‘If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?’ – Albert Einstein.
Don’t get me wrong: I love a good clear-out as much as the next person. There’s something inherently cathartic about sorting through all of your old things – stuff that’s been shoved to the back of your wardrobe or crammed into one of the drawers that you never really open – and getting rid of everything that you’ve been keeping a hold of but you’re not really sure why. Maybe they don’t fit anymore, or you’ve outgrown them; maybe they remind you of a time, place or person that you no longer need to be reminded of in that way. Whatever the reason, it feels so good every once in a while to really de-clutter your rooms and make space for some of the newer additions to your home.
It goes without saying that too much clutter can lead to disorder, which invariably leads to stress. But are we beginning to de-clutter a little too much? Are our homes starting to resemble merely houses, and show-houses at that? And, more importantly, are we overlooking the psychological benefits of having a little bit of ‘clutter’ in our lives?
I’m not saying that we should hang onto things that we no longer have any use or desire for. But I am suggesting that, before we obsess about making the rooms in our home as ‘decluttered’ as possible (in the hopes of creating what is now considered a ‘modern, neutral ambiance’) we first stop to consider what our decorative ornaments say about us, to us, and what we want to tell ourselves everyday via the instruments of our home décor.
Perhaps the best place to start is to think about photographs. Not the store-bought, professional images of local landmarks or famous scenes, but those personal, self-captured moments from your own family’s history. In terms of the actual act of taking a photo, it has been proven time and time again that creativity and art therapy are invaluable in promoting emotional wellbeing. With recent technological advances, camera phones have made photography accessible to everyone, and this accessibility is encouraging more and more people to stop for a moment and look at their environment from another angle. Displaying the photographical fruits of your own labour – i.e., showcasing the photographs that you can remember taking yourself around your home – encourages a sense of pride at the realisation of how well you are able to capture beauty, and reminds you of the happy memories you have of the people and places that bring joy to your life.
In addition to this, recent studies have shown that family photographs in particular can significantly improve your child’s self-esteem. Earlier this year, psychologists from the USA and Canada have confirmed that family photographs enable children to see themselves as a valued and important member of a family unit, safe and protected, and helps them to learn who they are and where they fit: equipping them with greater confidence and self-belief for later-life. Photographs displayed frequently around your home can help to remind your children of how much they’re loved and accepted within your family unit and can promote emotional well-being for the entire family.
Ornaments and Memorabilia
Homes can be, for many people, a part of their self-definition. Our surroundings can help us to distinguish ourselves by reminding us of who we are and where we have been. By severely de-cluttering the rooms of our house, then – getting rid of almost every ‘personal’ item in order to maintain an orderly and strictly ‘neutral’ home environment – we are actually limiting our own self-expression and definition in favour of conforming to stylistic ideals. We stop seeing ourselves for who we are, because we’re too busy trying to fit in with everyone else.
Often, one of the first things we ask someone when we first meet them, after their name, is where they are from. Subconsciously, we ask this because we recognise that the answer tells us something important about them. Place is inherently linked to person; and all the places that you have lived in your lifetime can (and should) culminate in the home that you create for yourself through your interior design.
Memories are cued by physical environment; ornaments, trinkets and the memorabilia that you have amassed over the years will immediately trigger a recollection of the places in which you have lived. And, remembering significant places from your history will also remind you of the person that you were when you lived there, and how you have grown and developed into the person that you are now, looking back.
Self-recognition and awareness helps us to cultivate our emotional intelligence. Recognising the different emotional states that we have experienced throughout our lives (as they are associated with particular locations) helps us to understand ourselves and, therefore, our relationships with others and grounds us firmly in the present. Home not only becomes a retreat for us, but also a monument to the life that we have created for ourselves.
Art and Design
The design of the walls in our home invariably tells us something about ourselves: whether we choose simply to paint them all one uniform colour, have a bright ‘statement’ wall, hang pieces or art and photographs or customise the design with wall stickers and canvas prints.
It has become a bit of an unwritten rule in the world of interior design that, when it comes to our walls, less is more. But does a completely blank canvas really soothe us emotionally and relieve our stress?
In some cases, yes – of course it does. However, we shouldn’t underestimate the psychological benefits of art and design on the walls of our home. Once again, this is intrinsically associated with self-definition and using your surroundings as a way to remind yourself of who you are. Canvas prints, wall stickers and works of art are not only a thing of beauty, but also a reflection of your own, personal taste. Appreciating artistic beauty releases a rush of positive endorphins and has proven to calm and relieve stress levels through a variety of creative and art therapy studies. Furthermore, the discovery of different works of art – and here I’m talking about literature and music as well as paintings – is distinctly embedded into our memories and anchors us to a particular time in our past. We can all listen to a particular song, for example, and immediately remember who and where we were when we first heard it.
The art and design of the walls of our homes is just another decorating opportunity with which we can remind ourselves of who we are and who we have been. In addition to hanging art pieces and canvas prints, another really innovative way to personalise the design of your walls is with customised wall stickers. These can depict anything you want – shapes, images and phrases – and can really stamp your individuality onto your home without taking up any extra space. I particularly like the idea of using wall stickers of my favourite quotes from literature because, as you read them, you are not only transported back to when you first read the book in question, but also into the imaginary world that the book itself creates.
If this is something that also appeals to you and you need a little literary inspiration, check out this list that I’ve compiled of quotes that I consider to be among the Top 10 Greatest Love Quotes from Literature.
So, do you have to de-clutter to de-stress? I guess, as with most things, you can answer this question with the rather level-headed response of ‘anything is healthy in moderation’. A little bit of clutter hurts no-one; neither does a little bit of space.
What is important to remember, however, is that de-cluttering is not the only way to achieve a stress-free home and can, if done to excess, actually negatively impact your psychological and emotional well-being through lack of substance.
Your home is your home; the places and people that you immortalise through your interior design (whether in photographs or through ornaments) are intrinsically linked to you and help you to distinguish who you are in relation to where you are and where you have been. Design is an opportunity for self-expression and self-appreciation: don’t de-clutter so much that you are left with nothing to say.