While standing in line at a local coffee shop today, I caught a glimpse of the phone screen belonging to the person in front of me. Not that I was snooping, but I couldn’t help but notice the little red badge attached to their email app.

Apparently, there were 1,500 emails still waiting to be read. 1,500!

I stood there dumbfounded, almost missing my opportunity to place my order. Okay, I know I get plenty of emails about workshops, course applications, client messages and more – but I know that I’ve never let my unread mail climb up to 100+, let alone 1000+!

Could it be that I’m just some insanely organized person? Or are we really so busy and wrapped up in other parts of our lives, that we can’t be bothered or don’t have time to check our mail?

And if we’re not giving attention to things that are directed specifically to us, how much of our lives are we really missing out on?

When there’s more stuff, there’s more stress

I know that the truth behind the matter is this: we live in a world of clutter that goes far beyond our virtual inbox.

There’s clutter on our desks at the office, in a random kitchen drawer at home. There are receipts and papers in the glove compartment of our car and a mess of everything in a closet somewhere (ahem, my very own storage closet). Clutter doesn’t stop at the physical stuff either. In our head, we’ve got a endless to-do list of groceries, taxes, errands, and a calendar of social gatherings to make an appearance at. And so many of us bottle up our emotions and keep our feelings at bay, while also allowing toxic relationships to fill up our time on top of it all.

As a society, we’ve developed a habit to move through our lives collecting material objects and memories (put your hand up right now if you’ve ever bought a souvenir at a hokey little gift shop while on vacation!). We hold onto them for sentimental value or intention to put them to good use at some point, except we hardly ever do. More often than not, we stick a magnet on the fridge and pay no attention to what exotic part of the world it even came from. All those other knick-knacks we bought are forgotten and shoved into a closet somewhere. We’ve pushed memories – good and bad – into some dusty old corner of our brain until a recollection brings them back to life.

Our collections don’t usually serve us much purpose, but we keep them anyway because we’ve created an emotional connection with them at one point. According to Yale researchers, even the tiniest link – through our heart or even our finances – is enough to make it sting too much at the thought of letting go.

But the longer we keep “stuff” in our life, we only allow that connection to grow – even if we pay no attention to it. And the harder it becomes to detach from it, the more we’re reminded it exists, and our stress from distractions gets in the way of our well-being. I hung onto my University textbooks for way too long; I loved biology and psych, and convinced myself I would forever use them as reference books. Years later, they were still packed in their original boxes which I continuously rearranged, tripped over, and moved from one place to the next year after year.

The side effects of “stuff”

The problem with clutter is that it distracts you from living in the present, because they’re reminders of your past, things you have done or tasks that need to be done.

Trying to live anywhere but in that moment, especially if you’ve got a lot on the go, can cause unnecessary stress and negatively affect your mental health. Depression, anxiety, a sense of feeling overwhelmed can stem from the constant sight of clutter. On top of that, growing collections of stuff in different areas can harvest dust, mildew, and animal dander which can lead to allergy and asthma concerns or even a fire hazard. Clutter is bad for your physical health too!

Are we really going to let our lives waste away right in front of us, for the sake of a bunch of stuff?

I hope not.

Getting clutter under control

The key is to create space in our life that makes sense to us. That doesn’t mean getting rid of everything, but we’ve got to release ourselves from the emotional debt, stacks of unattended papers we’ve got scattered around our home and office, and that overflowing inbox of unread emails!

You’ve got to stand up for yourself and the space you live in! Because clutter is what happens when we shy away from responsibility or avoid facing the consequences of our decision until they hopefully disappear – which they never do.

So sit down and tackle your inbox. Unsubscribe from every publication you are not reading regularly and getting value from.Toss and archive information, and then move onto bills, unread newsletters and stacks of mail you haven’t addressed in a while. Once you abolish the paper clutter on top of work and counter space, move to your closet, storage, and even underneath your bed. Clutter is lurking somewhere, and there’s things that you need to get rid of!

And once you start to take control of your own life, just watch what happens:

Suddenly, you’re breathing lighter and your mood is lifted. Rather than rushing around, fumbling for lost keys, or sifting through a pile of papers for something you’ve misplaced, you’re probably a little more relaxed with extra time on your hands to enjoy the scenery around you and the people you’re with.

When you clean out space in your life, there’s more room for you to breathe and enjoy it for what it is.

And without a constant reminder that you’ve got 1,500+ emails that require your attention, we can all start to focus on more important and exciting things that are happening in our lives, like the barista leaving her phone number on the cup of “Mr. 1500 emails to check”.

Here’s hoping he sees it!

I’m Janice Otremba, a professional speaker, facilitator and coach who specializes in Beating Burnout, Lowering Stress and Powering Up Your Happy! Let’s kick your butt into gear with simple, sound advice for beating burnout and powering up your happy. Book a free 15-minute consultation call with me to get started!

Image courtesy of varandah at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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