From TV series like Hoarders to the floating garbage island in the Pacific, clutter is everywhere — and it’s weighing us down. Not only is clutter having an extremely negative environmental impact, but it’s contributing to an already devastating mental health crisis.
More isn’t always better.
Living in clutter has been linked to depression and anxiety. It’s also been linked to a decreased sense of self-worth, unhealthy eating habits and poor focus. Clutter doesn’t just affect adults, either: Children who live in cluttered homes exhibit higher levels of distress.
The reason is simple: clutter clouds your mind, making it difficult to make the best choices and live your best life. Thankfully, those of us who want clear out the clutter don’t have to rent a dumpster right away. There are many other ways in which you can free yourself some the burden of stuff, without putting unnecessary stress on the planet — or yourself.
Reality Check: Your Connection to Clutter
Your life is not a reality TV show, and most of us aren’t going to have a compassionate therapist come in and help us through the decluttering process. In the absence of professional help, remember to be patient and kind with yourself while you declutter. It may be slower than you expected: while you logically understand your clutter is just ‘stuff’, it’s easy to form connections to these items because of what they represent. Safety, comfort, confidence: inanimate objects can call to mind happier times, and if we’re not in a good space, it’s easy to see why we’d cling to these items.
But of course, the clutter can also make us deeply unhappy. It’s a vicious circle, but one you can move out of with a little time, self-love, and by giving your old clutter a new purpose. It’s easier to let things go if you aren’t just throwing them away, but giving them to another, sometimes greater good.
1. Donate to Charity
This is the most obvious option. If you have good or gently used items, donate them to your local thrift store or charitable organization. Goodwill or the Salvation Army are the most common choices, but you aren’t limited to these. Habitat for Humanity is great for when you want to donate household furniture or building supplies. There are also donation bins and boxes that can be used for clothing and toys.
2. Give Back to the Community
Not all donations need to go to registered charities. You can also donate items to local community organizations and businesses. For instance, if you have an influx of toys your child has outgrown, consider giving them to a local police department. They usually have toys on hand for when children have to be brought in for various reasons.
Other ideas: give washable toys and books to doctors and dentists offices or daycares or schools. Just be sure to contact them to assure they actually want these items before you drop them off. You don’t want your clutter to become someone else’s problem.
Many of the items people throw away can be recycled. Eyeglasses, VHS cassettes, crayons, batteries, inhalers, running shoes, wine corks, mattress, holiday lights, hearing aids, keys, home renovation cast-offs — these are all things you can recycle. In many cases, the organizations that solicit these items for recycling will help you clear them out, either picking them up or facilitating shipping.
And another big one: clothing! Clothing is clogging landfills, but even clothing that is in rough shape can be sent to textile recycling.
4. Get Creative
Have boxes of drawings your children made for you when they were younger? Or your grandmother’s old, ratty recipe books with handwritten recipes? It’s hard to let these things go, even if they are taking up a ton of space. The good news is you can declutter without having to bid farewell to these treasures completely. Those recipe books? You can scan all the recipes to a USB and save them on your computer. Then, select some of your favourite recipes and mount them in your kitchen behind plexiglass for a brilliant and ingenious backsplash. Instead of keeping those recipes hidden away, you can showcase them — and keep your grandma in the kitchen with you, always.
You can take a similar tack with your kid’s drawings. Scan them all, and then pick a few favourites and make them into a beautiful collage you can hang in your family or rec room.
Feeling inspired? Of course you are! There’s no shame in having clutter. The only shame is in deciding to do nothing about it. Free your home, your mind. Put your clutter to good use and take back your life.