When you walk into a room, pay attention to how you feel. Do your surroundings inspire you? Or do you experience a vaguely persistent "blah" feeling? If the latter rings true, you might want to take a second look at the decor and clutter within the space. Surprisingly, these things can have an impact on your day-to-day emotions, according to experts.
Your aunt had great intentions when she passed down that fine figurine collection to you, but that doesn't mean you should keep it. "We hold onto heirlooms/gifts even though we don't like or enjoy them because we feel guilty giving them away," says psychologist and author . "They weigh us down emotionally and cause physical clutter. We keep things that don't match our sense of style, and we then don't have space for items that would truly bring us joy."
It's not just a few toys on the floor — it's the daily tide of toys, clothes, accessories, and even artwork. "Kid clutter makes parents anxious, because it is so difficult to clean up and to find a space to keep it, so it worsens the feeling of being out of control — a feeling that so many parents already have around raising kids, when things aren't going smoothly," says .
"Books inspire such strong emotions, because they have been portals into other worlds, they gave us other lives and expanded imaginations," says , author of . "We tend to keep those that have been with us during important times in our lives. It's like giving up a piece of our lives to let go of a beloved book." But when a book has the opposite effect, it can stir up negative emotions instead.
If you have a habit of clicking on TV as soon as you get home, listen up: causes excess stress (and makes getting through your daily chores more challenging), so it's better to store your appliance behind a cabinet to reduce your urge to keep it on at all times.
You'll never give up your favorite doll or teddy bear, but the less-important artifacts from childhood can be tough to part with — but their presence can take an emotional toll. "Facing up to the fact that a former treasure no longer holds its old magic is to acknowledge that we ourselves have changed. And often that realization forces us to ask ourselves, okay, what now would be a source of happiness?" says Waters. "Change always brings up questions of who we are and what we want out of our lives. To find that the collection of dolls we've had since childhood no longer enchants, is to be forced to grow up. Always a tricky prospect."
These decorative, reflective surfaces might not be the best choice of home decor. According to a report by , a study of 50 people revealed that looking in the mirror eventually stressed them out about their looks. We're not suggesting you should start applying your mascara or curling your hair mirror-free, but you might want to limit mirrors to your bathroom to reduce the stress in your life.
A once-beloved collection can become burdensome when you're no longer into the items. "The collection is associated with memories of a time in life or a person, and so the difficulty with parting can be the unconscious feeling you are abandoning the memory or person," says , psychiatrist and host of "The Power of Different" podcast. "It helps to create your own very tiny memorial to the memory, like a note describing them or one piece that signifies the rest of the collection kept in a special place so you can know that removing the rest is not forgetting the person or memory."
Skipping this chore has a surprisingly negative impact on your life. You see, organization is key to handling the daily hassles (and stressors) of life with grace, so starting your day off by tidying up your bedroom is crucial. And since making your bed every day might help you , and we all know , it's basically a win-win when it comes to your anxiety management.
"Abandoned or unused hobby supplies are a form of aspirational clutter. It's much easier to collect the materials for a hobby than to make the time and effort to pursue it," says Francine Jay, the blogger behind and author of . "And we feel that as long as we have a closet full of yarn, we're a knitter — even if we haven't touched our needles in months (or years!)." That stash perpetuates a particularly strong cycle of guilt and anxiety, since it's something you spent money on and didn't use.
Thick velvet drapes shroud your living room in darkness and almost immediately attracts all the dust in your home. "Generally, the heavier your furniture and window treatments are, the heavier the atmosphere feels," says , holistic design expert and author of . "There are certain times when a space calls for a substantial, weightier drape, but choose your window coverings carefully and remember, 'light and airy' will make you feel light and airy!"
"Color has a proven psychological impact on mood. We know that reds, orange, and fiery tones are active and stimulating colors, blues and greens are more relaxing, and gray and beige are neutral," Benko says. But she also stresses the importance of choosing a color you love, rather than one that's trendy. "Say you have a specific association with red — you can't stand it. Then that overrides the general consensus whose telling you what to paint your home," she says.
Every time you open the cabinet, there it is: your broken vintage teacup. It might be past repair, but you still hesitate throwing it out. "My theory is that it's a feeling of lack," says , architect, certified feng shui consultant and founder of Holistic Spaces. "We're scared of not having enough, it's a poverty mentality. Which really is about not feeling "enough" or worthy in ourselves. The fear of letting go of things. But cultivating the poverty mentality only perpetuates it, and surrounding yourself with broken items creates a similar broken energy in our inner and outer lives."
The worst thing about a pile of paperwork is knowing just how all over the place its contents can be. "Paperwork is overwhelming and tedious. Old greeting cards and correspondence is often just like broken items, it represents old memories that people are afraid to let go," says Collette Shine, professional organizer and founder of . "Big piles of paper clutter can bring on anxiety, feelings of being overwhelmed, shame and definitely stress." Breaking the pile down in easier-to-tackle chunks can help deal with the overwhelming feelings.
"Using an extra shelf to store stacks of plates and spices is totally worth it, but don't over do it," warns Amelia Meena, founder of , who says people have a tendency to store too many bins and tools instead of getting rid of unnecessary items as needed, creating clutter — which, we know can bring on feelings of anxiety and stress.
When used correctly, these containers are tools experts like Maeve Richmond, founder of , swear by. "They provide a target or 'drop zone,'" she says. The only problem? They often end up being a container for random clutter, which then serves as the focal point in your space, causing stress in a room you go to seeking relaxation.
Sure, that mug was funny when you found it at the thrift store, but now the joke is a bit old. "This type of clutter is annoying and my clients have a hard time getting rid of this stuff," Shine says. "The conference swag also always seems like it would be useful, but it usually just ends up rattling around your kitchen or junk drawer. It's hard to let an item go when it's free or on sale, because of the perception that you got a good deal or you think it must be worth something."
While acknowledging what things in your life trigger negative emotions is half the battle, letting go of these objects can be surprisingly difficult. It might be better to reframe decluttering as an act of self-kindness. "Value your space as much as your stuff," says Francine Jay. "We need space to engage in activities we love — be that play with our children, do yoga in our bedroom, or dance a tango in the living room. It's what we do, not what we own, that makes life memorable and meaningful."
If you're struggling with parting with items in your home, professional help is available. "Sometimes not being able to throw anything away is actually hoarding, a form of obsessive compulsive disorder," says Dr. Saltz. "This is particularly so if you have collections of various things that really don't make sense like newspapers, lipsticks, things which you don't individually care about. If parting with all your collections gives you a lot of anxiety and is infringing on your livable space, this may require some intervention from a therapist who can help treat the OCD and thereby the hoarding."