Easy wins: ‘Just do one shelf’

Often we have noble reasons for ending up with more than a few expired items lurking in the back of our pantry or fridge. We might have bought something unfamiliar to try a new recipe or expand our palate, and haven’t got around to using the rest. Or, not wanting to be wasteful, we keep something on hand, just in case we need it again.

Or – perhaps a less noble reason – there’s too much stuff in the way and we forgot that something existed. Besides the obvious drawbacks of clutter, there are some less obvious effects it could have on us.

“Our brain actually really likes order,” says Libby Sander, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Bond Business School. “Seeing clutter is kind of a constant drain on our cognitive resources.”

Clutter can affect our mood, sleep, stress levels and focus: “It makes us feel tired or stressed; you might be sitting in the lounge room trying to relax, or trying to work from home, and your brain is unconsciously thinking about the messy kitchen.”

Sander says people often avoid decluttering because they are overwhelmed by the scale of the task. “I think while things like Marie Kondo[’s method] have been hugely popular, her approach can often be quite stressful for people – the idea of just doing everything at once.”

Not so enthused by the idea of emptying out your entire fridge or pantry? A shelf-by-shelf approach is more manageable and means you’re more likely to see it through.

“Just do one shelf in the fridge, then throw things out, clean it, put things back. And then once you have done the whole fridge, or the whole pantry, then you can say, ‘OK, well, maybe I’ll reorganise what shelf everything goes on now that I’ve got more room.’”