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It’s that time of year when the words “spring” and “cleaning” get paired up. Why now? Somehow the prospect of taking a home from the doldrums of winter and preparing it for the warmth of spring days can become an impetus to finally DO something about those piles we have been walking past since the holidays.

Shall we start with our office space first? Harvard Business Review’s Libby Sander thinks so in her article, “The Case for Finally Cleaning Your Desk.” Clutter can affect us in more indirect ways than merely getting frustrated from not being able to find hard copy or even digital files, however. Sander’s research shows that our physical environments significantly influence our cognition, emotions, and behavior, affecting our decision-making and relationships with others. “Cluttered spaces can have negative effects on our stress and anxiety levels, as well as our ability to focus, our eating choices, and even our sleep,” says Sander.

Think you’re already pretty organized? DorothyTheOrganizer’s Dorothy Beringer says that even the nit-pickiest of us have a few bad habits and cites her “clutter scale” — ranging from the stuff you know you HAVE to keep to the stuff you probably haven’t thought about or touched in years. Non-negotiables include family keepsakes/antiques, photos, business files, and office equipment. Then there are those items that are difficult to replace and items you use every day. This includes clothes, some furniture, sheets (well, some of them), towels and jewelry.

Next come items you use occasionally but haven’t used within the last six months, items you rarely use but feel hesitant to toss, and of course, all those items you never use but sit there staring up at you as you walk by or open a drawer. These can include seasonal items, specialized tools or kitchen gadgets, a pile of mossy green stationery your Aunt Cynthia bought you that will never get used, all that extra wrapping paper, old boxes that definitely look sturdier than the ones you get today, and perhaps even a printer that rarely lights up because you now scan and send everything instead of print it — all of this can go without your waking up in the middle of the night with regrets.

Beringer asks you to ask the following questions before you make your final decisions: (1) Do I love it? (2) What’s the special story behind it? (3) Do I have the space for it? (4) Can I replace it? (5) Can I easily borrow it or rent it if I need it again? (6) Does it support my goals and values? (7) Does it compare to the items I ranked as non-negotiables?

Sander cites a study on the effects of clutter in the home that says that individuals who felt overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” in their homes were more likely to procrastinate and that a cluttered home environment triggers coping and avoidance strategies involving snacking on junk and watching TV.

It’s spring, so perhaps now is a good time to re-assess your surroundings, revealing uncluttered tabletops and desktops, room corners where two walls meet instead of the piles surrounding their origins, and shelves that can actually show off the precious things you considered non-negotiable.

Source: Hbr.com, Zillow, TBWS

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