Clutter and stress, and my father’s joy

Many of you will be familiar with the current trends of Kon Mari’ing your belongings, minimalizing your space, and Feng Shui’ing your way to a stress free environment.

I wanted to know if there is any science behind all of this.

The short answer is that there have been studies done that have made a connection with the health, both physical and mental, of people and the cleanliness of their homes. No, not related to whether they were ingesting vile stuff off dirty dishes. Not going to quote them all here. You have Google for that. 

I grew up in a relatively clean and uncluttered home. My father was a craftsman, a carpenter. He had tons of tools. Every tool had its own home. And his mantra was that you put everything away after you finished using it. And, it had to go to its designated space. 

That was a great habit he had and it was necessary for his craft, his job. 

He once built me a tool board: a pegboard with hooks and the outline of each tool painted on it. That may sound way out there but once I had that, I never mislaid a tool again. I have moved houses since then and no longer have that pegboard. My tools are now in large bins. The other day my son and I were looking for a tool and I had to go through each of the four large storage bins to find it. I am considering buying a pegboard and some black paint.

He was also great at throwing stuff out. Several times over the years my mother would lament that he had thrown something out that she had plans for. He would just mumble something about “crap and junk and who needs it” and that would be the end of it.

My first coaching mentor introduced me to the Recticular Activating System (RAS) in our brain.  The way he explained it to me was that the RAS, as it is called, keeps track of what is important for you. When your place is messy and busy, your RAS is keeping track of all of that stuff that lies around. If there are items in there that require action, your RAS is busy keeping it on your mental  to do list. This is tiring and contributes to stress. 

When you are in a clutter free environment, there is not much visually that is going to stimulate the RAS. It is similar to David Allen’s and Stephen Covey’s and many since then, systems for keeping track of what you need to get done. Get it out of your head and onto paper so your RAS can take a break. This is why unfinished business and projects are a mental drain – your RAS pipes up regularly with: gotta file your taxes! That oil needs changing in the car! etc. 

Keeping your place free of clutter and everything in its place, lessens your mental stress, and benefits your physical health too. 

My father used to whistle while he worked – something I marvelled at – I think he had figured out for himself what brought him joy. 

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