on decluttering, well-being and happiness

September, 2015

The other day, visiting the home of a potential new client, I realised I always tell people that although there’s no academic research proving decluttering is good for health and well-being, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence. Professionally, I see it all the time - yes, some of my longer-term clients have lost weight, started exercising or changed their job/relationships – but more importantly they all feel better. Read the testimonials of any professional organiser to see the evidence (including my own). Here’s a small insight into my own observations, and a few pointers to some anecdotal research:

Gretchen Rubin wrote this great book on her one-year project to become happier. She did masses of research, preparation and planning. Guess what she did in chapter one? Yup, she had a jolly good sort out and got rid of loads of stuff she no longer needed.

Organised results don’t even need to be visible to make us feel better. I had a client who asked me for help with paper work. It involved opening a living room cupboard, taking out all the files and papers stuffed into it, going through each one, shredding most and organising the rest. It took more than one session, but each time we closed the cupboard doors on the half-sorted files we’d put back, she’d say that although she couldn’t see into the cupboard, just knowing it wasn’t the balagan (my favourite Hebrew word – it means chaotic or messy) it used to be made her feel lighter, happier and relieved.

When it is visible it’s amazing. It’s like standing in front of a piece of art or a landscape that makes us feel content, or arriving at our ideal holiday home. Imagine entering your home and not feeling tormented or nagged at and tired. I’m not sure we need research to tell us decluttering makes us happier – but you could always read Erica Buist’s recent article in the Guardian for a bit more evidence.

My accountability partner (see my next blog on her and what this means!) is hot on professional development. This is good, it means I watch Ted Talks and read about habits, critical voices, happiness, wellbeing, etc. All of it reinforces I’m in the right job. Interestingly Matt Killingsworth who must get the prize for ‘most data collected from broadest population’ discovered that we’re least happy when our minds wander. It helped me make sense of why clients employ people like me. I often hear stories of aborted attempts at decluttering alone due to lack of focus, boredom or the critical voice getting all naggy. It’s no wonder mine is such a growing profession. Part of our role is to motivate the client to stay focussed, and to make the process as fun as possible. So not only do you get to stop your mind from wandering (and thus be happier) you also get positive results – and thus feel happier!

"Dear Caroline, I just wanted to write to say a massive and heartfelt "thank you" for all your hard work in helping me sort out my flat. As you know, I had such a sense of complete overwhelm regarding all the junk I had accumulated, especially since the death of my mother, I didn't know where to start, and felt deeply ashamed of letting things, literally "get on top of me". I couldn't move for the piles of clothes, paper and general "stuff" that covered the floor entirely. It was deeply depressing and getting me down, yet I felt stuck and unable to tackle any of it on my own. "

- K, London N5

Read more testimonials