As a child, I grew up with a hoarder. Although we didn't know it at the time, that's what my dad was. He was a brilliant, yet stereotypical college professor. He would seemingly keep almost every paper, report, reference journal, magazine or book he ever touched.
His office at home and at the college where he worked were nearly identical in that they were both a mess. His "desk" was less a worksurface and more a warehouse rack that was loaded up with mountains of stuff. He literally had stacks of old magazines piled higher than a standing 6-year-old child. When asked about the mountains of magazines, my dad would say "you never know when I might need to look something up".
When I was older, my parents got a divorce. My dad, my brother and I moved to a small apartment in Queens, NY. Now that he didn't have a proper office to place his stuff, the mess began to invade every room in our house. I wasn't a neat freak either. I had so much crap on my bedroom floor, you would have to play a game of hopscotch to make it from the door of my room to the bed without tripping on something.
Hearing this about my upbringing, you probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that our family struggled with a range of mental illnesses. We have a long history dealing with Depression and Bipolar Disorder. Now that I am older, I can see that the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of our home represented some of the most tumultuous and unstable periods of our lives.
Author and Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter lists a number of reasons why mess equates to stress in an article on Psychology Today Online. Here are the top 3:
- Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren't necessary or important.
- Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on.
- Clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
From a "work from home" perspective, which we're doing now more than ever, studies have shown that “clutter" makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.
I had no idea at the time, that the mess of my childhood home, was actively increasing the stress in our lives. As adults, my father, my brother and I have each found life partners who have helped us organize and take control of our personal spaces. I try to make conscious choices between wants and needs to limit the accumulation of stuff. I have become what many would consider a minimalist, seeking to begin each day with a made bed, an organized desk and limited clutter around me. I used to consider having an organized and clean home as a luxury. Now I see it as a necessity for a healthy existence.
Personally, I have a large bookcase with closed storage at the base next to my desk for all my reference materials. Books go up top on the open shelves and tchotchkes/office supplies get out of site in the cabinets down below. I am also an avid user of Evernote for all my note taking. I try to never keep paper around for more than a day. If I need to keep a document, I scan it and make sure I tag it for easy finding later. In short, the only thing on my desk normally is my laptop, a coffee mug and a charging cord. If it's not helping me do my work, it's needs to find a place to go.
Maybe you are a person who struggles with keeping a clean / organized home and workspace. It's OK. Most of us do. My dad had to hire a professional organizer to meet with him once a month for 2 years to help him organize his home. I'm so proud to see how far he has come. He now has a life partner of over 20 years that he is deeply in love with and his mental health has never been better. If we can do it, you can too.