Visual Clutter: More Than Just The Enemy of a Clean House

I have visual clutter in my home. There I said it. I have developed the ability to skip right past it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

My husband, on the other hand, likes to “clean” the visual clutter, which basically just means he’ll take the pile of papers that are sitting on the counter and stick them in a drawer somewhere so they are out of sight.

Neither of these methods of dealing with visual clutter are doing us any favors.

What is Visual Clutter?

This is not as obvious an answer as you would imagine.

There’s the obvious answer where visual clutter is the pile of mail that is toppling over on the counter or the junk drawer that won’t close because it is so full.

But there are other types of visual clutter that you may not recognize so quickly.

Decor can be visual clutter. Don’t worry, there’s a difference between a collection and clutter. A collection is curated and cared for. I’m not trying to take away your collections.

Clutter is random and probably dusty. I have a little display hutch in my living room that falls into this category. It has pretty dishes, pictures, paintings, coffee cups, candles and my husbands sales trophy from 3 years ago. And it’s ALL dusty.

There’s also another level of visual clutter which is a little more detailed than either of these. It’s in the labels on all of the stuff that we buy. I’m not completely on board with banishing this level of visual clutter for a couple of reasons.

  1. I have more of the higher level clutter going on, so that’s where my focus is. If you’re like me, I suggest you do the same.
  2. I’m not sure if I like the idea of removing the labels from things. What if I want to read that someday? So label removing is going to be put aside. For now, at least. If I become a rabid minimalist and decide to remove labels, I’ll update you.

Visual Clutter and Stress

I don’t think there’s been a single article I’ve written here at Bogoten that involved a trip to Psychology Today. I write about keeping a lovely home, why would I possibly need to hit up the experts on Psychology Today?

Well, with Visual Clutter, as I started diving into the research for this post, I realized, there is a psychological component. I learned some fascinating things from this article I found on the effects of Visual Clutter.

  • Visual clutter creates stress. Your eyes and therefore your brain, can’t rest. They are constantly taking in information about the junk you have lying about and the brain is like, WHAT IS ALL OF THIS? WHAT DO I NEED TO DO WITH THIS JUNK? Not good, right?
  • Visual clutter makes you less happy. You don’t feel a connection with your home and so you don’t get that amazing, cozy feeling that you should when you are in your home, your safe space.
  • Visual clutter can make you EAT more. Someone actually did a study on this and found that people ate MORE cookies in the cluttered kitchen than in the non-cluttered kitchen.
  • Visual Clutter makes it more difficult to read the people around you. This isn’t good for anyone. A cluttered environment can make it more difficult to focus on the facial reactions of the people around you which means you might miss subtle cues in conversations. This one feels the scariest to me. What am I missing when I’m staring at that pile of spice containers that I didn’t put away?
  • Visual clutter makes you work harder at thinking. Your short term memory can be effected and also your long term memory, too. Maybe it’s not “Mom Brain”. Maybe it’s the visual clutter you’ve accumulated.

So What Do You Do?

The first thing you’re going to need to do is identify where the visual clutter is. I know this sounds kind of silly, but there’s an interesting phenomenon with visual clutter.

You start skipping it. Like, just blacking it out as if it’s not even there.

So the first thing you need to do, is figure out where the problems are. Here’s one for me:

Eliminate Visual Clutter - the before picture with ALL the clutter

That started as a mostly empty counter with one bowl on it to collect “stuff”.

Because sometimes you do need to toss something in a bowl that you want to grab again later. Your keys, for example.

But what happened here is, one bowl got filled up. And so someone put out another bowl.

And then that got filled up.

And so on and so forth until there was a hideous pile of visual clutter making me eat WAY too many cookies.

So, take a tour through your house and make a list of all of the places that have visual clutter. Bonus points if you do that list with a camera.

Walk around the house snapping pictures of the problem spots. You’ll have an awesome before and after as you tackle each area.

Ok, You Have Your List of Visual Clutter, What’s the Next Step?

I’m a huge fan of the Pomodoro Technique which basically is a way of timing your tasks so that you are spending the optimal amount of time before you start to lose focus.

I do 25 minute “Pomodoros”. So I set a timer, working diligently til the timer goes off and then I rest for 5 or 10 minutes. Or surf Pinterest. Either way, I take a break.

Get Your Timer Ready

The next step in tackling your visual clutter is going to be to tackle the areas you’ve identified, one Pomodoro at a time.

Grab a trash bag and a bowl or basket for things that aren’t in the right place and start sorting through the junk in the spot.

But there’s a catch to this.

Decluttering is very tricky. Even tackling a small space in a short amount of time can cause a problem.

Generally decluttering is a simple task. You toss or keep the junk you’ve come across. Easy enough, right?

The problem is in redistributing the stuff that you have chosen to keep that is not in the right place. It either belongs somewhere else in the house or it needs to be donated.

So when we do our 25 minute Pomodoros as we tackle the Visual Clutter, we’re going to actually set a timer for 15 minutes first and THEN as soon as that goes off, we’re setting the timer again for 10 minutes.

Why?

Because we’re using that last 10 minutes to put away the crap that is not where it belongs.

So it’s 15 minutes of decluttering the visual clutter and then 10 minutes of putting stuff away. Do not, I repeat, do not declutter longer than the allotted 15 minutes.

If you are not done putting the stuff away in 10 minutes, however, continue putting that stuff away until you are done. This is the MOST important part of decluttering and it is very rarely addressed any time you read about Decluttering.

If you skip this or you otherwise cheat and don’t finish putting away, you’re going to end up with piles of junk that don’t have a proper home.

But What Do I DO with All Of This Stuff??

If you find yourself not having proper homes for things, think about the most logical place for the thing to go and bring it there. So, for instance, I found a mini airhorn that I bought for walking the dog (long story). I don’t really have a great designated spot for dog stuff.

Instead I put it in the general area of the dog crate which is where the leash and other dog things accumulate. This is another visual clutter area for me, so I’ll be tackling it as I go through the house and when I do, the mini airhorn will have a home.

If you have things that need to be donated they are their own special problem. You need to have a bin somewhere tucked away for anything you want to donate and you need to make a commitment to yourself to bring that stuff to your favorite donation drop off place.

If you can’t make that commitment you should just throw that stuff away. I’m sorry to say that, but it’s not doing you or anyone else any good piling higher and higher in the back of your closet or in the basement.

How to Stop the Problem from Happening Again

Now that you’ve made a little headway in the visually cluttered spot, you don’t want to let the mess happen again, right?

You’ve already made a step in helping prevent the mess by putting away the random stuff that you found.

Another trick you can use is finding a new purpose for the area that you just cleared out. I took my messy pile of junk and turned it into a coffee station:

Eliminate Visual Clutter - My coffee bar after

This will help retrain me and all of the other people in the house to stop leaving their junk here.

Let’s Make a Commitment

The final step in the process of reducing visual clutter is the old “rinse and repeat”.

Go through the list that you made of your visual clutter problem areas and spend one Pomodoro a day tackling them.

When you’re done, walk through the house and make another list.

This time you might want to open cabinets and drawers and add those spots to the list.

The only way to make sure clutter doesn’t get out of control, is to keep on top of it, week after week. We don’t really ever stop accumulating. We might reduce what comes into the house, but we still have to continuously getting rid of or re-home the stuff that we DO have.

Set Your Timer!

Ok, are you all excited to start tackling the visual clutter? Set a timer on the microwave for 15 minutes (then immediately another 10) and get to work!

If you need a reference on what you should be throwing away, check this list of 37 Things You Can Throw Away Now! If it’s on this list as you’re decluttering your Visual Clutter, then you can freely toss it (or donate it)!

OH! And ps, a great benefit of decluttering:

I found a check for 170 dollars and $6.75 in quarters.