Chaos is powerful, and we are just tired mortals who’ve had a hard week. Here’s why it’s worth it, and 6 ways to make tidying up a habit.
Working in psychiatry, I’ll sometimes visit a patient’s home if we have concerns about them. Walking in the front door I immediately get a sense of their mental state. Primarily, I assess for clutter.
If their house is tidy, I’ll have less concern about their ability to function. Tidying requires motivation, discipline, and careful decision-making of where items should go. If the house is a cluttered mess, it prompts further investigation.
Our mental state can affect how we manage our environment. When work or social commitments fill every waking minute, our living space may turn into a chaotic mess that reflects our cluttered mind. Personality influences how we manage our environment too. Some need obsessive orderliness, while others are less bothered by clutter.
But our environment can also affect our mental state. When your apartment gets cluttered, it creates mental tension; a feeling of unease that things aren’t as they should be. The brain has to work harder when it carries out activities. It must try and remember where we put things, and if it can’t remember, it must go looking for them.
This happens repeatedly, consuming energy and causing stress. Clutter gets stacked on clutter, and soon you can’t find anything. The idea of having to find something now creates anxiety that is countered with procrastination, and your productivity suffers. When your ability to carry out basic tasks like charging your laptop is hindered because you don’t have a clue where your charger is, you’re in trouble.
Aside from being unable to find things, clutter interferes with our attention in other ways. When multiple stimuli in your visual field compete for your attention, your brain has to work harder to stay focused. This consumes precious working memory, the same cognitive resource necessary to perform any mental task.
When we have the time and energy (and the mental faculties), we shape our environment according to our needs. We create spaces for specific activities and arrange items in a manner that makes these activities easier to carry out. Arranging your office is to project the intention “here, I will work”.
You proceed to lay out every item in a way that enhances your ability to work. The same applies to all living spaces. A tidy office makes working easier. A tidy kitchen makes cooking easier. A tidy garage makes parking the car easier. And a tidy living space makes life easier.
But there is an invisible force that is forever trying to disrupt this order. From tiny molecules to your cluttered living space, the universe tends towards chaos. When we tidy we apply order to the chaos and feel calmer as a result. But all too often we lack the time, energy, and motivation required. Chaos is powerful, and we are just tired mortals who’ve had a hard week. We all know how to tidy up, but sustaining order while managing all of life’s other priorities is challenging.
If you’ve had enough of the endless cycles of building clutter and intensive tidying, this article is for you. If you treasure your clarity of mind and find the clutter around you interferes with your focus, read on. And if you’re the type of person who tends to shove things in the nearest drawer, either because you’re too busy or can’t be bothered to put it back where it belongs — these tips are for you, kindred spirit.