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Organize your way out of stress

  • Story Highlights
  • Clutter in one's home environment is stressful
  • Long-term stress can lead to health problems
  • Tackle clutter by focusing only on the area two feet around you
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By Judy Fortin
CNN
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SNELLVILLE, Georgia (CNN) -- From the outside, Kimberley Mims' Snellville home is immaculate. But look behind the garage door and it's a different story.

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Kimberley Mims tackles the clutter in her garage with the help of professional organizer Ruth Phillips.

"I'm trying to get better organized," Mims admits while apologizing for the mess.

Garden tools are piled next to books and boxes filled with everything from old sewing patterns to family memorabilia. In order to get into the house, Mims has to watch her step while climbing over piles of clutter.

"It's stressful coming in the house and you've got junk everywhere. I'm like, 'OK, I don't even know where to begin,' " says Mims, a 35-year-old mortgage consultant. Video Watch as the women begin their task »

To help her get started and stay focused during the cleanup, she's hired Ruth Phillips, who's been a professional household organizer for seven years.

As they get to work, the no-nonsense Phillips has a mantra: Are you keeping it or tossing it?

Phillips describes most of her clients as being overwhelmed by clutter. Nearly all of them experience stress because of it, she says.

Psychologist Mark Crawford hears the same complaints from some of his patients. "It's a huge problem. I think what happens is people are so busy and they have too many things going on in their lives that they allow their homes, offices and cars to become disorganized."

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That kind of sustained stress can make people more vulnerable to health problems, Crawford says. "The body releases chemicals like cortisol that actually decrease the body's immune function."

He worries about the impact of a chaotic household environment on children. "I see it in children all the time. Children who grow up in homes where there is a lot of disorganization, chaos and clutter come to school a lot more stressed, hyperactive and a lot more upset in general."

Crawford recommends families tackle the chaos together: "Get everyone to see the benefits of keeping your home and environment a little less cluttered and a little more organized."

He suggests a strategy to get going: "Take one area -- one corner, one desk, one drawer. Start with that. Once that's done, pick the next small task."

That's just what Phillips, the home organizer, tells Mims. "She didn't know where to start, and I said, 'We start in the first two feet and start moving around the room, and we will get it all done.' "

Phillips was true to her word. About two hours later there was a clear path in the once-messy garage. She helped Mims organize her belongings into three piles: keep, give away and garbage.

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Looking around at what they accomplished, Mims lets out a sigh of relief as a big grin spreads across her face. "I feel better now that some of it's done because there were things I was looking for and I was like, 'Oh, that's where that was.' "

She also has a fresh goal for the New Year: "Everything has a home, and once you use it, put it back in its home." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Judy Fortin is a correspondent with CNN Medical News.

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