An important key to better health may lie in your junk drawer. No, it’s not an old photo, hardened eraser, credit card receipt or other detritus you might find there. The simple act of clearing out your junk drawer brings you a step closer to your higher purpose in life, according to Barry A. Dennis, author of The Chotchky Challenge: Clear the Clutter from Your Home, Heart, and Mind…and Discover the True Treasure of Your Soul (Hay House 2012).
One study done at Rush University connected having a purpose in life with a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s among older adults, but cleaning up has other health benefits too. The “chotchky” in Dennis’ book title is the phonetic pronunciation of the Yiddish word tchotchke, meaning a knickknack or trinket, often disposable or of little value. He expands the definition to include material things, unhealthy substances we consume, meaningless information and distractions, and even unsupportive people, all of which impede us from living the healthiest life we can.
Neatniks, you don’t need to read any further. But those of us with jumbled closets, stuffed garages and spilling-over shelves can reduce our stress level, Dennis says, by doing a little spring cleaning. Spring arrives March 20, so this week is a good time to follow some advice from Dennis’ book.
Less Stuff = More Satisfaction
Dennis suggests finding the true meaning of Glad bags by assembling three of them: donate, recycle and toss. Then choose an area in your house or office to clear out. If starting the task seems overwhelming, begin with a junk drawer, he says. Even small steps toward decluttering help bring a sense of calm, clarity and connection to your life.
Some people find it hard to let go of things, even if they are long unused. “Remind yourself that you are not your stuff,” Dennis notes. For older adults who may find it difficult to pare down their belongings, clutter often poses a health and safety problem. Piles on the floor or near stairs raise the risk of falling, and accumulated dust can worsen allergies, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Professional organizer Janna To of OCHomeOrganizer in Lake Forest has worked with older clients who downsized from a large home into smaller space. It can be taxing to try to sort through a lifetime of possessions, yet it’s also stressful—and potentially dangerous—when the house is so crammed that there is nowhere to sit, she says.
“I ask people whether everything they have is serving them,” she says. “I help them think about heirlooms they can hand down to a family member and things they can sell on eBay or give away.”
Many times, people are unaware of what their clutter contains and don’t miss things after they’re given away, donated or thrown out, To says.
Buy Less, Enjoy More
Simplifying your life also involves curbing your impulse to acquire more stuff, according to Dennis. Pause before you make your next purchase, and ask yourself if what you are about to consume will make your life better, happier or more fulfilled. More often than not, the answer will be a resounding “no.”
Along with rifling through that junk drawer, Dennis recommends tidying up your diet and your mind, as part of your spring cleaning. You can do that by sorting through your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer, and tossing any foods that don’t make you feel healthy, he says.
Give your mind some clear space as well, he advises, by managing your technology consumption. If you’re tethered to your smartphone and seize it every time it buzzes or chirps, consider allocating some time each day to turn it off and get away from it. Uncluttering your mind even briefly each day can reduce stress, sharpen your memory and brighten your mood. It will also free up time for healthier activities, like exercise or getting together with friends in person, rather than via the screen.
Clean Junk Drawer, Now What?
Maybe you feel like you can handle the junk drawer, but the prospect of decluttering a larger mess seems overwhelming. Make a list, says Lisa Suchesk, professional organizer and productivity coach, and owner of Timeline Organizing Consultants in Long Beach. Suchesk offers professional help with organizing home-based and small businesses, and provides some residential consulting.
“I advise my clients to take a pad of paper and write down all their concerns about why they’re stressed out, and why they can’t get started,” she says. Completing that task builds momentum and can help you create a plan of action. Suchesk adds, “Even small steps lead to a tremendous sense of relief.