Do so, and you may end up with something else that feels especially cleared:
“I feel liberated,” says Joyce Kelly, a Dallas real-estate agent who began simplifying her life a decade ago. For the last three years, she has lived in an apartment with minimal furnishings and nothing on the walls.
“It’s easier to quiet your mind. That results in a calmness of self and inner peace.”
In the big house where she once lived, plenty of photos hung on the walls; an abundance of furniture filled the rooms. When she owned a furniture store, she remembers standing in the homes of clients, looking at all that filled their rooms and thinking, “Who has to dust this?”
That, as well as a divorce, started her decluttering ball rolling. A diagnosis of a degenerative nerve disease four years ago further strengthened her resolve; she doesn’t want her children to one day have to go through a lifetime of her accumulations, she says.
Now, her furnishings consist of a bed, a dresser, a table for her computer, cooking equipment, triathlon training paraphernalia, two sewing machines and a chess set.
“I feel liberated, I do,” says Kelly. “I feel light. I’m a 56-year-old living like a runaway 16-year-old.”
Dallas organizational expert Amy Zepeda doesn’t encourage her clients to take quite that austere a step. But she knows most would be a lot more comfortable in their homes if they’d at least pare down.
“Mentally what happens is that you get rid of clutter you see, which also helps you get rid of clutter you can’t see, which is in your subconscious,” she says.
Often people call her and say they’re unable to relax in their homes. When she visits, she understands why: Every flat surface is covered with piles of some sort.
“People are coming from a highly structured environment — work — into an unstructured environment,” Zepeda says. “Instead of being able to relax, they feel they have to be doing something: ‘I have to file papers, do the dishes, put the kids’ notebooks away.’ They end up doing nothing because they don’t want to think about it.”
Seeing each item leads to a mental to-do list, says Denise Park, co-director and founder of the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas.
“Every object, every clutter, every piece of information will pique your attention,” Park says. “It’s a cue; everything is connected to something else.”
As a scientist, Park says she knows of no studies substantiating the link between an uncluttered house and an uncluttered mind. But as someone who accomplishes a lot at her apartment in Washington, D.C., because it’s void of the stuff she has at her home in Dallas, she doesn’t take that notion lightly.
“I don’t know if that’s true,” says Park. “But I would say that for some people, if clutter seems to activate a lot of unwanted ideas, information and thoughts, there’s a message there to you.”