Clearing out Clutter

Small steps lead to big effects on mental health

At the start of the new year, many people resolve to eliminate clutter and have an organized living space because clutter can have negative mental health effects.

“When our environment is cluttered, it can overwhelm our nervous system. It can be hard to feel motivated or take action,” explains Sara Vatore, a somatic experiencing practitioner, peak performance coach and the owner of Somasynthesis Studios. “We have a very strong freeze response that can feel like our body is shutting down.”

This is one of the many ways clutter can physically and mentally impact people’s lives.

“Clutter and mental health are intertwined in so many ways and impact so many lives differently,” explains Katelyn Prendergast, a licensed clinical social worker and the program director for Behavioral Health Network’s outpatient program in Easthampton. “Normalizing that for yourself will hopefully help to understand better why, inspire you to take a baby step, or encourage you to talk about it and ask for help.”

Typical mental health effects include anxiety, stress, depression, trouble sleeping and difficulty focusing. Physical symptoms can also increase allergy issues if a space becomes too cluttered to clean.

Although not everyone may find clutter bothersome, for those who do, it can exacerbate existing negative feelings.

“If you already experience mental health issues, clutter can worsen those symptoms and add on embarrassment, sadness, and isolation, too,” says Katelyn.

“[This] will then start to generate more distress in our bodies,” adds Sara. “The more distressed we feel, the more negative thoughts we will have.”

According to Sara and Katelyn, certain conditions and life events can also make the clutter and the ability to clear it more difficult. Those with ADHD already struggle with focus and organization. Any trauma, grief or major life changes can also affect where a person focuses their energy.

“We often wait for things to settle down or say we will do things once we get through the stressful period, but this can pile up,” notes Katelyn. “To a degree, giving yourself a break is good, but you must be careful with how long that goes on.”

A great way to tackle the clutter is to start small and try to stay consistent with that. Spending 30 minutes each day or cleaning out one small space a day can seem slow at the beginning, but it will limit the feeling of being overwhelmed that can come with it.

“Try to tell yourself it is okay to tidy up for a half hour and be done, or whatever timeframe you can commit to. Making it reasonable and doable will make it likelier to accomplish,” explains Katelyn. “Ask a friend or family member to help. This can be tough if you feel embarrassed about the space, but a great way to make an overwhelming task feel more doable is to do it with someone who will make it more fun and motivate you.”

“Small steps stack up to make big changes,” notes Sara. “Carving out a set time regularly to work on taking care of the clutter and sticking to the set time is a way to start to see actual progress in your spaces."

For more information about Sara's practice, visit SaraVatore.com. To set up an appointment with Katelyn, call 413.372.9826.


Small steps stack up to make big changes.

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