January Topic:

The Blank Page

A few weeks ago, I ordered a new planner for 2023 and was so excited when I received it. It made me think about the power of a blank page, the infinite possibilities that lie within those days marked off as squares on the calendar, the sense of purpose that awaits the empty to-do list.

I’ve always found a sense of calm and clear-headedness from being organized and there is evidence that organization of our physical surroundings can positively impact our mental health. Writing for Workplace Options, Tiara Puspita notes in a blog titled Mental Health Benefits of Staying Organized, “Living in clutter can cause stress, feeling overwhelmed, depression, anxiety, problems with personal relationships, and more. When you declutter, you are alleviating the disorganization in your environment and in your mind.”

While we can’t always control what’s happening in the world around us, we do have some control on our own environment—whether our kitchen cabinets or pantry, our workspace, or other areas where we work and live. The benefits of ‘organizing’ our lives can have a positive impact on our mental health. 

Katy Halverson’s blog Can Organizing Impact Your Mental Health? notes that the impact of disorganization can affect both our physical and mental health. “A cluttered or disorganized home or workspace impacts your physical health. A cluttered home produces fire hazards, dust, and mold. Some studies have even shown an association between how much clutter you have and excess weight. Clutter affects your food choices and makes you more likely to choose unhealthy foods over healthier options. Disorganization and clutter have even been known to negatively impact your personal relationships.” Halverson goes on to say that we don’t have to look far to see the impact clutter and disorganization can have on our mental health. She notes that stress and depression can result from unfinished projects and piles of ‘to dos.’ “As you work hard to clear away the piles and never-ending projects, your brain will rest easy and make it easier for you to feel relaxed and happy.” (Source: Intermountainhealthcare.org)

In her article, Halverson notes several ways organization can help our physical and mental wellbeing, including:

  • Improving sleep
  • Reducing stress
  • Improving relationships
  • Helping us focus on other aspects of our lives and free up time and energy to improve other areas
  • Reduce depression and anxiety
  • Make better food choices and stick to a workout regime, which will help us lose weight
  • Making us more productive

If you are one of those people who just don’t know where to begin when it comes to decluttering, here are a few tips to help you get started. According to Halverson, “Before you begin, gather supplies like trash bags and inexpensive containers. Set aside a small block of time, usually less than an hour. Larger spans of time will just leave you feeling tired and overwhelmed. In fact, plan to organize in small blocks of time more often. Consistency, rather than one large effort, is key.

1. Pull everything out. If you’re organizing your pantry, pull everything off the shelves and into a space that allows you to see everything.

2. Clean the area by wiping down shelves, sweeping, etc.

3. Sort all your items in these categories.

  • Trash (or recycling).
  • Things to donate.
  • Things to sell. If you’re using this category, make sure you have items are worth the time it will take to sell them. Be realistic with yourself. If you won’t have time to sell something, donate it instead.
  • Things to keep. If you’ll use an item, or if it’s something you love, put it back on the shelf.
  • Undecided. Not sure what to do with something? Put it in a box. Date the box and look at it again in six months. Chances are, if you don’t use an item in six months, you'll never need it.

Consultant Marie Kondo has created an entire movement around "the life-changing magic of tidying up" and getting organized. In a New Year’s post, she states that organization is self-care. “Making a New Year’s resolution around cleaning or completing a tidying festival is a beautiful way to start the New Year…but organizing your thoughts at the end of the year is also a form of self-care,” says Kondo. Christa O’Leary, author of Home in Harmony, said, “If you wake up and are immediately depleted by your surroundings, it will impact your wellbeing as you move through the rest of your day. We might eventually ignore the clutter on a conscious level because it’s been there for so long, but on an unconscious level the brain wants to complete the task.”

In writing this post, I’m taken back to new beginnings. If you were like me growing up, you couldn’t wait to go shopping for supplies as the new school year was approaching. Multi-colored folders, a composition book for each subject, highlighters, as well as various binders, pencil pouches and backpacks to hold it all. There was something about getting myself mentally prepared for the coming year, and all the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Even after decades of being in the workforce, that’s what a new planner and those blank pages feel like at the beginning of each new year. What will I make of each day? At the end of those 365 days, what will I have crossed off my ‘to do’ list? It’s a way of organizing my thoughts in an increasingly busy world. Whether it’s organizing your workday or cleaning out your pantry or closet, decluttering can help us be more mentally and physically healthy.

Here's to 2023 and the wonderful opportunities that lie within the blank page.

Take Action:

Set a goal to organize something in your physical surroundings. . . remember Marie Kondo's advice when deciding whether to

keep something, ask yourself, "Does it spark joy?"


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