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How Clutter is Ruining Your Life — and How to Fix It

Even a small amount of clutter can negatively impact your life, so maybe it’s time to make a change.

By Acts Retirement-Life Communities
A cluttered garage. Next Avenue
Credit: Getty

Dealing with clutter is a fairly common problem for many families. It can be an extra burden for older adults. It may feel like you've downsized while in your current home, because clutter has shrunk your livable space. You may also experience more aches as you try to move piles of clutter from one area to another. When you discover an inability to find things you need to the extent that it adversely affects your day-to-day life, it may be time to do something about this problem.  

A better understanding of how clutter can harm your life and your retirement can assist in addressing the issue with long-term solutions. 

It Affects More Than Just Your House 

Walking around a disorganized house doesn't just make it hard to find things. It can make it hard for you to function, too. You'll spend time looking for an umbrella, a library book, a can opener or scissors. Something as simple as putting on your coat and picking up your keys before you walk out the door can become a nuisance. 

When clutter starts to impact how you live your life, your ability to find things in your home or your level of happiness, it's time to make a change. Even a small amount of clutter can negatively impact your life, so maybe it's time to make a change and take steps to a more organized home. 

Click here to read 8 tips for downsizing your home. 

It Can Impact Your Relationships 

When your home is overrun with stacks of papers, boxes and office supplies, it can lessen your productivity. You may find it difficult to get anything done because you're frequently looking for something. Details may slip through the cracks, projects are incomplete and you procrastinate because the clutter is paralyzing. Your ability to keep up with day-to-day chores may begin to suffer and your loved ones have to pick up the slack. 

This is likely to cause problems as your friends and family may resent the mess and your inability to get things done. 

When Clutter Hurts 

Living with clutter can cause physical problems, too. When you leave books, shoes, bags and other items on the floor, you're creating a trip and fall hazard for yourself and everyone in your household. Clutter attracts dust, which can aggravate allergies and respiratory conditions. 

And clutter can keep you from having a truly clean house. It's impossible to sweep and mop the floor, for example, if you're brushing aside clusters of the stuff you've accumulated. Extreme cases of clutter — especially in areas like the kitchen — can lead to pests like roaches or mice. 

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The Physical Symptoms are Real 

Clutter can cause physical symptoms. Just looking at piles of things you need to deal with can cause you to feel stressed. When you can't clear the kitchen counter, you can't prepare healthy meals; when there's no room at the dining room table, there's no place to eat. 

The stress of dealing with chronic clutter can lead to poor coping skills. These include overeating and overspending, two poor lifestyle habits that can further contribute to stress and anxiety, which can further the vicious cycle of clutter. 

It's Expensive 

When your life is full of clutter, you're spending money you don't need to spend. Because you're not sure what you have, you end up re-buying items. When you're unable to keep up with mail, you can misplace bills and miss payments or owe late fees. 

Click here to read financial planning advice for seniors. 

It's Mentally Draining 

Too much clutter keeps you from looking ahead. When you let items pile up at home, you may be holding onto things you don't always need. If you are surrounded by items from times past, you may feel like you're living in the past. Clutter could potentially be keeping you from moving onto the next chapter of your life — mentally and physically. In other words, by focusing on the past, you may miss opportunities now. 

To quote Marie Kondo, an organization specialist, "Life truly begins after you have put your house in order." In our instance, we can say after putting your house in order is when retirement truly begins. 

Click here to read 5 tips for staying sane when downsizing your home for retirement.  

Fighting Back Against Clutter 

The first step in solving the problem with clutter is getting rid of it. Slowly work your way through the house, paring down possessions you don't need or want; other items might be more appropriately stored in a basement or attic. Organize the items you plan to keep; the next time you use one of those items, put it away right away. 

Dealing with clutter can feel overwhelming, especially if the problem has been allowed to build for a few years, so pace yourself. Don't try and tear up the whole house at one time. Pick one room at a time. Spend 15-30 minutes per day working on sorting items into keep, toss, and give away piles, and then take care of each of those piles weekly. 

Prevention is Key 

To cut down on clutter, deal with things in your home as soon as they come through the door. Sort the mail, put away groceries, pay bills and recycle the newspaper. When you do laundry, don't fold and put away garments that no longer fit, pack them up to donate. For every item you bring into your home, take out two. If you buy something and get home only to realize you do in fact already have it, return it promptly. 

Identify areas of your home where clutter is likely to land. These are the problem spots you will want to pay extra attention to addressing. Spend 10 minutes every day working on these areas to keep them free of clutter. Make this part of your daily routine to stay on top of it and prevent clutter from coming back. Common places where stray objects collect include kitchen counters, foyers, staircases, coffee tables or end tables, dining room tables and desks. Make a concerted effort to keep these clear of clutter, and it will become routine. If items begin to pile up, pick a timeslot the same day every week to go through the pile.  

Nearly everyone tends to let clutter pile up from time to time. But when it gets to the point where it's interfering in your ability to carry out the tasks of daily living and working, it becomes a problem. It can affect your self-esteem, your social life, your career and/or your retirement. It can affect your health and cost you money. That's why it's so important to get a handle on your clutter. Work on managing the places where clutter collects while also striving to give away things you don't need and no longer want. Your future self will thank you for the less stress! 

For more information on retirement, read these articles by Acts Retirement-Life Communities: 

Acts Retirement-Life Communities
By Acts Retirement-Life Communities

Acts Retirement-Life Communities is the largest not-for-profit owner, operator and developer of continuing care retirement communities in the United States. Headquartered in suburban Philadelphia, Acts has a family of 23 retirement communities that serve approximately 8,500 residents and employ 6,200 in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. For more information about Acts visit actsretirement.org.

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