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Organization has a powerful effect on our physical health. Yes, there’s a lot of science that supports this notion, but there is also a ton of personal experience.

I’m a professional organizer. Many of my clients think I’m nuts. You see, I like to walk into spaces that feel chaotic to others, that cause them to feel panic, stress, and raise their blood pressure. I revel in the process of bringing things to order. I thrive on getting to know my clients, what they need from their spaces and figuring out how to make it all work! They find the messes hopeless. I find them full of hope and… well… health!

Let me dive into this a bit further. It is not the actual mess that I really like to walk into. Rather, I find joy as an organizer in the slow process of bringing things into control, that sense of putting things into order. I physically feel the stress of the client when I come into their spaces that aren’t working, but revel in the gradual relaxation of my shoulders as things move to how and where they should be. I feel the changes in the space- not only in the physical tiredness from the work, but in the physical sense that things are now right in the space, my clients are relieved of their burdens, and I can now relax. Organization has a powerful, physical effect on us all. 

What is at the root of this physical response?

When things are not right in our environments it can cause our bodies to release what is commonly known as the “stress hormone” or cortisol. It is our bodies way of letting us know that something is not right. We all have different responses to cortisol.  We know that different situations lead to different levels of stress responses from each person.  For some of us, it can lead us to spring into action, for others it is paralyzing. Everyone also has different levels of tolerance to stress triggers. What may cause one person to feel stress in their environment may have little effect on the next individual. There is no cookie-cutter response.   

What is standard is the impact of that cortisol on our health. We know that bodies under chronic stress can develop all kinds of physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. It can even bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. The take-away? Less stress leads to less cortisol production which leads to better health. If your environment is not causing you stress, you will be healthier!  

Sure, I can describe feeling physically better when a space is organized. I can observe the relief from my clients. But this phenomenon has also been proven scientifically! 

Medical studies repeatedly demonstrate that greater organization in your environment brings about the following health benefits: 

  • Boosts energy and productivity
  • Boosts focus
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves sleep
  • Helps with weight reduction
  • Improves financial health
  • Improves relationships

How to use organization to bring about these benefits

So, we’ve established that. Now what? The basic principle to all organizing is that the stuff you have should be easily contained and accessible within your space, or… your space should work for you, rather than you working for your space. Simple enough in idea, but sometimes hard to put into action. Here are some steps that can help you begin to take control of your space for the good of your health… 

1. Set clear goals for each space.

Okay, so you want to organize your space to impact your health. But let’s drill down a little bit. What is it about this space that is bothering you? How do you want this space to feel or function when you are through with this process? What is standing in your way? Answering these questions will help you more clearly define your goals for the space. 

2. Reduce clutter.

Edit. Sort. Categorize. Once you have set a goal for your space, now is the time to start removing the things that do not help you reach that goal. I like to sort them into groups for keep, recycle, trash, donate.   

3. Arrange your space so it works for YOU and feeds your spirit.

There is no “right way” to organize a space, so it’s time to get personal. The trick is to find a system that makes sense for how you want and need to live in that space right now. Do you have physical restrictions?  Do you have favorite items? Do you need to make room for a coffee pot in your home office? Will it make you smile to display your collection of beanie babies (provided you have the space to do so)? These are all questions to answer that makes spaces work for you rather than the viewers of a magazine.   

4. Start small.

Pick a project that is manageable. Don’t tackle your entire basement for your first organizing project. Start with the junk drawer or the linen closet and exercise your “organizing muscles”. It takes practice. As you learn to make decisions that work for you, you will develop the confidence to attack larger and larger projects. 

5. Bring in the power of a partner.

While we can all desire the health effects of good organization, not all of us have the time to organize or want to spend time organizing. Some of us want to be good at baking cookies, or running our business, or focusing on our career, or writing a book, or raising our children. Some of us are facing health challenges that keep us from being able to work in our spaces. Some of us experience decision fatigue, and then quit before we get too far into the organizational process.   

That is why it is important to find your power partners in this process. I like to call them “enablers”. Who can you find to support you in making these changes? Society promotes the narrative that we should be “super-humans”- excelling at our career, raising a family, maintaining an Instagram worthy household, AND having some time for “self-care”. But what if we turned that notion on its head. What if… that self-care meant bringing in support to help us reach our goals and maintaining our health, so we are free to pursue the things to which we are really drawn? 

Sometimes we are forced into self-care for health reasons. Sometimes we elect for self-care as “preventative medicine”. Whichever the reason, taking the time or partnering with people who can help you create a working or environment that supports the way you live and work is an investment for the health of yourself and all who use the space.