I remember getting so excited several years ago when an article came out about a study that showed that a cluttered desk is a sign of creativity and intelligence. I’d finally been figured out!
My messy desk was just highlighting how brilliant and creative I am.
While I’ve found messes to be beneficial in some instances – for example, when I’m painting I spread all of my supplies out and keep them close at hand and easily accessible with no regard to tidiness – this doesn’t mean that we aren’t negatively affected by clutter in our daily lives.
Anxiety and Clutter
Clutter affects us in many ways that we may not even recognize and children living in cluttered environments are not immune to being affected by the impact of it.
When I originally started this site, one of its focuses was on simple living and minimalism. Those posts are still popular on the site, even after shifting the focus to helping children with anxiety.
But the reason I kept the posts up even after the shift isn’t because of pageviews. It’s because practicing minimalism and reducing anxiety go hand-in-hand.
Think about all the times you’ve spent helping your child look for shoes among a pile of toys and stuffed animals, or the tears shed when a favorite blanket was misplaced inside the house, or a permission slip didn’t get returned, or the embarrassment of being late to an event because the family schedule was crammed full of back-to-back or overlapping activities.
I probably don’t have to tell you that if you have an already anxious child, these situations are like throwing fuel on a fire.
The reality is that clutter contributes to anxiety in the following ways:
- Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.
- Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on.
- Clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
- Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.
- Clutter makes us anxious because we’re never sure what it’s going to take to get through to the bottom of the pile.
- Clutter creates feelings of guilt (“I should be more organized”) and embarrassment, especially when others unexpectedly drop by our homes or work spaces.
- Clutter inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brainstorm, and problem solve.
- Clutter frustrates us by preventing us from locating what we need quickly (e.g. files and paperwork lost in the “pile” or keys swallowed up by the clutter).
Children feel these things and they will absorb them just as much as we adults do – probably even more, because when they are young they already don’t feel as though they are in control of their surroundings. The tendency going forward as they grow will be for them to think clutter and chaos is the norm and not realize that there is another, less anxiety-ridden way.
Getting Started with Minimalism
One thing I want to be clear about: I’ve always stressed that minimalism looks different to everyone, and that it’s not that stuff is bad, but that our relationship with it and the way it affects our life can be. So don’t feel like you have to get rid of your smartphone and all but one pair of underwear, and move into a tiny house.
What may feel just right for paring down for you and your family may feel extreme for another. Also note that clutter doesn’t just manifest itself through physical means. Clutter can also be mental clutter.
Decide to give it a try — not by going on a tossing frenzy, but by working through what you have, and focusing on removing any clutter and getting things organized. It’s really easy to learn to overlook our messes, so try to step back and take a good honest look around your home with fresh eyes.
The key is to get organized and come up with a way that is simple for your family to be on board with.
Most of all, promise yourself to take it in small bites, and one bite at a time. Otherwise, it can, and will, feel very overwhelming. It’s this feeling of overwhelm and guilt that ends up making us throw our hands up in the air and not making changes.
That’s how the cycle of anxiety and clutter continues. I know the feeling; I’ve been there.
So be gentle with yourself.
In the upcoming weeks I’ll be sharing some tips for helping your child manage his clutter. Don’t be surprised when your child balks at the idea of getting rid of things. The key will be in knowing how to handle it and how to organize what you keep.
In the meantime: