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Science of Decluttering

One day you wake up and decide you will declutter your environment.

There is a high chance you'll jump into it with sheer enthusiasm, but the minute you start to organize your surroundings, the surging wave of motivation and the will to change crashes soon enough.

By the end of the day, you are left with a more cluttered house and a sharp ache in your head.

Decluttering is indeed exhausting. If given the choice to cook an elaborate meal for four rather than cleaning the kitchen, most of us might choose cooking.


Clutter affects us more than we think it could. It makes things more chaotic and stressful than they are. Decluttering can be an overwhelming feeling that leads to more chaos and avoidance of clearing the clutter. So, you choose to steer clear rather than fix it.

It sure is a vicious cycle, but there is a way out.


Let's first understand the 'Science of Decluttering.'

Understanding the psychological, emotional, and cognitive impacts of clutter on individuals and their living or working spaces is the basis of the science of decluttering. Acknowledging this enables us to find effective strategies for decluttering and maintaining a systemized environment.


Lenore Brooks, a professional designer, rightly said that decluttering isn't condemning clutter and getting rid of it. It is choosing what we need or want in a given place.

Decluttering is making decisions to keep or throw things in a short period. A cluttered space can lead to decision fatigue (aka the headache), where the number of items and choices becomes mentally taxing. Individuals may struggle to make decisions. Regarding what to keep, discard, and where to store things. Clutter also leads to cognitive overload. Difficulty in concentrating and reduced ability to focus on tasks. One's self of control also erodes when populated by the chaos that takes over their environment.


Seeing others having 'perfectly organized' houses and comparing ours can tamper our spirit to handle the clutter of our own. Aesthetically pleasing houses/ workspaces are inspiring but can lead to work paralysis. You might have so many ideas to implement or be pressurized to create the 'perfect/mess-free image of your surrounding that it might allow you to do nothing.


Soon you start living with the mess as it is. This is clutter in stasis- a category where you shuttle off things from one place to another. Remember the pile of clothes you never folded after doing the laundry? Yes, that has become a clutter of stasis. Sometimes things that fall under this category do not have a fixed place. Hence, it creates a mess everywhere else.

To resolve this issue, ask yourself why the thing doesn't have a designated place. If it does have a business, why is it located somewhere else?

Another aspect hampering the decluttering process is our emotional attachment to things. The broken fridge magnets, drawings your 5-year-old neighbor made for you, a used notebook. All these are of no practical use, but the emotions and memories they carry stop us from letting go of them. Understanding this emotional attachment is necessary for the decluttering process.


The way out of this, you ask?

Take one step at a time.

(It is easier said than done, but we have to start somewhere, don't we?)

Rearranging your entire house in one go isn't easy. Pick a room of your choice and start.


a. A famous method to start decluttering is the KonMari Method, developed by Marie Kondo. You pick every item and ask yourself, does this "spark joy"? If yes, you keep it. If not, you thank it and let it go.


b. While doing so, pick boxes and label them as trash, sell/donate, and keep them. This enables you to categorize and boost quick decision-making.


c. If decluttering is overwhelming, choose the 30-day Minimalism Challenge. In this, pick out 1 item you don't need on day 1. On day 2, you pick out two you don't require anymore, and so on. It is time-consuming but can help you to settle into the process.


d. Times when you might unnecessarily accumulate things leading to a cluttered space, the One In One Out Rule could be for you. For each new item you bring, commit to removing one existing item. This maintains a balance preventing undue accumulation.


e. Our clutter can be roughly categorized into two types—chaos in Motion (CIM) and Clutter in Statis (CIS). CIM is what we see every day. You work around the things you need and use them on the go. CIS is created when the items you use aren't placed back in their place. They lay around, and you ignore them as required.

The 12-12-12 method could help solve this problem.

Here you pick 12 things to donate, 12 to throw away, and 12 to return to their proper place. This method is simple and can be repeated as needed.


f. If you're faced with the task of letting go of sentimental items, take photos of such things before letting them go to keep the memories.


g. Time-boxing is a helpful decluttering strategy. Set aside a specific amount of time each day to focus on decluttering, like 15 minutes or an hour. This prevents burnout and helps you make steady progress toward your goal.


Minimalistic lifestyle: Living minimally with only what you truly need and value can bring satisfaction and a sense of freedom.


Throughout your process of decluttering, the most important rule you need to follow is to ask yourself important questions like "Do I use this regularly?", "Is it still relevant?" and "Would I repurchase this today?"

These questions and other methods can help you maintain your environment in the long run.

To sum up, the science of decluttering acknowledges the interplay between psychology, neuroscience, and behavior when it comes to the impact of clutter on our lives. By understanding these factors, individuals can adopt effective strategies to declutter, improve their living or working spaces, and enhance their overall well-being.

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