When a lockdown hits, many of us feel it’s a time to focus on our mental health by making small changes that help us deal with a challenging time.
The healthy coping strategies that many of us have tried include exercise, cutting out alcohol, practising mindfulness and seeking the support of family and friends.
But there’s another strategy, perhaps a little unexpected, which many of us have tried: more than one-third of us have organised our homes during lockdown in order to manage our mental health, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer says we often link the state of our homes to the state of our wellbeing. “For some people, there is a sense that, if their home and environment is tidy and ordered, their minds and emotions are too. Decluttering can feel like an opportunity to not only get your actual house in order but your mental space too.”
One room, and one day, at a time
Elizabeth McKenzie is in lockdown in Sydney and has been using the time to declutter her apartment. Her initial motivation for doing this was a lack of space as she and her husband continue to work from home.
“My husband runs his own hardware tech start-up,” she explains. “Unfortunately with COVID, the co-working space where his hardware lab was had to close down, so that meant bringing five huge printers home in addition to all the other computers and electronic equipment.”She says this highlighted how much they needed to get their things in order: “Because of all the stuff, it was getting really difficult to locate things.
The stress of spending precious time looking through stuff can be incredibly exhausting.”McKenzie says she felt overwhelmed by thinking of organising the whole place, so she took it one room, and one day, at a time. “It was harder than I expected; it was so hard for me to let go of things. But I ended up selling things on Facebook Marketplace and donating things on community groups like The Movement.”
This has helped her to feel a sense of achievement during long stretches of time at home. “When I get rid of bags of stuff, I feel like I’ve been more productive that day. I get to check things off my to-do list and it’s crystal clear how far I’ve come.”
Looking for control in out-of-control times
Mia Northrop from Life Admin Life Hacks knows that being surrounded by clutter doesn’t make her feel good. “I think more clearly, have more energy and feel more optimistic when my environment is clutter-free,” she says.
Having been through a few lockdowns in Victoria, Northrop has become keen on using the time to focus on a zone in her house to organise. “In each of the lockdowns I’ve picked one small area to declutter,” she says. “I’m not talking entire rooms, but my sock and pantihose drawer, the kids’ bookshelves and the kitchen cupboard where we stash all the plastic storage containers.”
Northrop says that lockdown is the perfect time to do this. “During lockdown, when we might not feel like we’re achieving much, or we’re feeling burdened by the stuff in our homes, investing a little time in organising a space yields major rewards,” she explains. “There is a lot out of our control at the moment, but I have the power to make my home that little bit more efficient. These modest but impactful improvements are motivating.”
Brewer says the word “control” is a key to what motivates us to organise our homes during lockdowns. “There is the need for a sense of control versus the uncertainty of lockdowns, and being able to focus on things you can control,” she says. “That can include the stuff in your home, how it is organised and what you keep or throw.”
“Decluttering spaces is something that becomes almost urgent during these times. Your brain literally scans your environment for something to fix, solve or reorder.”
It’s important to keep our decluttering and home organisation efforts in check, though.
“Decluttering can be a healthy seasonal activity, but if keeping everything in order becomes an obsession or compulsion – that is, if there is anxiety over the need to control things – then you might want to look at what is driving that desire to have everything so perfect,” says Brewer.
She adds that we need to try not to compare our own homes with those of the organising experts we see. “People like The Minimalists and Marie Kondo can give us some great ideas on keeping our lives in order, but, like social media, they’re highlight reels. They’re not the messy reality of lockdown or even everyday life for most of us.”
Quick tips to organise your home during lockdown
Pick one area to focus on: a drawer, a cupboard or a room that’s been annoying you.
Devote one hour at a time to decluttering. “In less than an hour, you can transform a space and the result is immediate joy,” says Northrop.
Think of this time as an opportunity to create a better home space. “We each have the power to make our homes that little bit more efficient and to surround ourselves only with stuff that we truly value,” she says.
Start with something that isn’t sentimental. “For example, the collection of shampoo, conditioner and body wash in your shower, or the mysterious and neglected condiments lining your fridge door,” Northrop says. “You’ll get a taste of success and want to do more.”
Note your progress and take a minute to feel proud of what you’ve achieved – no matter how big or small – during a challenging time.