Every time you see an object – a bird, a piece of paper, the teacup from this morning – your eyes relay that signal to your brain. Your brain interprets it and tells you ALL about it. That is for e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. you see.
The technical term is excessive visual stimuli. Even if you don’t need to know it or you’ve seen it ten times today, your eyes still send the signal to your brain. Whether or not it reaches your conscious mind, your brain thinks about it.
What does this have to do with stress?
When you bombard your brain with things to categorize, name, and qualify, your brain works on overtime. And that’s before you’ve even started thinking!
It’s like trying to have a conversation, but you have to run (not jog, run) at the same time. It’s hard. You’re winded, have a hard time putting thoughts together, and the person talking back is hard to hear over your heartbeat. Yet that’s what we put our brains through on a daily basis. No wonder we’re stressed and don’t know how to move forward!
Visual stress, aka clutter, is a SUPER easy stress to reduce in your everyday life. You may not have control of your cubicle, laptop stand, or whatever, but at home you should have some semblance of control.
Let’s visit two friends shall we?
At Suzy’s house you walk in and see papers strewn on the coffee table. She has shirts over every chair and there’s a line of shoes going from the door to the couch. If you peek in the kitchen every cooking instrument from the past week is on the counter waiting for a scrub this weekend. On the wall is every picture she has a frame for. She “doesn’t see” most of it and grabs the wine for you to share while telling you a story. You’ve missed most of what she’s been saying trying to acclimate to your surroundings and just nod along.
At Rachel’s house you walk through the door and put your coat in the closet, following her lead. Shoes go by the door. She has a coffee table with a candle on it and her journal. As you follow her into the kitchen your eyes wander to the three pictures on the wall – they scream “her”. In the kitchen you don’t immediately see the dirty dishes in the sink because everything else was cleared. As she grabs the bottle of wine, you smile and join her in conversation, following up the story she told you with one of your own.
Whose home would you rather go to after a long day at work? Suzy? Or Rachel?
Chances are you said Rachel – her home is clear of excessive visual stimuli so you can focus on what’s most important, your friend.
You don’t have to live with only a mattress, bowl, and spoon to have the stress benefits of reduced visual clutter. It just takes going into a room with a fresh eye.
As an exercise, close your eyes and think of a room in your home (other than the one you are in). Write down everything in it that you like. If you think of something you don’t like and don’t need, put a star by it and keep writing. Now, take that list and go into the room. Don’t glaze over things that aren’t on your list. Look at everything. For the items you didn’t write down: do they belong (do I need to put some things away)? If I didn’t list them, do I need them? If not, donate. Clean up the papers, recycle what you can, and store the rest.
The goal is for the room to have what you need and what makes you happy. Your home should be your happy place.
If you live with others, claim a corner of a room. A chair and side table. Maybe just your closet. Anything that is yours and yours alone. Create a corner that Rachel would recognize, one where you feel comfortable bringing a friend on a Thursday night. Banish Suzy from your house is possible, or limit her to a few areas.
The goal is to feel relaxed when you walk into the room. Even if you don’t FEEL stressed, your brain is working overtime to process every.single.object. It’s tiring for your brain, even if it’s not obviously tiring to you.
A tired brain is stressed – literally – taking more weight than it can sustainably hold. And a tired brain will cause you to be stressed when you don’t need to be – the little things add up.
Goodbye Suzy, Hello Rachel.
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Katie calls Richmond, VA home with her husband and all the furry, four-legged creatures he and municipal code will allow. She has spent years bringing her anxiety under control, learning to trust her intuition, and dreaming of a world where people live in sustainable harmony. She is addicted to popcorn, avoids wearing shoes, should do yoga but doesn't, reads non-fiction for fun, and reluctantly gave up caffeine in search of peace. Just don’t ask her to give up sugar (read: ice cream).