School is looming. The kids are cranky. You know you have to wean the minions from their summer schedule and somehow keep your cool.
The last thing on your mind is dealing with your own clutter.
But taking a little time now to get your own things more in order may go a long way toward reducing your own anxiety level — and your kids’ stress as well.
Those piles of chick lit stacked next to the bed and the towers of paper you plan to deal with “soon” are not just unsightly, they’re downright unhealthy. A 2012 UCLA study finds that levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, are higher in the saliva of women whose homes were cluttered versus those whose homes were described as “restorative.”
Searching for your keys in the clutter? Researchers at the University of Washington have found a direct link between stress and cognitive problems such as issues with memory.
And a 2012 study from the University of Wisconsin–Madison shows that stress actually interferes with the function of your prefrontal cortex — the part of your brain that plays a fundamental role in short-term memory. It turns out that the stress from owning all those items may actually be making it harder to remember where you put them!
The effects of stress don’t just land on you. In 2004, Harvard researchers found that high levels of anxiety in parents increase their children’s risk of developing asthma and allergies. What’s more, kids whose parents have clutter collections often keep their own messy mountains of junk lying around.
“If you are not organized yourself, don’t expect your kids to be,” says Kammie Lisenby, CEO of Seattle Organizing Experts.“You have to be the role model.”
The good news? No need to take a month off work to condense the chaos. Check out
our list for easy solutions to crazy clutter.
Kathryn Russell Selk is a Seattle-based freelance writer, public defender, mom and
cat herder who is working to make her clutter disappear.
Six ways to organize your house
1. Start small. Have a spot in your house where things seem to pile up? A basket with handles can make things look neater and give you an easy way to carry things to wherever they belong. Kammie Lisenby of Seattle Organizing Experts likes to use a basket with kids who tend to “dump and forget” their school stuff until the next day. You can have some fun with your child at the craft store letting them pick out the basket they want.
2. Grab 10. Set a timer for 10 minutes, grab a bag and find 10 things you don’t really need or want anymore. Make sure the bag goes out the door, though, because otherwise, things might migrate back to their original perch.
3. Involve the kids. Younger kids especially will like “helping” you straighten things up. “Delegate easier things to the kids,” says Denise Allan, a professional organizer and owner of the Bothell-based organizing firm Simplify with Denise. Those extra moments not spent feeding Fido can be used to sort through a drawer.
4. Think ahead. When you are shopping, ask yourself if you really have room for that 27th purse. “Closets should never be more than 80 percent full,” Allan recommends, and the same holds true for drawers. “You should have 20 percent ‘free’ so you can see what you have and things have room to move,” says Allan.
5. File it. Both Allan and Lisenby like setting up a file box for all of the art and other papers kids will accumulate throughout the year. Limiting yourself to one hanging folder per child per year gives you a “boundary,” says Allan, “setting the limit in advance of how much stuff you keep.” You can also keep a hanging folder for things you will need quickly and in the next few days, such as that 20-page list of school supplies you have to be able to find on your way out the door.
6. Call in a pro. You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get help from a professional organizer. Many offer “quickie” consultations of an hour to help you get going. Your local library is also likely to have lots of “fast” organizing tip books, such as Jamie Novak’s 1000 Best Quick and Easy Organizing Secrets. Just make sure any such books you bring home get read, not added to that stack next to the bed.