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Your genes hate clutter

By John Ince

Our ancestors had to carry everything they possessed – which anthropologists estimate to have weighed no more than 25 pounds!

People who traveled light had a survival advantage. They could move quickly across dangerous open terrain to new camps.

Bogged down with non-essential stuff, a nomad’s life was threatened. So hunter gatherer hoarders did not live long.

Evolution favored people who felt good with minimal stuff. We are a species disposed to material minimalism.

But walking into the average home today, one would never know of our inborn preferences for frugality, conservation, and spatial order.

Our abodes are crammed with stuff. The gear we can’t place on shelves, counters, and floors, we pack into closets, basements, garages, or the lockers of the booming self-storage industry.

At first glance, we moderns appear to be messy, materialistic pack rats rather than thrifty caretakers of our indoor spaces. Yet there is much evidence that accumulated stuff undermines our joy rather than contributes to it.

Clutter is visually stressful. Your brain can process only so much visual information. Each object in your field of view is a data point.

As the jumble of discrete objects within your view increases, so does the energy required to observe it, take note of it, or tune it out. Neat, organized living areas tax your energy much less. There is no visual overload.

Second, the more stuff you have, the less engaged you are with the stuff that really matters to you, such as photos of loved ones, works of art, plants and flowers.

The sheer volume of the frivolous things that you have collected tends to swamp the significance of the good stuff.

It’s like when you go to a social event with close friends but soon become overwhelmed by a crowd of strangers. Your connection with the folks you really want to be with diminishes.

Third, the more stuff you have, the more likely you will misplace really important objects, like your wallet and keys. Surveys reveal that the average American spends up to an hour a day searching for things; decluttering helps reduce that.

So imagine your new surroundings containing just a few valued possessions. Everything you see either has great emotional meaning to you or is highly functional.

Your living space is open and ordered, like the savannah where our genes took root. This is the indoor landscape most matched to our nature and it will generate a wonderful sense of ease within you.

A newly ordered physical space is also a constant inspiration. It sends the message that you are in charge of your world, that you can take life by the reins and make it better.

This is a powerful confidence-booster. And it can lead to major psychological shifts, as the title of the international bestselling book by professional declutterer Marie Kondo succinctly describes: The life-changing magic of tidying up.

The success of that book is just one indicator of a minimalist revolution brewing in modern culture.  

Many of the most popular self-help blogs advocate a clutter-free lifestyle.  In leaving behind our culture’s intense consumerism, a growing slice of the population is returning to our primal roots, although few would be aware of the evolutionary forces behind their new minimalism.

You can sample the rewards of the declutter revolution and get a taste of the Joyshift program by doing a one week declutter joyshift.

I recommend it as your first happiness practice because it can be done easily in five minute segments (which overcomes the bigness bummer), and because it pays immediate rewards. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t do a five minute declutter set.

Try it  for a week.

Where to declutter first?

Start with the space that is the most in your face.  Maybe that is your bathroom counter, your desk or or your kitchen table.  

Surfaces tend to attract stuff which quickly become subtle eyesores.  Organizing this surface might take just five minutes or several five minute sessions.  When you have finished it, move on to the next most visible cluttered area.

After seven days you will notice how much better you feel in your home. You are creating the clear open space that your genes love.  

If your abode is like most people’s you will need several months of five minute joyshifts to completely organize it. You may decide to extend your decluttering project for another specified time, or stop it and celebrate your first successfully completed joyshift.

Beyond a cleaner home, your joyshift set will start giving you experience in a the power of small steps. Getting in the habit of devoting  a few minutes a day to growing happier is a killer app that will transform your life.