By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC
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The last couple of posts, we have discussed the impact of clutter on anxiety. That clutter is known for zapping motivation, throwing our sleep out of balance, and making it hard for our brains to focus on important things. In this post, we are going to explore things you can do to help organize that clutter and tame it once and for all.
How organization tools help manage mental health
It is no secret that an organized area impacts your brain in different ways:
- Decrease sensory input your brain is receiving
- Decrease the amount of cortisol coursing through your body (like a decrease of 40%)
- Improve your prefrontal cortex’s ability to focus and prioritize tasks
- Increase your ability to produce melatonin at night
These things, in turn, help decrease the amount of information your darn amygdala is receiving, decreasing the level of stress and anxiety you are facing. For our brains, staying organized just makes sense. But what if we don’t know how to get organized in the first place? What if there is no motivation to get organized? What if there is no time to do the organization we need? Never fear! This post is for you!
SMART goals and Routines Help!
I have written several posts now about the use of SMART goals in creating realistic routines. To recap this powerful acronym, SMART goals are:
- S – specific in nature
- M – measurable
- A – attainable and accessible to complete
- R – realistic
- T – have a timeline to complete them in
We know SMART goals help our brain get (and stay) motivated as there are little gifts of dopamine along the way as you complete the goal. SMART goals lend themselves to creating a healthy routine as you have outlined clear steps that help you achieve the goal. So if you set a SMART goal to be able to clean off your kitchen table, your brain will more likely be motivated to do so as it knows what it has to do to get that dopamine reward.
If you are like me, you forget anything that isn’t written down. Even if I have things in my calendar on my phone, chances are I will forget them. What makes paper planners so useful for people is your brain is remembering the information in three different ways:
- Your insula sends the date to your hippocampus as you are physically writing it down
- Your hippocampus reads the information as a way to tie to your memory
- You receive dopamine once you complete the written task to serve as a reward
Isn’t that awesome?! I think it is. Plus, you get the added dopamine dump when you cross things off in your planner! You get another feel-good neurotransmitter release whe nyou don’t forget what you need to to! Honestly, it is a win-win situation if you ask me.
If carry-around planners are not for you, wall planners or calendars are a great option for organizing your day (and the day of multiple family members). You still get the same effect as having a planner, but you can leave it in a space at home or work that you see often enough.
Organize Loose Papers
I don’t know about you guys, but there is one spot in my dining room that has become the catch-all for paperwork. Important school notices, bills, continuing education flyers, junk mail, and art projects all end up there. To avoid the stress and anxiety it causes me, I tend not to even look at that particular corner.
There is a reason that clutter increases anxiety. The insula (a.k.a. – the part of our brain that processes sensory information) is overwhelmed by the information it is taking in. As the prefrontal cortex is unsure about what information needs to be prioritized, it sends the signal to your darn amygdala that it is okay to be stressed and anxious in this case.
One way to help with this paper clutter is to set up a weekly routine to go through those papers and organize them into categories:
- Important bills that need to be paid
- School paperwork that needs attention
- documents important to your career/ house projects/ taxes etc.
- Things that can be tossed
If laundry gives you headaches, you are not alone. Not just is the insula to blame for this one, but so is your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is confused by how to problem-solve the clutter and color laying before you. There is science that proves the jumbled-up colors (especially reds and white) has been shown to increase blood pressure, respirations, and cortisol levels (Len Center, 2019).
Laundry organization can happen in many ways:
- Give everyone in your home a basket for their laundry
- Color coordinate baskets for loads of laundry (p.s. – green and blue colors decrease stress better than neon colors)
- Set up a regular weekly or daily routine to do one load at a time
- Make laundry a family chore (In my home, sorting laundry has become a game of learning colors with my 3 year-old)
Not going to lie, closets are my worst enemy. Things don’t stay hung up, shoes and toys clutter the bottom, and they seem to be the catch-all for all those random plastic bags. It drives me bonkers (it also drives your insula bonkers as well). By slowly cleaning out those closets, you can feel like the space is going to help keep your life less stressed.
I notoriously leave clothes in baskets. I have little time to fold them, and even less patience to put them away. The thing is, when you look at your organized clothes, you are decreasing stress, time to get your day started, and overall anxiety levels as you know where everything is. It is enough of a dopamine boost to help me keep my clothing organized each week.
Talk about a lot of helpful ways to start making organization fun! I’m so happy you are taking the steps to help decrease that clutter in your house and improving your mental health. Remember, taking small and manageable steps is the way to start!
- Herbert, Jeff (2021). 5 Surprising Benefits of Being Organized. Retrieved from 5 Surprising Benefits of Being Organized (selecthealth.org)
- Len Center (2019). How color can help you de-stress. Retrieved from How color can help you de-stress (medicalxpress.com)