Last month we focused on the financial costs of clutter. Now, let’s consider some of the non-financial ways your clutter and overwhelm can cost you. It seems that many people can relate to this kind of cost – I know I can! I’ve noticed that when clients contact me for help it is almost always spurred by one of these factors, rather than the financial costs related to their clutter, even though that might be high as well. The costs we’ll talk about this month are related to people’s “pain point” – what finally promts them to take action and ask for help. Let’s consider just a few of the common ones.
Have you ever thought about the amount of lost time your clutter or disorganization is costing you? This includes time spent looking for lost items, cleaning, maintaining, and repairing your stuff, and of course time spent “trying to get organized” and finding a place for all of your stuff. Not to mention the time spent worrying about all of this!
This clutter-cost is closely related to Time. It’s hard to lose one without losing the other! I think of productivity as a measurable aspect of time. We may not be able to quantify exactly how much time we are losing due to our lack of organization (after all, think about all the minutes or hours that go by when we’re lost on Facebook, never to be seen again). But if you think about what you accomplished in the last hour, day, week, month, or year, you might notice that you were not as productive as you intended to be. And if you work outside the home, it is sometimes very obvious when your productivity drops. Even if you don’t notice it, it’s likely that your boss or clients will!
This is really the area that seems to be the most painful for people. Having your space overrun with clutter or being chronically disorganized can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety, fear, overwhelm, numbness, embarrassment, shame, decreased self-esteem, anger, and depression. Sometimes these feeling become completely paralyzing, but more often they present as a chronic underlying sense of something being “not quite right” with our lives.
For many people, their clutter and disorganization eventually affect their social lives and relationships. I have worked with several clients who do not feel comfortable inviting people into their homes because they are embarrassed by their clutter. If they do invite people over they won’t let them past the living room, and often spend days worrying about it or playing a marathon “clean-and-stash” game. For some people, their clutter is so overwhelming that they CAN’T have people over, because there is literally no place for them to sit or stand, there are no useable surfaces in the kitchen or living room, and sometimes even navigating in and out of the door is a challenge. While this may seem extreme (and it is), it is all on the same spectrum. Nobody sets off intending to become a hoarder or packrat – it’s a slippery slope. Another way the social costs of disorganization can manifest is that you don’t feel like being very social or going out with friends, because you’re just so stressed or depressed all the time. Your clutter has become ‘background noise’ in your mind, and you can’t escape it even when you’re physically away from it. I’ve also seen cases where people are chronically late for events, routinely cancel at the last minute, or their energy is just always chaotic – and their friends stop wanting to spend much time with them. These social costs can lead to a real and painful sense of isolation. And then there is the impact on your intimate and family relationships. The amount of stress, bickering, and outright fighting “sutff” can cause in a partnership is incredible. It can lead to serious relationship problems and even divorce/break-ups. And the impact it can have on kids in the home – well, that’s a different ball of wax altogether.
In some cases, clutter and overwhelm can manifest physically. In the extreme, it can lead to respiratory problems, allergies, and skin symptoms related to rodent infestations, excess pet hair and dander, etc. In less extreme cases, it can lead to loss of good sleep, decreased exercise (because you don’t have time, or you’re too stressed/depressed, or you don’t have room in your house for your home exercise routine) and poor diet (you have no room to cook and you end up eating out for most of your meals). Clutter and overwhelm can also worsen symptoms of underlying anxiety disorders, depression, ADD, etc. Chronic stress and overwhelm from any cause triggers a chain of stress hormones and biochemical reactions in our bodies that can lead to inflammation, weight gain, aches and pains, and other bad stuff.
Think about the five clutter-cost areas above, and whether you may be experiencing some of these costs in your own life. Are you losing valuable time, experiencing decreased productivity, or feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Are your relationships suffering? Are there any physical or health issues that might be related to, or worsened by, your chaotic life? What are one or two steps you could take right now, today, or this week to move in the right direction?
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