Making Health a Priority: Time to declutter?

By Kiley Owen, PA-C

Over the past couple weeks I have been confronting something that negatively impacts my health in many ways:

  • It requires my physical energy (in a back-breaking kind of way).
  • It robs my mental energy.
  • It depletes my finances. 
  • It promises to bring me happiness but often steals my joy. 
  • It distracts me, pulling my focus away from more important matters.  
  • It is a source of arguments with loved ones. 
  • It takes up too much of my time.  
  • It clutters my environment.
  • It dampens my spirit. 

It is my stuff. The excessive, unnecessary stuff that I have allowed to clutter up my life.  

sticky notes with decluttering options like trash, recycle, keepThe basement (dun dun dunnnn). We're planning to finish our basement. We thought this process would start in a few months, but we received a call a couple weeks ago, letting us know that the crew could go head and start if we wished. So we had two weeks to get everything out of the basement. No problem, right? 

Wrong. I knew our basement was a catch-all for things we didn't quite know what to do with. But until having to take every ... single ... thing ... out of it, I didn't realize the extent of stuff we were holding on to. Oh my ... . What a mess. 

Let me just say that I'm not a hoarder (I don't think). It seems like I'm constantly getting rid of stuff. I routinely take items to mission marts and consignment shops. 

How, then, do I still have so much stuff? Where is it coming from?!

I'm not a shopaholic. (Or am I?) I rarely pay attention to sales or go shopping (except for grocery shopping). I know that the best way to save money is to stay out of the store in the first place. And for the most part I do. 

However, I occasionally get sucked into stores like Target, with its powerful effect over me. I swear, I enter that store in a sane and rational state of mind. And I leave it like an addict, getting my quick high on clothes, housewares, and random other things that promise to enrich my life. But just like a high on drugs, the euphoria eventually wears off, and withdrawal sets in.

When I sober up, half of my impulse buys will be shamefully returned, proving to be a huge waste of my time and energy.

Awoman with cluttered mind photo illustrationnd the things I keep? Well, I'm convinced they're part-gremlin. What I buy is cute little Gizmos. But they must be getting food after midnight. Next thing I know, multiplying gremlins are filling up my basement and cluttering my house! 

OK, maybe it's not that dramatic. Maybe I just have some self-control and organization issues. But I know I'm not alone. The overabundance of stuff cluttering our lives is a cultural problem, and one that I am convinced is contributing to less-than-optimal health. 

How this affects my health. Let me tell you what I haven't been doing while tending to the basement in my free time. I haven't spent as much quality time with my kids. I've had to skip some morning runs. I haven't made as many home-cooked meals. I haven't been in the best mood.

Basically, these "things" are taking all my time and energy, and I feel like my priorities are out of whack.

But it took years to acquire all this stuff, and it takes a while to find new homes for it. It's not fun, but it's necessary to create positive change.   

The minimalist lifestyle is looking pretty darn good right now. My basement experience reminds me of the documentary Minimalism, which I recently watched on Netflix. It's about minimizing your stuff to maximize your potential.

Something about this concept resonates at my core. In the film they describe minimalism as "a life of passion unencumbered by the trappings of the chaotic world around you ... an intentional life ... not a perfect life and not an easy life ... but a simple one." I love that.  

Health blogger and physician assistant Kiley Owen with her familyI'm not saying we all need to downsize to tiny homes or keep only 10 items of clothing. And (clearly) I am far from being a minimalist. Yet I want to move more in this direction, becoming a better gate-keeper of the unnecessary stuff I allow into my life.

Because when we free ourselves from the excess stuff that bogs us down, we gain time, space, and energy for the important things in life, such as our relationships, our health, and our passions. 

How about you? Has paring back and decluttering made a positive difference in your sense of well-being? If so, I would love to hear from you. Please share your experiences or suggestions on Facebook!

Looking for practical advice to help you with this process? Obviously, I am not an expert when it comes to simplifying and organizing, but I can recommend a couple great books on the topic. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and Unstuffed by Ruth Soukup helped me out. I suggest buying digital versions (audio is my favorite) or renting from the library, to avoid more stuff. :) 

Kiley Owen is a physician assistant, blogger and preventive health enthusiast. This post — along with helpful links to other resources — originally appeared on her blog, makinghealthapriority.com.