It’s one of the most common New Year’s resolutions of them all: This year, I will become more organized. You invest in a planner (maybe it’s even color-coded), you wrangle your email until you hit inbox zero (a dream, truly), you organize your closet until it’s spick and span, nary a stray scarf in sight.
If this image makes you sigh in relief, well, you’re not alone: As happiness expert and New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin tells us on the mindbodygreen podcast, this common resolution can actually spark feel-good brain waves and ultimately make you happier. Below, she explains how decluttering can benefit your brain health.
How clearing clutter can benefit your brain health.
It’s simple: People tend to declutter as a means of control. “There’s a lot of research showing that people have been clearing clutter a lot [during the pandemic], partly because they need the space in their homes but also so they feel like they’re more in control of their environments,” says Rubin. In fact, an article in the Washington Post calls it the great decluttering of 2020. “I can’t control my schedule, but I can control my coat closet,” Rubin adds. “And that can make me feel better.”
Plus, clearing your outside environment of clutter can help your mind feel more at ease. Think about it: Doesn’t it feel oh-so calming to look at a freshly organized fridge or immaculately arranged closet? (No? Just me?) “The more cluttered my mind, the more peace I feel when my environment is harmonious,” functional medicine doctor Karyn Shanks, M.D., previously wrote for mbg. “I feel less stressed when I pick up, clean off, put away (neatly), and get rid of what’s no longer necessary—in the trash, the recycling, or a donation box.”
On the flip side, mountains of clutter can interfere with mental health as well: One 2017 study found that feeling overwhelmed by excessive possessions was associated with high procrastination scores. Another study found that participants who had higher stressful home scores (which include clutter and a sense of the home as unfinished) had increased levels of cortisol during the day.
Of course, making the New Year’s resolution to clear clutter is only the first step—for some, it takes quite a lot of willpower to stick to the habit (here’s a 10-step guide to declutter the whole home, if you need help getting started). But according to Rubin, this goal can seriously bolster your brain health and overall happiness.