Clutter and Your Brain

I recently came across an article I saved from 2013 about clutter and how it affects your brain.  I have most certainly written about this topic before but some of the research cited by the author of the piece, Mikael Cho, is quite fascinating.

He discovered, as I and many of my clients have, that reducing how much you consume and reducing the amount of stuff you own, can help you focus, be more creative and have more time (and money for that matter) for the important things in life.

I just had a phone chat with a new client, who is downsizing soon, about how difficult it is to let go of sentimental items and items you paid a lot for.  Cho cites research from Yale University that your brain views the loss of one of your valued possessions the same as something that causes you physical pain, like cutting your finger. It literally hurts your brain to come to terms with letting go of some of these objects.  The more emotionally attached you are to something, or the more money you have invested in something, the more you want to keep it around.  

I had never thought about experiencing physical pain over letting go. Understanding that is at least half the battle and should make letting go easier. Another thing Cho talks about, which was no surprise to me, is that touching an item can cause you to become more emotionally attached to it and the longer you touch it the more valuable your brain thinks it is. That’s why, when I’m working with clients, I often hold the object and help them decide to let go. I know, sneaky aren’t I!

The overconsumption of digital information also affects your brain in a negative way. When your brain has too many things going on at once (your to do list, the ping of your phone, incoming email) it splits up its power.  The more this happens, the less ability your brain has to filter information properly, switch quickly between tasks, and hold information in your working memory.  In other words, you become more forgetful.

One of the best techniques for reducing clutter and rebuilding your brain power is to create a system for controlling consumption.  Try limiting how many people you connect with on social media, how many apps you have on your phone, how many books you buy, and so on. There will always be more information available and more stuff you can buy – but don’t do it!

The other technique for controlling the amount of physical stuff you own, is to limit the amount of space you have to store things.  Then make an agreement with yourself that you will only own what will fit in that space.

Finding ways to limit your consumption will give you a feeling of power and control and will free your mind giving you time to enjoy life. Keep me posted.