Outreach: Declutter Your Space, Clear Your Mind

Professional organizers and therapists alike are touting the power of tidying, or “redding up,” as we locals might say. When Late Show host Stephen Colbert asked organizing consultant Marie Kondo why she’s so popular with her American audience, she replied, “I think it’s because we not only have clutter in our homes, but we also have clutter in our hearts.”

Kondo’s advice is simple in theory; keep only the things that bring us joy. The KonMari method prescribes more than just simple organizational habits. It recommends paring down, getting precise about what to hold onto, and where to store it; in doing this, we find peace and clarity.

According to Sally Augustin, Ph.D., an environmental psychologist and author, “Seeing clutter all around us is mentally exhausting and makes us feel tense. The more clutter, the harder we have to work to scan and sort through our surroundings in order to find what we’re looking for or do what we have planned, and that can be stressful.”

Perhaps there is more to it than being able to locate our personal items more easily. There is actual evidence to support that an organized, clean space can improve our thinking! A study of 80 people at the University of Navarra, Spain, found that participants made more mistakes when undertaking a data-inputting task in a messy environment compared to a tidy one.

Research also shows that physical clutter affects our brain’s information processing system. Princeton neuroscientists found that physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in a drop in performance and a spike in stress. UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) research explored the relationship between 32 families and the thousands of objects in their homes, concluding that clutter has a strong effect on mood and self-esteem. The study found the amount of stress the families experienced at home was directly proportional to the amount of stuff they owned.

All this from organizing a few boxes and taking charge of our physical space? Do not underestimate the power in this process! Notice yourself in a clean vs. a cluttered space—are you clearer and more focused when you have order? A cluttered mind lends itself to restlessness and chaos; which adds to one’s level of overall stress.

Ultimately, decluttering is a step toward creating space that is more open physically and mentally; a sharpening process promoting a sense of confidence and competence. Even a task as seemingly simple as decluttering our environment leads to a surge in efficacy; we feel über competent, which lifts mood and increases self-esteem.

Time to engage your family in a fun experiment, as spring is nearly upon us! Take control of your spaces and bring order to both your physical and emotional worlds:


Create realistic, actionable goals.

Start small—focus on one room at a time, one area of the room at a time, one surface at a time.

Establish a good a.m. and p.m. ritual to support the efforts.

Once tidied, commit to the “one in one out” rule—if you buy something new, when possible, rid yourself of something old.

Keep everything in its newly designated space.

Delegate! Harness the power of the family team.

Have fun finding what sparks your joy!

Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer programs to youth age 5 to 21, parents and families, in a welcoming, supportive environment. www.outreachteen.org. 412-561-5405. This column is partially underwritten by the Mt. Lebanon Police Association.