Uncluttered Space, Uncluttered Mind

Updated By Allie Cuno on March 31, 2020

Ah, the first signs of Spring ... birds chirping, daffodils blooming, and your neighbor cleaning out his garage. Reality hits. Spring cleaning time is here.

I admit, spring cleaning is work. However, I hope to give you a new-found perspective on this springtime ritual and decluttering in general. New research has uncovered some amazing findings regarding students and their workspace, as well as how our physical environment affects our focus and state of mind.

What the Research Says

I’ve never considered myself a neat freak, but in high school I always cleaned my room before doing my homework. It turns out I may have been onto something. A Harvard University study found that students who worked in a clutter-free workspace were able to work 1.5 times as long as the ones in the cluttered space.1

It stands to reason that clutter can be distracting while a clean space can lead to increased focus.

Research further shows that clutter caused female students—the study participants—to snack more on junk food. And other research studies have shown the negative effect a cluttered environment has on our productivity, decision-making, relationships, and stress levels.2 Princeton University scientists found that when participants cleared clutter from their work area, they were better able to focus and be more productive.3

For those who loathe house-cleaning, consider this ... The more clutter-free your space, the less time you’ll spend cleaning it. Think of dusting off a shelf with 100 small items versus three items—get the picture?

What Is Minimalism?

Many people, including myself, have embraced the philosophy of minimalism. Minimalism is all about getting rid of excess stuff and enriching your life through relationships and experiences rather than worldly possessions. One of the great things about minimalism is you get to decide just how far you want to go with it. You don’t have to live in a tiny house to experience the joy, exhilaration, and freedom that accompany this clutter-free lifestyle.

I encourage you to search minimalism on the Internet to learn more about this growing movement whose followers are overwhelming thrift stores with increased donations.4 Specialists like Joshua Becker and Marie Kondo are fast becoming regular household names, and rightly so. They give valuable nuggets of advice on how to love life more by living with less.

Tips for Decluttered Success

Although you’ll find plenty of advice online, I’d like to share my personal tips on how to declutter the mess in your space, your schedule, and your mind:

If you are a college student, start with your workspace. How many books, papers, magazines, foods, and drinks have taken up residence on your study desk? Start now to reap the benefits of increased concentration by organizing your study area.


Don’t expect to finish in one day. Unless you’re too young to have accumulated much, you will soon discover, as you open cupboards, closets, and sheds, that you’ve accumulated much more than you realized. Be patient with the task at hand and relish the small, daily victories.

Approach decluttering like peeling an onion. Do a quick, superficial declutter of your living area, then sit back for a moment and bask in the additional square footage you just acquired. Those exhilarating emotions will motivate you to do a more hard-core declutter next ... things like grandpa’s old trunk of books, concert stubs, or expensive items you just don’t need. Keep “peeling the onion” until everything left is of genuine value to you.

Implement the 20-20 rule.5 I discovered this sage advice on the Internet. If in doubt, toss an item if it can be replaced in under 20 minutes for less than $20. This rule helped me let go of the Bundt pan I meant to use but never did, and the cheap white sandals that match nothing in my wardrobe. The 20-20 rule gives you permission to finally let go of those “just-in-case” items.

Don’t buy a new item unless you really, really need it. After you’ve worked so hard to declutter, don’t bring another item into your personal space that doesn’t serve a valued purpose. If you want to buy something new, add it to your “Buy in the future” list first. Chances are that with time, the item will lose its luster and you’ll find yourself clicking the delete button. If Amazon is your downfall (it was for me), Do. Not. Browse. You will be amazed at how much money you can save by staying away from this site!

Organize as you go.—Needless stuff, just say NO. Organizational items, say YES. If you need hooks, carousels, caddies, racks, and other organizers to bring order to your surroundings, indulge. It’s an investment in the new and tidy you!

Apply minimalism to other areas of your life. What non-stuff things are cluttering your mind and your life? Does everything on your To Do list support your highest priorities? Do you spend too much time with toxic friends, watch too much TV, or engage in too much social media? Think about what changes you can make to simplify your schedule, calm your mind, and make life’s present moments more meaningful.

There you have it. Ready to add some freedom to your life and lift the weight of stuff off your shoulders? If so, take only the ideas you like from this article and toss the rest. I won’t be offended. After all, it’s the minimalist way!

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Allie Cuno is a special interest writer at Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE).