Updated: Mar 29
Many years ago, I noticed that my environment has an enormous effect on the way I feel and function. If I’m in an organized, structured space, I feel calm and able to move through my day with relative ease. However, a disorganized, untidy, chaotic space will take me from calm to unsettled in a matter of seconds. And that has a huge effect on my ability to think, function, and get things done.
During my time working with clients struggling with anxiety, stress, and burnout, I noticed there were common themes in their living and working spaces that characterized what was going on inside their heads. How they think seemed to be physically manifested in their environment. And as they worked to reorganize and calm their minds, their environments followed suit.
I’m not suggesting that everyone should become a neat-freak in order to feel calm and structured. But I have learned that people’s environments say a lot about what is going on inside their minds.
Your living and work spaces are often trying to tell you something about the turmoil – or otherwise – inside your head.
Just for a second, stop whatever you’re doing and look around. Look at your space. Is it tidy and organized? Is it tidy on the surface, but chaotic behind the scenes? Is it a complete mess? Now ask yourself how you feel. Do you feel calm, composed, and in control, or stressed, anxious, and distracted?
Read on to learn more about what your environment could reveal about your state of mind.
1. The Chaotic Space
This space is characterized by complete disorganization and chaos. Nothing has a home, there are things on the floor, on tables, over the backs of chairs and on shelves. Very few things are the right way up or the right way around. To find anything, you have to go mining for it, and things are often broken from being crushed or crumpled.
If you’re living or working in a space like this, it’s highly probable that you spend much of your time feeling anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed. You feel that you’re not able to get on top of anything, and when you think about attacking a task or a job you feel defeated before you’ve even started. Your physical appearance is likely to be a little disheveled or, at best, uncoordinated. Maybe you spend the day working in your PJs or or gym clothes. You’re past the point of caring and you feel really discouraged and stuck, and you’re struggling to find a way forward. When you’re in this space, everything feels like a crisis, your confidence plummets, and you feel unable to move forward with any kind of conviction.
2. The Organized Chaotic Space
This is the classic “It may look like chaos, but I know where everything is” space. This space is most often characterized by an environment that appears to be extremely untidy but on closer inspection, there are hints of organization. For example, there may be piles of ‘stuff’ scattered throughout the area. There are piles of paper on a desk. Or piles of clothes in a corner. Or piles of pens by the telephone. The old is mixed with the new, and the clean is mixed with the unclean.
People living or working in this kind of space often struggle to move forward or commit to getting anything done. They go through life ‘fixing’ problems but never actually ‘solving’ them. Fixing a problem is characterized by attending only to the symptom or symptoms of the problem. Solving the problem digs deep into the cause and works through to a sustainable solution. People who live and work in this way often find themselves becoming increasingly frustrated as they repeatedly fix the same problem and make very little progress. They usually feel discouraged, are often plagued by self-doubt, they live in the past, and frequently find themselves procrastinating and hesitating.
3. The ‘Order on the Surface’ Space
This space looks perfect, orderly, neat, and structured. However, open a cupboard or a drawer and it’s a very different story! Things burst out of drawers, fall on your head as you open cupboards, fall down the back of drawers never to be seen again, and get stuck and prevent drawers or cupboards from opening.
People who live or work in this kind of space are often suffering. On the surface, they look extremely well put-together, they’re articulate, and they seem to glide through life. But underneath, they’re struggling with their demons. They struggle with desperately low self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence. They want to fit-in, to be included, and to be accepted. How they feel is largely based on what others think of them, and they lean towards people-pleasing. They often have the biggest, best, and brightest of everything but they run their bank accounts in the red. These people find it hard to ask for help, and will struggle through life until they reach crisis point. Then, and only then, will they seek help.
4. The Dirty Space
The dirty space can be tidy and neat, or dishevelled and unstructured. Either way, the space is dirty. There is dust on the surfaces, dried toothpaste in the sink, splash marks on the mirrors, and dirty dishes piled in the sink, or left on the desk. Open the fridge, and you’ll be greeted with things you’d never want to eat and things you may not even recognize! The floors aren’t vacuumed, the laundry isn’t folded, and papers aren’t filed. This space appears unloved and uncared for.
People who live in a space like this usually struggle with feelings of low self-worth. Often, these people have experienced an event that has had a major impact on how they feel about themselves. It could be losing a job, burnout, divorce, not being able to achieve a goal, or another situation that feels very personal. People whose workspace is dirty often feel under-valued and invisible, and they’re usually disengaged. In life, these people are getting by, though they feel defeated and regularly complain of being “too tired” or “exhausted” to do anything. These people are giving up, losing hope, and struggle to find joy in many aspects of their lives and their work.
5. The Minimalist Space
This space is most commonly characterized by, clean, simple lines, minimal colour, and the absence of ‘stuff’. Walls are often painted with a flat, very pale colour (such as white or pale grey) and the space is often light and airy. Counters are clear, decoration is simple and understated, and there is a general feeling of calm, peace, and harmony.
People who live or work in spaces like this are usually comfortable with their lot. They’re content in their own skin, self-assured, and self-confident. They respect themselves and others and have generally found the place where they feel at peace. This isn’t determined by success or achievement. It’s determined by a state of mind, and a way of thinking that generates feelings of well-being, confidence, calm, and control.
As much as your environment can influence how you feel, how you feel influences your environment. If you’re feeling chaotic, stressed, anxious, or burned out, your environment will reflect those feelings back at you. If you notice your environment looking a little cluttered and unloved, take a moment to check-in with yourself and notice what is going on inside your mind.
Even taking a small step to declutter your space can have a disproportionate effect on decluttering and calming your mind to make way for clear thought and purposeful action.
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