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home : health : health November 19, 2018

10/23/2018 1:25:00 PM
The gift of letting go - moving toward simplicity
By Audry Van Houweling, PMHNP

The intersection between our emotional state and physical surroundings is clear. With a society that thrives on consumerism and being inundated with digital information (i.e. my personal inbox with about 3,000 emails), we can frequently find ourselves feeling overwhelmed, distracted, and overstimulated.

Certainly, there are aspects of our physical environment that are essential to emotional wellness as in safety and security. Additionally, however, our tendency to accumulate, update, and keep up with trends, can be exhausting as we have more "stuff" to oversee and maintain. Filtering information, switching between tasks, and maintaining a working memory can become difficult.

As we roll into the holiday season (I am still in a bit of denial), consumerism has been etched into our tradition. As we embark on gift-giving it may be worth considering the gifts of letting go, simplifying, and decluttering. I don't know about you, but I find a nice sense of satisfaction and relief during my Goodwill runs.

Studies have shown that in a physical environment of clutter, our stress hormones spike, our focus is often diverted, and productivity and creativity are hindered. Researchers have found that task completion and performance is significantly impacted when those tasks take place in an organized versus unorganized environment.

Clutter is in the eye of the beholder. While I am somewhat comfortable with my clothes strewn about the bedroom, it is a personal pet peeve of my husband's. My husband cannot stand the fact I have 3,000 personal emails in my inbox. If I am honest with myself however, while my clutter threshold may differ from my husband's, my brain space feels just a bit more abundant after an honest attempt at closet organization and pressing the delete button on those emails.

Perhaps it is hard to part with the idea that maybe, just maybe, you will need an item in the future, or the fact you spent a lot of money, or the sentimental value, or social expectations, or perhaps you just don't want to admit that it might have been a mistake buying something in the first it sticks around and clutter happens.

The vast majority of us would say stress is an inevitable part of our lives and many of us are dealing with our fair share. Organizing our physical environment can help to give us the head space and breathing room to confront stressors. It is important that we ask ourselves how much we are depending on "stuff" to fulfill emotional needs, fill voids, or maintain status.

Tips for reducing clutter

• Set limits

Make sure to read one book before you purchase another, do your laundry before buying new socks or underwear (you might be surprised that you have plenty), and ask yourself - do you really need that new designer purse when you have no less than 10 perfectly good purses at home? I know it feels sort of cool to amass Facebook friends or Instagram followers, but is your fan-fare creating unnecessary distraction? There can be freedom in saying no.


Maybe you don't need that walk-in closet. The more rooms, the more stuff you will need to "decorate." Minimize your storage space. Be OK with an empty wall, empty drawer, or empty cupboard. Be curious about and challenge your discomfort in having "less-than." Materialism does not have to be a badge of success or accomplishment.

• Conduct monthly inventories

Go through your closet on a regular basis. Is there anything you haven't worn in the past 12 months? Could somebody else benefit from something more than you are? Before going shopping, ask yourself what you need versus what you want versus what you think you should have because of what other people might think.

Live simply so that others may simply live. - Gandhi

Worth pondering.

Wishing you a bit less clutter, a bit more simplicity, and a season of contentment.

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