Back in 2015, I published a collection of my previously published Psych Central pieces in an E-Book titled Coping With Life’s Clutter. Whether it’s relationship issues or introspective woes, I wanted this collection to be about life’s various stresses, and how we can try to deal with them to the best of our ability.
I recently had a job interview where the prospective employer perused my resume and asked about this very book. His eyes lit up as he inquired about the title and the meaning behind the content. He wanted to know if it’s a book about organization (after all, he was looking to hire an office assistant). I had to deflate his enthusiasm, unfortunately, and relay that contrary to the title, it’s not about coping with literal clutter. We then shared a laugh about the misinterpretation.
But, hmm. He was certainly onto something…
Coping with actual clutter, in my opinion, is just as pertinent. I can’t help but notice that when my space is tidy and clean, I feel better, emotionally. When there’s chaos and disarray in a room, I sometimes become tense; especially if I’m already feeling sensitive or stressed prior. The mess may as well be taunting me. It may as well be saying, “I know you may already have this other thing on your mind, but here I am to crowd your vicinity and perpetuate your discomfort even more!”
Research tends to support this premise. In Psychology Today’s 2016 article, “The Powerful Psychology Behind Cleanliness,” Ralph Ryback, M.D., discusses various studies that depict cleanliness in a positive light. For example, researchers in a 2010 study found that “women with cluttered homes expressed higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.” In 2011, Princeton University researchers concluded that clutter made it very challenging to focus on certain tasks at hand. According to this research, they found that the “visual cortex can be overwhelmed by task-irrelevant objects, making it hard to allocate attention and complete tasks efficiently.”
Ryback then offers the insightful rationale as to why humans crave organization on a deeper level.
“The human body is made up of tens of thousands of integrated biological and neurochemical systems, all of which are — yes — organized,” he says. “Many of our cells operate on strict schedules or circadian rhythms. Even at the atomic level, we are well-regulated and well-organized.”
He goes on to explain that perhaps we desire symmetry and balance and cleanliness to emulate the organizational systems within our own bodies. (Woah!)
I also realize that the physical act of putting clutter away, whether it’s back in its place or in the garbage (if that’s where it belongs), is allowing me to exert some semblance of control — even on a small scale. (Who else out there is a control freak like me?) And since there’s plenty of variables in life that are outside of our control (hey, that’s a chapter in “Coping With Life’s Clutter,” go figure), doing what we can, such as being proactive about cleanliness, helps to counter any stress we may be feeling from figurative clutter. (Wow. I’m marveling at how I’ve come full circle here.)
However, I would be remiss not to mention that I do know people who do not mind such clutter. They may not be distracted and put-off by its presence; they may even thrive in a chaotic space and operate quite efficiently.
But if you’re like me, and a decent-sized mess gets under your skin, maybe this blog post can provide more reasoning as to why; maybe it can be further incentive to try to de-clutter, too.
And needless to say, I’m not someone who would be classified as an extremely neat-oriented person, because I’m not highly organized on a day-to-day basis. And I’m not actually someone who finds the cleaning process to be an enjoyable one. But I do see that I can be affected by excess clutter, clearly, and I do see that maybe there really is a therapeutic purpose behind it all.
As it turns out, I’m beginning to hone in on the notion that coping with life’s literal clutter is truly beneficial to our emotional well-being, too.
Perhaps a sequel should be in order?