There are Many Reasons to Declutter Your Workspace (and Living Space)
There’s a lot of noise going on in our ADHD brains. And that noise is made worse by the visual noise around us. We are our brain’s own worst enemy when we maintain a home and/or office that is full of energy-draining stuff. So if you can declutter your workspace — and your living space — you can create more mental spaciousness.
Research shows that any excess items in our surroundings can negatively impact our focus and information processing.
- Clutter competes for our attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress.
- Visual clutter draws our attention away from what our focus should be on.
- Clutter and piles constantly signal to our brains that our work is never done.
- It inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the otherwise open spaces that allow us to think, brainstorm, and problem solve.
And lastly, clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
Do You Have a Mental “Place of Peace”
So, clutter isn’t just a problem for hoarders on TV. Most of us have stuff that is not adding value to our lives and could probably add significantly to someone else’s (i.e., You could donate it and get a tax receipt!). But charitable giving aside, there is great mental power to be had in a decluttered “Place of Peace.”
Do you have one? A fortress of solitude where there is no visual noise to interfere with your budding big-@ss ideas and potent problem-solving? In this post, I’ll share more about why “peace of mind requires peace of place,” and a few simple solutions to help you declutter your workspace.
Declutter your workspace and you can turbocharge your work? (Read on!)
Brief Words About Feng Shui (Pro and Con)
I don’t go for “woo-woo” solutions that aren’t backed by research (or at least, common sense). I like facts, data and science because that’s the stuff that helps us get real results.
For example, feng shui is borderline “woo-woo.” I’m not saying it doesn’t have some practical applications and benefits for productivity and peace of mind. But when someone contends that hanging my bamboo flute in a specific place can have an impact on my luck, well…I haven’t seen any double-blind random studies on that yet.
That said, I do believe in the energy flowing from spaces — meaning, the mental energy that results from a given living space or workspace.
To wit: In which bedroom do you think you’d fall asleep faster and get a better night’s sleep? One that looks like a hungover college kid’s dorm? Or one Martha Stewart recently dusted and decorated? Which would you rather begin your day in?
Which closet would you rather poke your head into when deciding just how dressed-to-kill you want to dress? The one with the door you’re afraid to open for fear of that bowling ball falling out? Or the one maintained by a professional organizer with OCD?
Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions. – Barbara Hemphill TWEET THIS
In which living room would you be more likely to feel alive or be more rested at the end of a long day?
The one displaying every tchotchke ever collected by an obsessed Beanie Babies® collector? Or the living room featured in this month’s Architectural Digest?
Now, few of us live in homes featured in Architectural Digest, but the point is that uncluttered spaces preserve positive energy, and clutter drains it. Whether you live in a Mc Mansion, a mobile home or a micro-home, you can create an environment that breeds more mental power and clarity.
All the more important therefore that your place of work be a place of visual peace. And to help you get crap out of your way so you can focus better and think bigger, let me share a little…
Brain Science: It’s Hard to Declutter Your Workspace
Here’s why it’s so hard to declutter your workspace: Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine recruited both non-hoarders and hoarders, and tracked their brain activity while they sorted through various items and decided what to keep and what to discard.
The subjects sorted through items like junk mail and old newspapers, some of which were their own, others of which were added to the mix by the researchers. When confronted with the prospect of discarding their own junk, many showed increased activity in two regions of the brain associated with conflict and pain.
The upshot: Letting go of junk can be literally painful to us. But it’s only painful when it’s…OUR junk.
Another part of the brain that’s activated, particularly in hoarders, is the vmPFC. It’s associated with emotions, identity, and personal meaning. Some call it our sense of “me-ness.” It’s the reason that hoarders look at something as simple as an old shopping bag, and feel it is connected to who they are. Making it all the more painful for them to get rid of it.
Hoarding Isn’t Just for Hoarders
But you don’t have to be a hoarder to recognize when your vmPFC is kicking in: The wedding dress. Your varsity jacket. The watch you never wear. The earrings you wouldn’t be caught dead in. But…they’re yours, and they have meaning and “me-ness” attached to them.
Confronting my vmPFC was tremendously liberating, and, in terms of productivity, a major turning point in my life.
The photo on the left (and the big one above) is of my Brooklyn condo after I donated almost all physical objects I’d collected over the years to the Salvation Army — furniture included — and then re-imagined and re-furnished it as a “Place of Peace.”
And from this clarity-inducing, brain-powering perch I call “The Cloud,” I created two start-ups — in my spare time while working as a New York City advertising executive.
Because I could think — BIG and CLEARLY — in this space!
Four Simple Steps to Help You Declutter Your Workspace
- Scan your working area and identify the things that give you energy or, as Marie Kondo puts it, things that “spark joy.” Try to keep these in your line of sight — these are like battery jumper cables, so don’t take them lightly.
- Take a couple of photos of your work area from different angles. By seeing your space from fresh perspectives you can better spot the most cluttered areas — which is where to start discarding.
- Look for anything that doesn’t do anything. If you haven’t used it in six months, and it doesn’t spark a joyful feeling, trash it or donate it.
- Keep only what you need for a given day’s work at arm’s length. Everything else goes in a drawer or on a shelf.
*At the end of your de-cluttering, there’s a good chance there’ll be some items that you’re on the fence about. You feel some attachment, you think you might need it. There’s a hack for that: Put them in a box, stick the box in the corner and a week later, try to remember what’s in the box. Anything you don’t remember — it’s probably OK to ditch-or-donate.
A Closing Thought
Think about the relative mental peace you have when you are visually confronted by nothing more than a blue sky or the surface of a lake. Make the surfaces you work with more like that! Peace, baby!
And remember, whatever’s in your way is yours to crush!
P.S.: Want to know how to beat more than just clutter? Tricks to beat procrastination? How to get prioritized and manage your time? Have you heard about my award-winning video/audio program ADD Crusher™? Learn more HERE.
Alan P. Brown, an internationally recognized Productivity Coach, TEDx Speaker and #1 Best Selling Author of Zen and the Art of Productivity: 27 Easy Ways to Have More Time, Earn More Money and Live Happier is the host of Crusher™TV, where he and his Guest Experts share simple ways to get more done in less time with less stress. Follow Alan on Twitter and on Facebook.