In just a moment, I am going to ask you to close your eyes. During the time, I would like you to imagine that you could be anywhere. Any place you would like, you could be there. Imagine everything about that place. What does it look like, feel like, smell like sound like? How do you feel in that place? Go ahead now and close your eyes and imagine. When you have a full picture, open them back up and keep reading.
Your space is critical to mental health and learning. There are organizing systems that you can put into place that are ‘brain friendly’ that will support mental health and learning. You can put supports in place to create an environment of success.
While you were imagining just moments ago, what came to mind? How is that space different or similar to the place where you currently are? Which environment feels better? In which do you think you would be more successful or learn more readily?
What we know is that a cluttered space is not conducive to well being. Although, clutter and creativity have been linked anecdotally, the reality is that chaos does not leave room for creativity. The truth is that organization and the space that it provides does allow you to be more creative even if you need help creating this space for yourself.
In almost every class I have taught for the last twelve years I have asked this question, “How does clutter make you feel?” and I have received variations on the same handful of words every single time. Those feelings are: stressed, late, overwhelmed, guilty, inadequate, depressed, distracted, forgetful, lonely, worried, and isolated. Clutter also creates conflicts within relationships and causes people to feel like they cannot have anyone over. None of these feelings are positive and none lead to learning or success.
You are beginning to see why your space is critical to mental health and learning. When facing mental health challenges there are three ways you can affect change and these are typically used in combination. They are: medication, therapy and adapting your environment. As an organizer, my focus is on adapting the environment.
From the time a person is born until about twenty-five years old, the brain progresses and develops. In a typically developing brain the pre-frontal cortex, which controls executive functions (organization, time management, goal setting, working memory, future planning, etc), builds and adds to these functions over the course of those twenty-five years. If there are any brain challenges that development can be extended to thirty-years. Many conditions can affect this development and the executive functions including: ADHD, age/developmental age, depression, diet, sleep, exercise, traumatic brain injury, time of day and stress/overuse. Problems with executive functioning are not problems with skill but with implementing that skill at the right time.
When adapting an environment for better mental health and learning, what I am really looking at is making changes that will support your brain’s executive functions. Remember executive functions are the part of the brain that controls: inhibition, time management, organization, problem solving, motivation, goal setting, working memory and emotional regulation. What environment will support the use of executive functions? What works is an environment that is:
- Quiet and non-distracting
- Has natural elements
- Allows for movement
- Limits decision making and
- Provides for outsourced executive functions
In addition, you can further help to create this environment and add structure by using these supports:
- Positive attitude
- Focusing on your strengths
- Creating habits
- Using timers, lists and other tools
- Making accommodations for sensitivities and areas of weakness
- Using sleep, diet and exercise to raise the bar of health and brain function
Albert Einstein said both, “ The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” And, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” I don’t think these quotes are in contradiction. It is the distraction and clutter in all forms that prevents a healthy environment. You are not to seek emptiness, but instead simplicity, quiet and open space that will allow your brain to flow.
Your environment is critical to mental well-being and learning and could be the block that is preventing health. You can create an environment that is brain friendly by simplifying and removing the clutter. There are supports you can put into place that will help you implement your organized environment.