Imagine coming home from a hard day’s work.
You have a slight headache, your feet hurt and you feel a bit overwhelmed by an upcoming deadline.
You open the door and walk inside, ready to spend some well-needed minutes on the couch.
And there it is. Piles of clothes. Stuff all over the living room table. Papers in piles on the kitchen counter. Stuff everywhere.
As you start up your computer to get some last-minute work done you’re faced with a desktop overflowing with icons, a flooded inbox and folders so unorganized it takes you 15 minutes just to find the right document.
It’s not surprising if your pulse goes up by merely imagining this scenario. Having a bunch of stuff laying around your house has been shown to have some serious psychological effects.
One study (1) found that the way wives described their homes could be linked to their patterns of the stress hormone cortisol and depressed mood.
When coming home from work means noticing piles of clutter, cortisol levels fail to show a normal diurnal decline and ratings of depressed mood increase over the course of the day.
This is an important finding since everyday levels of cortisol and depressed mood may influence long-term physical and mental well-being.
Another study (2) found that when your environment is cluttered, the chaos around you restricts your brain’s ability to focus and process information.
Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as effectively as you would in an organized and serene environment.
If you want to be less irritable, stressed out and depressed while being as focused and effective as possible this research suggests that you need to start by decluttering your surroundings.
The biggest obstacle in getting rid of your clutter is (like much else) getting started. Once you get started, the power of the tiny first step will usually kick in and keep you moving.
You don’t have to get rid of all of your clutter in one fell swoop. In fact, taking that approach will likely just leave you overwhelmed and stuck.
The most effective way to declutter your surroundings is to install a couple of tiny habits and let small efforts compound into huge results.
1. Decide on 5 tiny decluttering habits. These are baby steps you’ll take every day to move you closer to an uncluttered life. Here are some examples:
Pick any tiny habits you like – these are just a few examples to spur some ideas. When you’ve decided on 5 tiny decluttering habits…
2. Assign your habits an action trigger. You’ll have a much easier time remembering to declutter if you associate it with a behavior that’s already automatic. Create an implementation intention by filling in these blanks: IF I _____ THEN I _____.
Here are some examples:
Make sure your triggers occur naturally every day and that they are as crisp and clear as possible. Then finally…
3. Celebrate your successes. The key to reinforcing your decluttering habit and making it automatic is to celebrate every time you complete it successfully.
This will likely feel more than a little silly if you’ve never done it before but it’s a highly effective and a crucial part of making the habit stick. Here are a few examples of how to celebrate:
Find a quick way to celebrate that makes sense to you. Make sure to celebrate on the spot, either while you’re doing the habit or within no more than a second of completing it.
If you feel compelled to keep going beyond what you’ve decided your habit to be, then by all means go ahead. This is the beauty of getting started. It prompts you to keep going. However, make sure not to demand more of yourself than the tiny effort.
Consider everything you do on top of your tiny habit extra credit. Otherwise you’ll risk getting overwhelmed and quit the habit altogether.
If some of the habits don’t seem to work, tweak the different parts of it. Try a similar habit, switch the action trigger and/or celebrate in another way.
If you have a hard time remembering the habit it helps to practice it a few times in a row in advance and celebrate every time.
Do not be fooled by thinking habits as tiny as these won’t make any difference. There’s an enormous power in getting started and being consistent, even if the behavior is tiny.
I know this from first-hand experience. My computer, workspace and papers used to be quite a mess. Today they’re better organized than ever and it’s all thanks to this simple but powerful method.
Give it a try, I’m sure you’ll love the results. And if you know someone who could use this advice, send this article to him or her. 🙂
Small, Smart Choices + Consistency + Time = RADICAL DIFFERENCE
– Darren Hardy
Thanks to BJ Fogg who’s Tiny Habits Method inspired this article.