Comedian George Carlin once remarked that "a house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it."

If Carlin's observation is true, then the amount of stuff we can stockpile has increased dramatically over the last 70 years. In 1950, for example, the average size of a new home was 983 square feet. By 2020, 

it was more than two and a half times that size – 2,584 square feet. Despite the larger living quarters, modern Americans have found a way not only to fill up their homes but their garages as well. In fact, a 2001 UCLA study found that only 25% of garages are used for car storage because they are so packed with other stuff. Moreover, approximately 10% of Americans also rent an offsite storage unit to store even more of their stuff. It appears that the line between consumer consumption and hoarding may be blurring.  

One consequence of having so much stuff is that it is nearly impossible to keep your home clean and organized. Although clutter – like beauty – is in the eye of the beholder, researchers have concluded that mess creates stress. Specifically, researchers have determined that clutter can cause the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn increases tension and anxiety. Researchers have observed that: 

Clutter serves as excessive stimuli – a visual, tactile, and olfactory overload – that causes our senses to work overtime by focusing on items that are not relevant to the task at hand.
Clutter makes it more difficult to relax mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Clutter signals to our brains that our work is not yet finished.

Clutter creates anxiety because we are not sure how much effort it will take to get things organized or cleaned up.

Clutter makes us feel guilty or embarrassed about not being more organized.

Clutter distracts our minds from what we are trying to focus on.

Clutter inhibits creativity and productivity by draining valuable energy and focus away from reflection and problem-solving.

Clutter leads to frustration when we are unable to find items that we need quickly.

Rightsizing Your Retirement

Utah Attorney Greg Bishop suggests that while the notion of corporate rightsizing might have been a cause of some earlier career stress, retirement rightsizing can actually reduce tension and be quite liberating. Specifically, retirement is the perfect opportunity to reassess whether you still need all of the stuff you have accumulated over many years. The recent movement to declutter our lives is gaining popularity even among those who are not yet retired. Although approaches vary, the objective is the same – to reduce clutter. Find a method that appeals to you and start your journey toward reducing the stress of a mess.

One approach is to create a room-by-room inventory of areas where your stuff has accumulated over the years (for the time being, consider ignoring areas where the stuff belonging to others in the house has accumulated). For example, the master bedroom might include clutter areas such as the chair you throw your clothes on, the nightstand, under the bed, the dresser, and the closet. For each room, prioritize the list from the smallest area of clutter to largest (for example, it's likely that the nightstand will be a much smaller area of concern than the closet). Once you have the inventory for all rooms, prioritize the rooms in a way that feels right to you. Perhaps you want to tackle the biggest area first so that reducing clutter gives you an immediate sense of accomplishment. Conversely, maybe you would prefer to start small and work your way up to the more difficult projects. Whatever approach works best for you, the key is to get started and make some visible progress.  

Many find it easy to have boxes handy to separate items into four groups: keep, donate, recycle, and trash. Others prefer to follow the recommendations set out in Kondo's"The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo, which involves keeping only those things that bring you joy, and organizing them in a way that they are neat, tidy and accessible. Others still prefer the approach suggested in "The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning" by Margareta Magnusson, which focuses on going through your possessions to get rid of the clutter before your death so that you don't burden your family.  

Regardless of the method you choose, decluttering will reduce the stress that comes with a mess.  

About Greg Bishop (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Greg Bishop is a Utah-based attorney with extensive experience in litigation, corporate work, M&A, licensing, IPO preparation, and HR, as well as corporate and board governance. Personally, he is passionate about helping others, including spending seven years working closely with the largest organization helping the homeless in Washington, D.C. In his free time, he enjoys the outdoors, mountain biking and traveling, as well as helping others achieve personal and professional success.