The new Netflix series that teaches people how to declutter their lives isn’t just popular entertainment, it’s helpful advice that can lead to a happier, healthier you.
Netflix’s new series “Tidying Up” is all the rage.
Viewers can’t get enough of host Marie Kondo helping people declutter their homes and get their lives back.
But can living a clutter-free life really bring about mental, physical and even financial benefits?
Ellen Delap, certified professional organizer and president of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, says absolutely.
“People can feel so overwhelmed by their stuff. When they start to declutter, the initial feeling is hope that their life will be changed by doing this work,” Delap told Healthline. “They also begin to feel a greater sense of control and well-being by lowering their stress levels. After all, there’s nothing more stressful than searching for your keys as you’re trying to get out of the house on time.”
The biggest benefit of decluttering, she adds, is creating more time to spend on what’s meaningful to you.
Joshua Becker, author of The Minimalist Home, discovered this about 10 years ago as he was spring cleaning.
“I decided to clean out my garage because I thought my 5-year old son would help me, but he helped for 20 seconds, and then was off,” Becker told Healthline. “I kept working on the garage and my neighbor happened to walk over. I complained to her about the time I had spent on the garage and she said, ‘That’s why my daughter decided to become a minimalist.'”
As Becker looked over at his son on their swing set, the idea resonated with him.
“In that moment, I realized that not only were my things not making me happy, but even worse they were actually taking me away from the very thing that did bring me happiness and purpose and fulfillment and joy in my life,” he said.
On that day, Becker set out to declutter and minimalize his family’s belongings. He’s been a minimalist since, and shares his journey and tips on his blog Becoming Minimalist.
Delap says oftentimes people inherit stuff from loved ones who have passed away and the sentimental value they bring makes it difficult to let those things go.
Transitions in life is another common reason she sees.
“Someone that has a new baby, or moved into a new house, or got a new job or is taking care of an ill loved one might be overwhelmed and they’re really focused on that and don’t have time to organize their home, so it becomes a very low priority, and things just keep piling up as a result,” she said.
The ability to shop online plays a part too.
“People buy a lot of things on Amazon and don’t necessarily return them or they buy them because they couldn’t find that exact thing in their house yet it’s tucked away under stuff,” she said.
While hoarding disorder is a mental illness related to the inability to give up possessions, Delap says not everyone whose home is cluttered has this condition.
“Rarely do people actually have a hoarding disorder. It’s just more likely that a situation has come up or they’re going through a grieving process. There are a lot of reasons that lead up to this,” Delap said.
When you have less stuff, Delap says you have more clarity because you’re not having to think about your stuff.
Becker agrees, noting that with that clarity comes the realization of what you want out of life.
“There are different motivations for decluttering or becoming a minimalist. Some people want to spend more time with their family or travel the world or want to change jobs or save money,” he said.
When Becker and his wife went through the process 10 years ago, they got rid of 60 to 70 percent of their stuff.
“At one point it really forced me to do some soul searching. I asked myself why I had all this stuff in the first place and what did I wish my life looked like instead,” he recalled.
In her show, Marie Kondo suggests that her guests ask themselves if an item sparks joy. Becker says his approach is similar but that he recommends people ask if the item will help them live the life they want.
“If an item does help you accomplish what you want to accomplish then we actually tend to take better care of it, but when we have a whole bunch of stuff that we don’t need then we tend to get careless with it,” he said.
Over time, the Beckers got really good at determining what mattered most to them, and they moved into a smaller house.
“We didn’t need the space anymore,” he said.
While Delap appreciates the less is more sentiment, she doesn’t always agree.
“I think everybody should have what they love and appreciate, so I don’t necessarily think less is more unless that is your goal. Everyone has to establish their own perspective on what does organized look like because each of us could have a different view of that and still feel organized,” she said. “For some people it’s having many things and taking care of those things and some people it’s having virtually as a little as possible so they can live in a trailer and tour the country. There’s a continuum.”
She says it comes down to practicality, too. She’ll have clients figure out how many of something they actually need.
“It’s a process of keeping what you really love and then creating a way to store it. For instance, in the kitchen, I might create a coffee zone that has a Keurig and only enough mugs that the area has space for,” Delap said. “It’s about what functions well.”
When you know what you have, you’re less likely to spend money on buying more.
“Oftentimes, people aren’t aware of how much money they’re spending on duplicate things,” says Delap.
She sees duplicates of office supplies most often, as well as pantry items, such as sugar.
“People will say they didn’t think they had sugar yet they actually have 15 pounds of sugar but can’t find where they put it,” she said.
Becker says that selling some of his family’s things and buying fewer things allowed him to save money.
However, he adds that knowing exactly what he has encourages him to take better care of all his belongings, and that owning less allows him to buy higher quality things.
“Minimalism and frugality are not necessarily the same thing. If I don’t own 30 pairs of pants, I can buy three or four really good pair,” he said.
Decluttering can be overwhelming. To make the process easier, Delap recommends putting a date on the calendar to start.
“Getting started is often the biggest obstacle. People know they want to do the work, but because there’s only so much time in a day, it doesn’t become a priority. [Blocking out] two hours on the calendar for your first day is a good start,” she said.
Becker suggests beginning by asking yourself why you desire to own less.
“Be very clear on why whether it’s to save money and travel, be more active in church or community, or whatever. Stating this clearly will keep you motivated,” he said.
As far as which room to tackle first, Delap recommends choosing either the most cluttered part of your house or the least.
“Sometimes the most frustrating part of the house is super compelling because people want to alleviate the pain of that spot. But the easiest spot is often the gateway to doing more work, so it just depends on what will motivate you more,” she said.
Becker sides on tackling an easier part of the house first, particularly one that is lived-in rather than an area you don’t go into much.
“Start in the living room or car or bedroom or bathroom. Somewhere you can finish the project and notice how it makes you feel,” he said. “For instance, you might notice right away how much more peaceful your bedroom is when it’s clear,” he said.
When it comes to clothes, Delap prefers a different approach than Kondo, who tells clients to throw all their clothes in the house into one, big pile. Delap suggests keeping a bag next to your closet and when you decide that you don’t want a piece of clothing, place it in the bag.
“While some people might be super motivated to make more decisions more quickly when they see a big pile, others will shut down,” Delap said.
Instead of worrying about finding the perfect person to donate your clothes to, she suggests donating all your items to a charity or organization that matters to you.
“Giving your stuff to an organization in your neighborhood that helps, say, battered women or refugees can be rewarding and motivating to keep going,” he said.
However, as you go through the process, remember that it will take time.
In fact, Becker says it took his family nine months to declutter their home.
“It’s a process that takes time, effort, and energy, but it is always worth it because your possessions have become a burden to you and the more you get rid of, the more you can begin living the life you want to live,” said Becker.
Investing the time to declutter will also give you a sense of accomplishment.
“There’s so much value placed on being an organized person in the world we live in right now yet there’s so many things working against us — time and access to things we don’t need,” Delap said. “When we get our homes in order, we have a great sense of accomplishment, we have confidence, we feel good about ourselves. We have a sense of serenity.”