Mayday! The Clutter Must Go

In medieval times, May Day began as a celebration of the return of spring. People would weave floral garlands, crown a local May king and queen, and decorate and dance around a May tree or maypole to ensure fertility for their crops. In the late 1800s, though, May Day became associated with the labor movement. Workers’ rights groups designated May 1 as a holiday to commemorate Chicago’s Haymarket Riot.

In these relatively prosperous times, you may instead recall the old distress signal, “Mayday, Mayday!” This expression, it turns out, has nothing to do with the May 1; it is borrowed from the French “m’aidé,” or “Help me.” And people who have too much stuff know all too well the helpless feelings it can produce.

Psychology Today says that physical clutter — which it defines as more knickknacks, paperwork and other junk than can comfortably fit into the space — can have an adverse effect on a person’s ability to move and think. Multiple studies say that streamlining one’s space can reduce stress and improve one’s life satisfaction, physical health and cognitive capabilities.

Physical clutter (and now, digital clutter such as email) competes for your attention, LifeHacker says; it takes away from the tasks at hand and robs people of creativity. In order to think effectively, you must eliminate it. Unfortunately, getting rid of stuff that has emotional value produces a pain response in the brain. It may actually be easier to apply constraints to the things you bring into the home than get rid of the things that are already there.

In addition to increasing stress, clutter can affect your diet, produce respiratory distress, harm relationships, encourage poor spending habits and bring on a host of other problems, the Huffington Post says. And when you have boxes of extra stuff stacked in your bedrooms, overflowing closets and stacks of dusty papers in your office, clutter has reached a crisis level. You need help! (M’aidé!)

Take a deep breath. Designate a place in your home where you can stage a major decluttering (perhaps the garage, where you can also stage a sale). Set up boxes and bags for the stuff you’re going to keep, trash, and sell or donate. Schedule a donation pickup with ClothingDonations.org and start sorting. Decluttering will get easier — and once you start, you’ll feel better in so many ways that you may make it a habit.

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