As part of Spring Clearing Week (22nd-28th March), Diana Spellman, The Realistic Home Organisation Expert and founder of Serenely Sorted has released results of a nationwide survey she has conducted with Kantar which confirms what we’ve all experienced during lockdown – a messy home is a stressy home!

The survey which Diana commissioned to explore the correlation between mess and clutter in our homes and the impact this has on our mental health found that 82% of us have experienced ‘mess stress’ at some point in our lives, with nearly half of respondents (44%) reporting that they experienced it at least weekly.  This figure is higher amongst women, and unsurprisingly parents, with 98% of parents of young children said to have experienced mess stress – 71% experiencing it at least weekly.  Even 72% of those who define themselves as ‘naturally tidy’ had experienced mess stress, highlighting that the struggle is real and that  Mess Stress gets us all.

“It makes me feel anxious and I can never rest as I am always thinking I need to tidy my home- never feel content fully”

“It distracts me, I don’t feel happy at all when the house is messy”

“I am bothered by the mess and even if I do not think actively about it at the time, my mood is low.”

Diana also explored the impact of us letting our mess get the better of us, and reveals that inevitably perhaps, 62% of people do not love their homes as much as when they moved in, revealing that our day to day habits were leading us to not fully appreciate our homes as our havens.

President of APDO Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers, Katherine Blackler said “Working with client households across the UK,  APDO members often see direct correlations between an unorganised home and heightened stress and anxiety. This year, more than ever, many of us have experienced frustration and challenges with the spaces we live and work in. The statistics that Diana has revealed this month support those observations and are really insightful of the current lockdown status quo.”

She went on to say: “Our homes can help us recharge and handle challenges from the outside world. So for Spring Clearing Week, we’re encouraging everyone to take the time to make our immediate environments a calmer and more nurturing place. Letting go of your surplus stuff can boost both our physical and mental health for the long run as well as save us time, money and stress on a daily basis. APDO members will provide tips and inspiration to declutter during the week. We’ll guide you where and how to move your unwanted items onwards. Spring Clearing Week is the perfect time to stocktake and then take conscious action to help reduce your own feelings of Mess Stress for 2021”.

Diana Spellman – tidying up her kitchen.

As well as decluttering Diana is a huge advocate of finding ‘end homes’ for things as a way of reducing our mess stress, but it seems not many of us have such systems in place. Just up to 16% are using one of the well-known home organisation methods  – and Diana wonders if this comes down to overwhelm around the Insta perfect homes and the expectations we have of such solutions? Results showed that there is a high demand for a home organisation solution that is not intimidating, and can be sustained over time, with three quarters (76%) of people being likely to adopt such a system.

Diana said: “What’s clear from these results is just how much of an issue mess stress is – whilst I knew the figures would be high these levels have surprised me. What’s also been revealed is that people want a realistic way of keeping their homes organised that they aren’t finding right now.  Much of what people see in terms of home organisation tends to be the TV worthy stuff – the likes of perfectly matching pantries and crayons sorted into colours.  Life’s not like that for most of us – we just want something that’s not overwhelming and can slot into our lives in easy bitesized steps” 

When looking at which aspects of a home organization system are important, ‘realistic expectations’ and ‘practical and functional’ came out top with 85/84% agreeing they would value these.

Diana founded Serenely Sorted in lockdown this time last year, because she herself was mess stressed, working from home for the past four years, and seeing her worklife and homelife merge. Having lived in Hong Kong and spent many years travelling she appreciated the minimalist look, yet with her kitchen turning into an office, and her kids thrown into the mix this was not proving to be achievable. An operations systems/process improvement expert by trade she set to finding a solution to this problem as working from home she just couldn’t relax during her rare and precious free time and resented spending it always on housework – something had to change.

She was not pulled towards the ‘turn your house upside down’ decluttering approach because it just didn’t feel realistic, so instead, she set about creating her own system –  the unique Serenely Sorted System, initially for herself – to transform the way she behaved around her things to eliminate those piles, reduce time spent tidying – and get rid of that nagging voice in her head. She is now on a mission to help others who are busy and mess stressed change their habits to help them find more peace and time to relax in their homes.

She said: “With over 59% of households spending more than 30 minutes per day tidying, it’s time we start to encourage some changes!  Fascinatingly, those that claim to be naturally tidy are spending the most time actually tidying (63% spending more than 30 minutes), so it’s reassuring to the rest of us that perhaps the ‘naturally tidy’ image portrayed is just that – an image -and in fact the majority of us are not in control of our homes!”

Diana has a free facebook group where she shares tips and advice on how to get Serenely Sorted (https://www.facebook.com/groups/serenelysorted ) and her top tips for sorting mess stress include:-

1.       Become aware of the ‘daily debris’ in your home

Because this is what causes the mess stress, not the box of old toys under the bed.  The things out on our surfaces are what trigger us, be it the work laptop left out overnight pinging as emails come in, or the pile of paper that you haven’t got round to sorting, but you know probably contains an unpaid bill.  Note down your top three mess makers and create ‘End Homes’ for them – a place where they will live.  Then for the next week mindfully always return those things to their End Homes every day and it will start to form a habit and begin to move your surfaces from stressful to serenity. 

2.       If you have to work in the main living area, pack up your stuff at the end of the day

If you don’t have a designated working space and need to use the kitchen table or the bedroom (as 60% of those working from home in our survey do), but don’t clear it at the end of the day, it’s very difficult to switch off from work.  I use a large tote bag for my work stuff – it fits laptop, notebooks, chargers etc.  It’s very easy and quick then to get this out and put it back in the bag at the end of the day in what I call the ‘Use-in-one-move’ approach.  This avoids the endless moving of piles from one place to another, or the temptation to just leave everything out.

3.       Start thinking about your behaviour around your stuff and begin to cut out the mess middleman

Think about the things you tend to plonk down when you come in.  Pick just one to start with and decide that it has an End Home.  For example, get a basket and put your handbag in it.  Next time you go out, take it from that basket and – the important bit – put it straight back there after – bypassing the kitchen worktop.  Congratulations – you have just eliminated mess from your life!

4.       If you have kids, think mindfully about where the toys live

With the kids around, they obviously need to play.  I choose 2-3 of their most popular toy ‘categories’ to keep in the lounge or kitchen area and then all the rest live in the bedroom.  We’re not saying that they can’t play with those, but at the end of the day they know that any that have crept down should be back on the stairs to go up at bedtime.  The 2-3 categories that live in the lounge/kitchen should have designated End Homes e.g. a basket and always go back to at the end of the day.  I can relax much more without staring at a big pile of toys!

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