The Effect of Our Surroundings

Funny thing about our surroundings. When we see the same scenery day after day, we stop seeing it. And we ignore the effects of our surroundings on our selves.

Think about the pile of newspapers on the end table — a quiet, unassuming pile of a few days’ worth of newsprint. No big deal, right? But add a few dirty dishes and two pairs of shoes, scattered books and a stack of DVDs, and you’re living with static in the background.

You may think that it doesn’t bother you, and it’s true that some personalities are less bothered. But how do you feel when the visual clutter is removed and instead you gaze upon the beauty of a vase of flowers (even if they’re dandelions)? There is a certain sense of rest and relief when our surroundings are tidy.

Am I recommending sterile surroundings and perfection in homemaking? Uh, no. Remember I have a rather large family, and I’m definitely not a compulsive housekeeper.

But sometimes we forget that we ARE affected by our surroundings. Waking up every morning to a messy bedroom matters. Eating lunch at a cluttered table has effects. Canning jar lids and stray pennies that have taken up permanent residence on the kitchen sink windowsill are another piece of the overwhelm puzzle.

Yes, there are seasons of life when piles accumulate, whether it’s Legos or receipts. Illness, grief, travel, crazy schedules and more can relegate tidiness farther down on the list of to-do’s.

But sometimes, in the midst of ordinary days, we need to look at our surroundings with new eyes. Notice those nagging thoughts of “I need to…” every time you see a pile, and acknowledge what those thoughts create in you. Stress rises half a degree, and you feel a tiny bit of failure.

Here are a few practical ways to alleviate some of that stress:

Start small. Just one surface. Don’t overhaul the entire house today (unless you really want to). Clearing one windowsill or one end table will cheer you on.

Create a system. Take a look at your most common clutter areas. Figure out a new way to deal with what causes the piles. Years ago we had one humongous pile of laundry in the laundry room. When everyone got their own laundry basket in their own room, it solved much of the piled-up problem and laundry didn’t seem as overwhelming.

Set some rules. Buy a new magazine, throw an old one out. Recycle if you’d like, but don’t keep it. Eat breakfast after you’ve started the load of laundry piled on the dryer. Don’t be mean to yourself, use the rules like a competition or reward.

Use attractive storage. Once I moved health supplement bottles into a pretty floral paper box with a magnetic lid that was easy to flip open. They were accessible but the look was less cluttered. Since then we’ve moved and I have a different storage system, but I still use that pretty box.

Use practical, easy-to-use storage. If I had to undo a clasp every time I wanted to toss in a receipt, it wouldn’t be long before receipts piled up elsewhere. My receipts are tossed into a white wicker basket on a shelf in my office corner. Same thing with opening a cabinet and reaching on a high shelf. That’s fine for occasional storage, but high-use storage should be ultra-convenient and easy to open.

Don’t underestimate the power of beauty. Setting up a beautiful arrangement on a coffee table helps you want to keep the table clutter-free. Beautiful office supplies can motivate you to clean your desk. I’ve decluttered and rearranged an entire room to showcase new couch pillows!

The main thing to do is to notice and admit to yourself what visual messes are doing to you mentally. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need any extra burdens in my brain! If cleaning up a pile or tidying up a countertop will clear some mental clutter, I’m in.

Don’t overthink this or get into condemnation of yourself. Keep it casual. Putter around and listen to great music (or better yet, a personal development audio!). Set a timer for ten minutes and stop when it rings. Do it again tomorrow. This doesn’t have to be hard, ya’ll.

Pay attention to the effect of your surroundings. Make choices about how to improve what you see every day, all day. Beauty matters. Life is too short to live ugly!

What do you see when you look around at your surroundings? Would a 10-minute tidying session clear your mind? 


  1. Charlotte Siems says:

    Glad you like the blog, Carol! I had to search for a while to find the right box because it needed to be tall enough for the smaller bottles. I added a photo to the post so you can see it. It has a magnetic closure like the one you found on Amazon (and what a pretty box that is!). I’m a big fan of attractive storage boxes because they can be messy on the inside but visually neat on the outside!

    1. Thanks, Charlotte! We are headed to the craft store today, so I’m going to take a look!

  2. Charlotte Siems says:

    Glad you enjoy the blog, Teresa! And I’m glad you’re T-Tapping–if you get a chance, attend an event, it might help you with form so that you get the results you’d like!

  3. Steven & Devon McDaniel says:

    My condolences to you and your family. My grandfather died just before Christmas this year and I will miss him. May God comfort your heart as you remember the happy times with your father.

  4. So sorry for your loss. May the peace of God fill your heart and surround you and your family as you grieve.

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