Your home is your refuge: a place where you can go to get away from the world. Unfortunately, all too many people find that, rather than decreasing their stress, their home increases it. Your home may have become a place filled with messes to clean, tasks you have to take care of, and constant clutter. Your stress levels may rise, rather than drop, the moment you walk through the door. You do not have to live like that! Instead, take these steps to optimize your home for healthy, stress-free living.
1. Clean out as much clutter as possible (and commit to not replacing it).
Clutter breeds stress. Not only does clutter constantly draw your attention away from the task at hand, reminding you that you need to take care of it and that you still have many tasks to do beyond your immediate focus, but clutter also may breed feelings of guilt (aimed at yourself, for not picking up the mess) or irritation (with your spouse and children, who have also failed to take care of the mess). The constant weight of that clutter does not just pull you down. It can also lead to increased conflict between you and other people in your home, as you all struggle to keep up with the mess.
The fastest remedy for that kind of stress? Declutter! Try some of these strategies to knock the clutter out of your life and reap the rewards.
Get rid of items you have not used in the last six months. Holiday decor and seasonal items should be given or thrown away if you have not used them in the past two years. Avoid hanging on to something simply because you “might need it” down the road. Instead, get rid of anything you have not used recently and have no immediate plans to use.
Throw away or donate clothing that no longer fits. Unless you have reason to assume that you will fit back into clothing that’s no longer your size—after pregnancy or medical procedures, for example—get rid of clothing that no longer fits. If you lose weight through dieting down the road, you will want to purchase new clothing to celebrate anyway, and you may well find your current clothing out of style. Make room in your closet for the items you actually wear on a regular basis.
Clean out closets and storage areas annually. You may have items in the back of your closets or in your storage areas that you forgot about a long time ago. Meanwhile, those items gather dust and take up valuable space that you could use for items that you actually want. Commit to cleaning out closets and storage areas annually to get rid of items you do not need.
Do not keep two of an item when you only need one. Consider the following hypothetical. You lost Item A, needed another one, so purchased a replacement—and then found the original again. You found a great deal on Item B, so you bought three of them, just in case—even though you never actually use more than one at a time. If you find clutter piling up in your home, try getting rid of those duplicate items. Most people have the means to purchase a replacement if one item gets lost or breaks, and disposing of duplicates will make your home much less cluttered.
Commit to keeping the clutter down. Once you eliminate the clutter from your home, you may find yourself with an increased desire to fill that space. It may take time for your mind to accept that empty space and remember that you appreciate it.
Try some of these strategies for keeping the clutter down over time:
- Give experience gifts, rather than tangible toys, when possible.
- Wait at least a week before making impulse purchases. If you no longer want or remember the item, you do not really need it.
- Read reviews and do research before purchasing new appliances or tools, including kitchen tools. Make sure you really need that item.
- Evaluate your lifestyle before making a purchase. If you will not really use an item long-term, consider whether you can borrow or rent one for a specific purpose instead.
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2. Set a cleaning schedule.
Like clutter, a dirty home can raise your stress levels quickly. You do not have to keep your house company-ready at any given moment, but knowing that you have taken care of basic cleaning tasks can allow you to sit back and relax instead of constantly feeling the need to accomplish something else. Set a cleaning schedule that will remind you of when you need to take care of specific cleaning tasks. Adapt it to your needs: for example, if you have many people living in your home, you may need to clean the bathroom more often. Likewise, if you have days of the week that you spend running around constantly, those days may not be the right ones on which to schedule cleaning tasks.
3. Create a system for managing the items that family members bring into your home every day.
Many of the items that clutter up your home do not have a specific place where they belong, and that may be the problem. Though these items come home with members of your family every day, they may not have a specific place where family members know to always put them away—and, just as importantly, where they can locate the items quickly when the time comes to leave the house again.
Set aside specific places for such items, including:
- Kids’ backpacks
- Laptops and work bags
- Cell phones
Corral devices and set aside a specific location for chargers—ideally one that does not clutter up counter space that you’d rather use for another purpose. Even though families often prioritize having these items, they may forget to organize them—and as a result, it can be hard to fully organize many of the common spaces in your home.
4. Set screen time limitations.
Screen time, including time on smartphones, tablets, computers, or watching television, represents a chance to decompress for many people. Parents recognize that screen time will entertain their kids for a little while, giving the parents time to engage in other tasks. Teens may feel that screen time connects them to their friends and gives them something to do with their hours at home. Adults may spend hours scrolling through social media or staring at their phones or computers long into the evening.
Unfortunately, far from allowing time to decompress, screen time can actually increase stress and enhance symptoms of depression and anxiety, especially when “screen time” actually just means “social media time.” While social media provides a way to connect with friends and family members, share information, and keep up with things going on in the world around you, it also leaves many people suffering from feelings of inadequacy.
People tend to share the best of their lives on social media: the perfect family pictures, the funny moments, the amazing things they get to do and see. Meanwhile, you may compare your real life, in all its messy glory, to those perfect snapshot moments. Not only that, but your newsfeed may also fill with all the negative things going on in the world, from news about the latest disaster to complaints from friends and family members about things outside their control and yours. Teens typically prove even more susceptible to these dangers.
If you want to decrease stress in your home, try decreasing screen time. You might try it as an experiment and see if you note a difference, then institute more permanent changes based on the results you observe in your family members.
- Turning off devices at least an hour before bedtime. Reducing blue light exposure before bed can lead to healthier, deeper sleep, leaving you feeling much better in the morning.
- Instituting device-free family time. Instead of passively watching a movie together or mindlessly munching while staring at the television, sit down at the table and eat dinner together as a family. Ban devices at the dinner table—yours and your spouse’s, as well as the kids’. Engage in conversation together. After dinner, try sitting down for a board game, working a puzzle together, or going for a walk around the block, all of which can prove more relaxing and more engaging than simply staring at a screen.
- Requiring kids to complete other tasks before pulling out their devices. During the summer and on school breaks, your kids may spend more time on their screens than they do during the school year—and many parents notice behavioral changes as a result. Create a list of things that your kids need to accomplish before spending time on their screens, such as reading a book, completing specific chores, or going outside to play. You might require older kids and teens to engage in at least thirty minutes of exercise before turning on their screens for the day.
- Taking regular breaks from your screens. Planning to settle in and watch a favorite show? Take a break and walk around after every episode. Complete another task before settling back down in front of the television. If you get engaged in that task or activity, even better! Set a reminder on your phone: if you have scrolled for more than fifteen minutes, especially without engaging in any meaningful activity, commit to putting your device down and doing something else for a while.
- Choose a hobby. Many other hobbies have fallen by the wayside as screen time becomes more prevalent. You may not have to think about screen time. You just tap an app and have a wealth of distractions in front of you. Instead of mindless media consumption, try choosing a hobby that requires your active participation and involvement. Get up and move, put together puzzles, or take up gardening. Activities that get you outside can help lift your mood and reduce your stress even more.
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5. Learn how to argue fairly.
If you share your home with a spouse, children, or roommates, you will inevitably have disagreements. You might struggle to assign chores fairly or find yourself arguing over finances. While disagreements may be inevitable, you do not have to let those disagreements become a source of stress in an otherwise peaceful home. Instead, learn how to argue fairly. Set house rules for arguments based on your personalities and specific needs.
- Try to avoid “always” and “never” statements when arguing. “You always forget to clean up after yourself!” “You never do any of the work around here!” These statements can increase resentment and frustration, making it harder for you to reach an agreement and quiet the argument. Instead, try using “I” statements: “I get very frustrated when you do not pick your socks up out of the middle of the floor,” for example.
- Do not approach any member of the family with a problem immediately after they come through the door. Constantly leaping to the defensive as soon as you come home can transform your home from a peaceful haven into a place you dread going. Create an agreement with your family members that you will not start an argument or create conflict in the first hour after a family member arrives at home. Instead, greet family members warmly and welcome them back home, and save the confrontation for later.
- Know when you need to stop an argument. Sometimes, arguments get out of hand. You may need to separate, walk away for a little while, and resume a discussion later, whether with your spouse or with your kids. Knowing when to walk away from an argument can save a great deal of stress in your home. Even if you need to revisit a discussion later, it may prove easier when both parties have a chance to calm down and think about it from the other’s perspective.
Creating a stress-free home takes time and effort, but that effort is well worth it when you start experiencing the advantages. With these strategies, you can optimize your home for stress-free living and create a better environment for all of the members of your household.