Recently, a visit to my hometown to see a dear friend turned into a spontaneous, eye-opening decluttering bout.
She’d just moved into a historic home, which I couldn’t wait to see. The tour started—and then halted—in the living room; we were too engrossed in catch-up-conversation to continue viewing rooms. I slid into an oversized accent chair as the conversation topic drifted from her cross-country move to her sales job.
Her job felt stagnant and draining. She described the weekends as her time to resurface for air—to breathe again. And she lived for them.
Her angst was tangible as she talked.
Instead of brainstorming alternate job ideas aloud or delivering a motivational, you’ve-got-this talk, I asked her one simple question.
Can I see your office?
She shrugged, said sure, and led me up a steep staircase to a quaint, upper room.
The door creaked open and we stood in silence watching the afternoon sunlight filter through the corner window, resting on piles and piles of stuff.
Two desks, four monitors, a couch, multiple unopened boxes of books, totes overflowing with mail, and haphazard cords piles, all sprinkled with a random assortment of inspirational note cards, supplement bottles and dog toys.
Now, my friend has severe endometriosis that’s flared lately, slowing the rate she can settle into her new home. When energy is limited, work and basic activities of daily living win out.
Regardless of the reason, her office reflected chaos. And she was spending her working hours in this environment.
No wonder her job felt stagnant and draining.
Thing is, a cluttered environment has power. And it isn’t a positive one.
A cluttered outer environment significantly affects our inner environment. It fosters anxiety, angst, fatigue, and general “I’m stuck” feelings.
Transforming the feel of our homes by eliminating clutter changes the aura of our physical living space. Our homes feel lighter, calmer, and more peaceful. Enter the ripple effect into our inner state.
Home care (like decluttering) is self-care and even soul-care. Changing the environment around us has the power to change the environment within us.
Inner turmoil can often be soothed when an environment becomes light and uncluttered. In the words of author Gretchen Rubin, “Outer order, inner calm.”
My friend’s office space, in its chaos and disorder, was out of alignment with the intention she had for the space. Rife with clutter, the office couldn’t serve its purpose. And she felt that. Viscerally.
Her goal for her office, I’m imagining, was to support her best sales work, enhance her creativity, and also sustain her energy as she sought new clients.
Instead it was draining and distracting her. The only thing it was boosting was her cortisol levels. And her desire to vacate the space.
When a room aligns with our intention for it, the environment helps pull us toward a higher version of ourselves. Match your room with its purpose and your inner environment will begin embodying those qualities, as well. For example, an office reflecting its purpose—perhaps focus, clarity, and peace—will increase those qualities in the person inhabiting it.
Have you defined a purpose for your living space? I’d say each room should have one.
Grab a pen and paper or the notes app on your phone and take a tour of your house. Then, ask, does this room match my intention for it?
If your intention for the living room is connection, is it fulfilling that? If blanketed by an overabundance of kid’s toys (like mine use to be), it’s likely not aligning.
Is the kitchen’s purpose for you to enjoy cooking more? If it’s filled with paper piles and dirty dishes because of too much stuff or lack of systems, enjoyment is likely not the main feeling.
Do you want your bedroom to welcome more rest and peace? Clothing piles strewn over unused exercise equipment certainly won’t bring this feel.
Only you can know if a room gives you a positive, aligned feel, confirming that it’s serving its purpose. Consider furniture, room layout, amount of clutter, and objects routinely kept in the room as you tour your home.
If the feel is incongruent, then make a note of how you want the room to serve you. Next, work to make each room fulfill its purpose.
Maybe that means ruthlessly decluttering and implementing systems. Maybe it means removing furniture or adding in more.
I scanned my friend’s office again, taking it in the disarray, and turned to face her.
Can I help you declutter your office?
She approved, and soon we were culling trash, grouping like items, creating systems and even rearranging furniture. We hung a meaningful painting over her desk’s new home next to the window. I suggested filling some gaps with plants or flowers.
She took it in, eyes wide. And then spoke what I could already read on her face.
“I think I’m going to have a lot more energy at my job now.”
Outer change had led to inner change. An area of my friend’s life that had felt stagnant now felt revived, all thanks to changing her environment. An uncluttered space shifted her outlook to a more positive space.
Decluttering isn’t a magic wand—you can still have problems and feel negative things in an uncluttered space. That’s real life. But life’s challenges are easier to navigate in a home environment that supports you instead of one that piles on additional stress.
An anonymous quote I love reads, “If you want to improve your life immediately, clean out your closet. Often it’s what we hold onto that holds us back.”
Decluttering your life changes more than just the way your home looks and feels. It also realigns your soul. An outer refresh reestablishes inner order.
In the words of Brené Brown, “Incongruent living is exhausting.” And, in my opinion, that’s not how we’re called to live.
If you notice areas in your home that feel heavy or unaligned, take action. (Learn how to start decluttering your home here.)
Changing your environment is a powerful choice—one that will change your life.
About the Author: Julia Ubbenga is a freelance journalist and mom of four who documents her family’s journey into minimalism on her blog Rich in What Matters. Her teachings on simplicity and intentional living help others live more meaningful lives with less stuff.