How To Organize Your Sensory Clutter
Why does the Holiday Season bring smiles to our faces? For many it’s the lights decorating the houses or the familiar sight of our children’s holiday decorations. For others it’s the sound of holiday tunes. Some folks sigh contentedly at the smell of gingerbread cookies or latkes sizzling in a frying pan. And let’s not forget the crinkle of gift-wrap beneath our fingers. What do these have in common? They are all pleasant sensory experiences.
Sensory experiences have the power to “make or break” us in our daily lives. Clients overwhelmed by visual clutter from piles of papers or a kitchen mess is what keeps me -- a Professional Organizer -- in business. When I reduce the visual clutter and tame it into an organized system, my clients feel calm in their space. But what most people don’t consider is the power of our other senses to also create clutter or calm in our lives.
We don’t often think about it, but smell has a big impact on our mood. Have you ever entered a space with an offending odor? It’s impossible to focus on anything but that smell. The problem is that as time goes on, the smell fades to the background even as it’s still affecting our health and productivity. So be sure to regularly go through your living and working spaces to take stock of any negative scents. Once the negative scents are remediated, consider what uplifting scents you might want to add to your space. For example, I love the fresh smell of lavender! I work with a diffuser in the background that I fill with natural oils; I can choose different ones to clear my sinuses, destress me, or energize me. On the other hand, a friend of mine gets headaches from any scents and prefers a neutral-scent environment.
The sounds that enter our space can also cause us to feel chaos or focus. For those of us who need complete quiet in order to reach peak productivity, noise-cancelling headphones might be helpful. Others, particularly those with ADHD, need a steady flow of background noise or music to get work done. In her latest book, “How to Do It Now Because It’s Not Going Away,” Leslie Josel recommends that students make a “Homework Playlist” that will both “drown out distracting sounds around you” and “get your adrenaline going to get motivated.” I know that my environment feels less overwhelming when I have Carole King on in the background.
Touch is omnipresent. Our body is bombarded by so many tactile sensations that we tend to block out most of them. That doesn’t mean they are not affecting us. A 2013 article in Psychology Today cites several studies that reveal how textures and tactile experiences affect our emotions and judgements. According to interior decorator Samara Goodman of Samara Interiors, “touch is an important sense to consider when decorating, and thoughtfully layering the textures in home décor can induce calm. Using a variety of complementary textures will add balance to a room. Consider the contrast between a smooth (yet soft) sofa, plush velvet pillows, faux fur blanket, and an open-weave metal coffee table.”
Proprioception: The Sixth Sense
Proprioception, often referred to as the “sixth sense,” refers to body awareness and is closely related to position, pressure, and balance. Too much input and we are overstimulated; too little input and we lose touch with our environment and lose focus. I became aware of this “sixth sense” when one of my daughters was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and ultimately ADHD. When she was little, we would roll her up in a blanket like a burrito to give her more stimulation. We would set up a little tent in the basement where she could retreat when she was overstimulated. Now she uses hand fidgets or chews gum for more stimulation. If you feel like you are fading away or losing focus, you can stimulate your proprioceptive sense by applying pressure to your body. The same deep pressure can also recalibrate your input level, thereby creating a sense of calm with your environment.
We each have our own relationships with sensory clutter. Creative types often require more sensory stimuli -- this helps their neurons fire and gives them the “juice to produce.” Others get jittery if they have even one item out on the counter; they need less sensory input to feel calm. Most organizers have to balance the needs of different people when organizing a shared space. We need to be respectful of other people’s preferences. My husband enjoys surrounding himself with his reading material. He has piles of books, articles, and newspapers next to his bed. And I leave them there because it is his space. When I see “book creep” in other areas, however, I mention it to him and he respectfully removes what to me is “visual clutter.”
In Sensory Conclusion
When people think of decluttering, they often resort to removing only negative visual stimuli. Don’t fall into that trap. Be sure to take stock of other sensory clutter when conducting a walk-through of your space. What you decide to add or remove could be the difference between clutter and calm.