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Monday, 01 October 2012 11:25

Free Space, Free Mind

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Is your garage so full that you can't park your car in it? Are there piles of papers in your office that prevent you from finding what you need? Do you have magazines from five years ago? Do you keep every gift, even if you don’t like it? Is your closet filled with clothes that haven't been worn in years? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then perhaps it's time for some spring cleaning, even if it’s not springtime. Creating space in your physical environment can improve your mental health. A cluttered environment makes for a cluttered mind.

Because our indoor surroundings are as important as our outdoor one for our health, it is important to create an indoor environment that promotes health. When you have free space, you make way for a free mind. Think about where you feel most relaxed. Often, it is in an environment that is clean, tidy, and open. Why not create this type of environment where you spend so much of your time—at home.

Those who know me would say that I keep a pretty clean house. I have very little clutter. For the amount of new stuff that comes into my house, an equal amount or more makes its way out of my house. For me, the act of getting rid of clutter is very therapeutic. I still laugh at my aunt's comment when she first visited my house, asking, "Where's all of your stuff?"

Here are a few ideas for creating some free space in various parts of your home.

  • Bedroom. Probably the most cluttered place in your bedroom is your closet. Do you wear all of the clothes in your closet? One idea for managing your closet is to place all of your hangers the same way on a certain date. From that date forward, every time you take an item out, return it with the hanger facing the other way. At the end of the year, toss the items that are still facing the original way since it means you haven't worn the item for the entire year.
  • Kitchen. Be honest. Do you really need the novelty, once-a-year gadgets that are crowding out your kitchen drawers and cupboards? How often do you use the ice cream maker, pizza stone, bread maker, pasta maker, and heart-shaped cookie cutter? Even for the items you do use, how many cookie sheets, spatulas, and serving dishes do you really need? Keep the ones you use the most, donate the rest. And, while you are decluttering your kitchen, you might want to check out the expiration dates on the food items in your refrigerator and pantry. Those items often have a tendency to hang on a few years longer than they should.

  • Bathroom. How many different kinds of hair products have you bought from your hair stylist only to find them piling up on your vanity? How about makeup? Go through the stash and get rid of the beauty products that you know you aren’t going to use, even if they are practically new. You can always find a good second home for them. Many of the items may have reached their expiration, so it might be time to toss them. Beauty products often don’t have expiration dates on them, but here are some general guidelines on how long these items last:
    • Mascara - 3 to 6 months
    • Eye liner - 3 months (liquid) or 2 years (pencil)
    • Lipstick - 2 years
    • Eye shadow - 6 months (cream) to 2 years (powder)
    • Foundation and concealer - 6 to 12 months
    • Powder - 6 months to 2 years
    • Cleanser and moisturizer - 1 year
    • Sunscreen - 1 year

Keep in mind that natural beauty and skincare products spoil faster because they use less harmful preservatives. The best way to know if the product is expired is to watch for changes in smell, color, and consistency.

  • Office. Are your desk and drawers overflowing with papers? If so, take some time to sort through the pile and put some organization to them. Recycle what you don’t need, file what you can, and keep out those that require action. On an ongoing basis, try to keep up with where the papers belong before letting them stack up on the desk. To limit paper management altogether, think twice about printing documents that can be stored online. Just be sure to have an organized “filing” system online for easy retrieval. Also, consider signing up for paperless statements for your bills.

  • Garage. If you can’t fit your car in the garage, it’s time for some cleaning. What is in all of those boxes stored in the garage? Do they go years without being opened and do you even remember what is in them? Go through the boxes and mark today’s date (or the date you store a box, moving forward). If you don't open the box for a couple of years, consider donating the contents.

Top clutter offenders that might exist in various parts of the house include the following:

  • Magazines. If you have over six month’s worth of unread magazines, it’s time to consider canceling the subscription and re-subscribing once you have caught up. If you save read magazines, think about the last time you referred to them. I used to save my Runner’s World magazines. I had three years worth of magazines, but I never went back to reference them. I’ve since recycled these magazines. Now, I tear out interesting articles that I want to keep instead of the whole magazine. There is so much information available online these days, that even if I throw out an article I decide I want to re-read, I can always just look it up at a later date.

  • Newspapers. I don’t know about you, but when I got the daily newspaper, I couldn’t keep up with it. It felt like a to-do to read it every day. It typically went straight to the recycle bin without being read. I don’t get one anymore. I know many people who can’t live without their daily paper. If this is you, by all means, keep getting it (and feel free to skip to the next bullet point). But, if you are like my sister-in-law who had several feet of unread newspapers stacked up, consider making a change. Perhaps you can get your news online or request the printed version on weekends only?

  • Gifts. Sometimes you get a gift and you just know that you aren’t going to use it or you really don’t like it. Bypass the clutter stage and immediately put it in the re-gift pile or give it away. Don’t let the gift take up residence in your home.

Some of your discarded items from the cleaning above will head to the trash and some will make it to the recycle bin, but many will still have life left in them and can be a treasure for someone else. Be sure to find a good home for them. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time. If you think you can sell the item, try selling it on Craigslist or eBay. If it’s not something you can sell, think about giving it to a non-profit organization. We have regular pickups at our house by various organizations, so I just have a designated spot in my garage for unwanted items and I put them out on scheduled days. If you don’t have this in your neighborhood, oftentimes you can call these organizations and they will do a special pickup.

Another option is to give the items away through Freecycle.org. Freecycle is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that connects people to give stuff for free in an effort to keep reusable items out of the landfills. They have over nine million members around the world. Membership is free. I have given many items away on Freecycle. Just the other day, I had a printer that worked haphazardly. I posted it and within two hours I was meeting a mom and her son at a nearby store to give it to them. Of course, it works both ways. I have also gotten a few things as well. When I was looking for some People magazines for some leisure reading on a trip to Hawaii and some word magnets for a homemade gift I was making for my dad, I posted my request on Freecycle and got what I wanted—for free! How often does that happen?

Sometimes I feel like I’m busting from the seams in a certain part of the house and think that I just need one more drawer (closet or room, depending on the severity of the overflow). Whenever this happens, if I take the time to declutter, I find that there are a lot of items I no longer need. It just takes bringing a fresh perspective to the area and really thinking about whether or not I need the items. Invariably, I find myself with extra room and no need for more space after all.d.

Although the task of decluttering may seem overwhelming, just do a little at a time. As you go, ask yourself the following three questions to help shed some light on what should stay and what should go.

  1. Have I used it in the past year? If the answer is no, seriously consider donating it.
  2. What am I keeping this for? I have a friend who hates to part with anything anyone gave her. Can you keep a few of the sentimental items and donate the rest? She also has clothes from decades ago like a red leather dress that she admits she will never wear again. Why are items like this still in our closet?
  3. Do I need it? How much stuff do we really need? Sometimes moving out of accumulation autopilot and bringing a fresh perspective helps us in the decluttering process.

What can you declutter in your physical environment to help declutter your mind?


Dina Colman, MA, MBA, is a healthy living coach and writer. She has her Master’s degree in Holistic Health Education from John F. Kennedy University and her MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern University. She founded Four Quadrant Living—a simpler, natural, more fun way to a healthier, happier, and energetic life. Four Quadrant Living provides information and motivation for healthy living through nourishment of the four quadrants of our lives—Mind, Body, Relationships, and Environment. Dina has a private practice, working with clients to help them create health in their lives by eating well, finding the fun in exercise, reducing stress, managing relationships, and creating a healthy environment. Dina is also writing a book about healthy living that will be published later this year. Contact Dina at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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