January Health and Wellness

Melissa Martin, Certified Pilates Instructor |

January is quite possibly my favorite month of the year. I love a fresh start and the winding down after a busy holiday season. If December is extravagant, indulgent, and loud, January is calm, quiet, and serene. This is usually the time when we evaluate ourselves and lives, and reflect on how we can improve all around. One of the most popular ways of doing this is by tackling the clutter in our homes.

It is hard to miss the impact that downsizing and organizing has recently had in our culture. Marie Kondo, with her best selling books and Netflix show, became an instant sensation across the US. People were throwing their things away in many loads of garbage bags. Minimalism, tiny houses, and sustainable living are now mainstream. My husband and I spent the majority of the last year, in addition to a recent push, downsizing, decluttering, and organizing our home once and for all. I’m talking everything but the kitchen sink. I can tell you from firsthand experience that the changes we noticed are not something we are alone in. In fact, research has a lot to say about our experience.

For starters, a cluttered and disorganized environment tends to create a cluttered and disorganized mind, making it very difficult to focus and concentrate. If you sit down to work at your desk and have to dig through a mountain of paperwork and spend a few minutes digging through your drawer for a missing item, you can see how easy it is to get off track with whatever task is at hand, then refocus and start again. in fact, it’s when we remove the excess and don’t have a million things competing for our attention that we feel we can actually breathe a little easier and relax a little more.

Interestingly, women are particularly affected by clutter. Research from a 2009 study out of UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) has shown that women who perceive their homes to be cluttered tend to have unhealthy patterns of cortisol levels. They will experience more stress and anxiety in their home as opposed to their male counterparts. This one I can personally attest to. Since working from home, I noticed a shift in my own self when we decluttered our home. I am so much more relaxed and focused and feel that I can unwind much easier at the end of the day.

Decluttering also saves you money. When you are no longer purchasing duplicate items for things you already have in your home but cannot find, those little purchases here and there will definitely add up. Also, now that our home is more minimalistic, I am very hesitant to continue bringing in more items to compete with the open, clear spaces that we have created. You’ll find that you are not nearly consuming as much because your desire for order will override the urge to buy more.

A recent study by St. Lawrence University in New York found that participants at risk of hoarding disorder slept worse than those who don’t have a lot of clutter. People who had more clutter also reported more sleep disturbances even in the daytime, showing that a messy room can affect your whole day, not just your night. When your brain has fewer things to process in your environment, it is much easier to mentally turn off and wind down for sleep. I was genuinely surprised to see this was one of the first areas to improve in my own life. I’m not staring at my laptop across the room thinking of all the different things I need to do the next day or the pile of laundry I have yet to fold and put away.

Ways You Can Get Started

One of the best ways to get started is with one room or one category of items at a time. Really assess and evaluate if what you have is truly serving you.

Pull everything out of whatever area you plan to start in- and I mean everything. Say you are organizing your bathroom drawers. Literally empty all contents onto the floor. Decide only what you want to keep, not necessarily what to get rid of. Only keep the things you absolutely use and love every single day. If you repeat this throughout your entire house, you will get rid of the majority of your belongings and will be left with only the things you truly love and use.

Favor multi-use products. Instead of having three different kitchen gadgets, invest in one that has multiple functions. For example, my husband and I donated our crockpot and rice maker in favor of an Instapot that will do it all. Having one appliance as opposed to three has greatly saved us space.

Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. There is a famous saying that we work many hours in jobs we hate to buy things we can’t afford to impress people that we don’t like. How true this can be! Instead of focusing on the next latest and greatest thing, frequently practicing gratitude is the antidote to this. Truly being content with what you have prevents us from the insatiable desire for more. Remember, if you live in a home with a roof over your head with indoor plumbing and running water, you are more wealthy than the majority of the world.

If you’re looking for further inspiration, consider hiring a professional organizer. I also recommend checking out the following books:

“The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo.

“The Home Edit” by Clea Shearer & Joanna Teplin.

I hope this helps inspire you to get started on your own decluttering journey. Few things have had a bigger impact than fully decluttering and organizing my home. Wishing you the best of luck and a clean slate this January!