The Link Between Clutter and Stress

Why do we accumulate clutter?

  • Does it fuel our creativity?
  • Do possessions make us feel successful?  Or safe?
  • Make us look busy and important?
  • Are we too emotionally attached to weed out what we no longer need or use?
  • Are we hoping that someday our stuff will be worth a lot of money?
  • Or because we paid a lot of money for our stuff, it’s too good to get rid of?

In an extensive four-year study, UCLA researchers documented the debilitating effects of clutter on our mood and self-esteem. The greater the clutter, the more stress and anxiety we feel. This is especially true for women.

Tackling stress

There are many excellent articles on how to declutter. Start with these steps from Simplemost and HouseLogic. For ideas on managing stress, see the March 2017 issue of InSight. Read the article Stress Management: How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress and download the associated Stress Management Self-Help Checklist and Stress Relief Toolbox. Don’t hesitate to contact an attorney counselor at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP). The OAAP can give you guidance on how to develop your own stress management program using deep relaxation, meditation, time management, and other proven stress-reducing techniques. Best of all, contacting the OAAP is free and confidential.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2018

My Desk, My Enemy

Desks are the pedestals of our productivity. How we organize the stuff on them has a big effect on how well or if we get things done in a timely fashion. But just as important as these practical concerns is the impact it has on our mental health.

While researching content for a presentation, I came across this older post: My Desk, My Enemy: 6 Helpful Ways to Get Organized.  Written by Dan Lukasik and published at Lawyers with Depression, it contains helpful information that remains relevant.

Organizational Style

Dan begins by describing the four organizational styles identified by Kelly Lynn Anders in her book, The Organized Lawyer:

Stackers organize by topic in stacks. They are visual and tactile and like to give the appearance of order. The busier these people are, the more stacks they have.

Spreaders are visual like stackers, but must be able to see everything they’re working on.

Free Spirits keep very few personal belongings around the work area. They like new ideas and keep reports, books, articles and magazines near.

Pack Rats have emotional ties to things. They like the feeling of fullness around them and like to tell stories about what’s in the office.

These categories are insightful, and describe a fair number of people I’ve worked with. But they fail to recognize what happens when a lawyer is depressed, depleted of energy, and has no motivation to get organized.  Dan calls this “the depressed desk:”

When a lawyer has depression, motivation and organization are BIG problems. A lack of energy blunts motivation. We already know that it’s a good idea to keep our desk together, but there simply isn’t much neurochemical juice to get it done….

We must outfox depression. It would have us do nothing. So we must do something. 

Dan’s Six Simple Solutions [Abbreviated]

  1. Get rid of all those pens. Only keep three or four.
  2. Take home any books that you don’t use on a regular basis. [I would add: do the same with magazines and legal periodicals. Create a “free spirit” space at home if this is your organizational style.]
  3. Hide cords – use twist-ties or coil your cords up.
  4. Only keep on your desk what you need for that day. Then section off your desk and workspace so that everything has a specific space.
  5. Have a dump day.  Pull everything out, put it in a big pile, sort, and toss.
  6. Schedule a date and time to clean your desk.

Read Dan’s original “six simple solutions” here.

Parting Thoughts

It’s easy to be skeptical of simple solutions.  How could tossing excess pens or hiding cords possibly help?  What difference does it make to clean off my desk?  

Trust me, it helps.

  • Eliminating clutter reduces stress and anxiety.
  • Organizing and prioritizing gives you back a sense of control.
  • Compartmentalizing allows you to plan for what you need to do and when.
  • Freeing up space allows you to breathe, think, and work.

You owe yourself, and you deserve, a pleasant work environment.

If you are a lawyer with depression, consider following Dan’s blog and connect with one of the confidential attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program.

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]