

During this past weekend, while many of you were off out, hopefully enjoying fun and games, I was at home confronting an almighty mountain of stuff that we, as a family, have been hoarding. The photo I have used to illustrate this week’s blog is just a snapshot of the clutter I had to deal with. I’d like to know how it makes you feel when you look at it. Would you feel overwhelmed at the thought of having to sort through it? Is the thought of it so unpleasant that you’d rather run a mile?

Sorting through it

My answer was a resounding yes to both of these questions. Luckily, I wasn’t alone and together with my husband we were able to make lighter work of it. When I stood at the kitchen sink this morning and looked out at a clear deck, straight across to the semi-blooming bougainvillea on the back fence, I felt a sense of relief wash over me. It made me realise how unsettled I had been feeling recently because of the clutter. While there are things happening in my life right now that could be perceived as unsettling, my brain feels better able to cope now I don’t have all that clutter clouding my vision.

With the taste of accomplishment still fresh in my mouth, I moved indoors and tackled the place where I endeavour to write every day. My desk was littered with a melange of tax returns, hand-creams, GP referral letters, bank statements, kids’ school reports, and essential oils that had dripped some of their scented contents onto a hard-drive lying idle beneath the pile. Somewhere beneath it was my actual writing material, i.e., a notebook and a pen. Hidden under the tax return I found my forgotten thesaurus. Then I had a eureka moment. What might seem glaringly obvious to others had remained obscure to me, that my disorderly desk was affecting my ability to focus on the job in hand. No wonder I kept checking my email and Facebook!

Link to procrastination

I was hanging out the washing the other day and wondering why I procrastinate so much. The washing could have waited, but I chose to distract myself with it rather than tackle a challenging scene in my book. I am beginning to see the link between procrastination and clutter. I’m not going to try and pick apart why we allow clutter to build up… that’s another story. But I am going to pick apart what the impact of hoarding is on our physical and emotional well-being. A study published in the US journal, Current Psychology, demonstrated how clutter can induce a physiological response in the form of increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. While cortisol has a role to play in the fight or flight response, long term exposure to high levels can cause all sorts of damage to the body’s regulatory systems. For example, it can damage cells in the hippocampus thus resulting in impaired learning. At my age, keeping my brain healthy is an absolute priority.  I cannot afford to allow cortisol to run amok in my bloodstream. High levels of cortisol are also associated with increased heart rate and blood pressure which is related to heart disease.  I’ve no doubt there are people who can thrive in chaos, but for me, I find that a visual distraction such as too much paperwork on my desk, or a messy room, affects my ability to focus. The lesson here is, while we might not realise it, clutter can lead to chaos and disorder in our lives. Because our brains thrive on order, the opposite is likely to induce stress. As a result, we become less productive, and more anxious.

Ageing and satisfaction

Another of the findings of the aforementioned study was the link between clutter and dissatisfaction with life among older adults. I can vouch for that. I know that I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my disorderly home, even though it isn’t always my doing. I have this expectation of my life being a simple, tidy one that a disorderly home cannot live up to. However unpleasant it might feel to sort through stuff such as the expensive trainers my kids hardly wore and quickly grew out of, the suits I once wore to work, it has to be done for the sake of my well-being. Thankfully, there is a sense of satisfaction to be had from donating items to charity shops, so that’s a win-win! I am reminded of the line from one of my favourite poems, Disiderata, ‘Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth’. Writing this piece today is bringing all sorts of things to mind regarding attachment and how many of us cling to things of the past in the hope that they might keep us in a familiar and safe place. But we must let go, move on and embrace the new. I made a huge decision recently to sell my house in London after owning if for 23 years. For as along as I’ve lived in Australia, (already a decade), the Victorian cottage has been causing me lots of headaches for it was crying out for some loving care. Trying to find reliable builders in London while you’re living so far away is no easy task, no matter how useful the internet might be. But I clung to the house as though it would keep me young, free and prosperous. I convinced myself that I would one day return to live there, as if where I am now is just temporary. Once I made the decision to dispose of it, I can’t tell you how much lighter I began to feel in my mind. I no longer have the responsibility hanging over my head and I feel more grounded in the present. I am here, and I am happy to be here.

Putting order back in our lives

While we all continue to live with uncertainty because of ongoing issues surrounding COVID-19, there is still much we can do ensure some harmony in our day-to day-lives. One of the most important things we can do is to strengthen our relationships with those people who bring light and love to our lives. Libby Sander, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Australia’s Bond University, did a research paper that looked at, among other things, the impact of our physical environment on our well-being and how it impacts on our relationships with others. As I’ve already alluded to, if our physical environment is in a state of disorder then the way we relate to others will be affected because of the impact the disorder has on our perceptions. This can manifest itself in the incorrect interpretation of the emotional expressions of the people around us. If I may use one of my favourite words here to illustrate a point – it could well be that we find ourselves feeling somewhat discombobulated by the chaos that surrounds us, thus impeding our ability to focus well on the people closest to us and what they might be feeling. I feel the word discombobulated comes to life when I use it in relation to clutter!

Sleep easy

In summary, living in an environment that is cluttered with too much stuff, much of which is surplus to requirements, clouds our perceptions, causes anxiety, increases stress levels, affects our ability to focus and can overwhelm us to the point where we spend more time procrastinating than doing what we know will ultimately fulfill us.  And another thing, sleeping in a cluttered space will have a definite impact on our quality of sleep. If piles of unsorted clothes, stacks of books, reams of paperwork and boxes of bric-a-brac are the last thing you see before you go to sleep, imagine what that does to the unconscious mind.

In my research for this piece, I came across Marie Kondo, author of New York Times bestseller and Netflix show, Tidying Up. I love how she says her goal is to help more people to ‘live a life that sparks.’ If you would like to read what she has to say about how you can transform your life by tidying your space, then follow this link

With all that said, I will leave you with the thought that our homes should be tidy enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy. Let’s not be too manic about it! Thanks for being here today.


Gill Kenny - the Writer & Blogger

About the author – Gill Kenny

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Through my blog, I aim to provide you with a place where you can feel valued by inviting you to share your journey too.  I will regularly have guest writers who wish to share their views or experiences on each topic. I am open to ideas and happy to cover any topics that interest you, so please feel free to share yours with me.

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Love, Gill x