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7 Signs Your House is Stressing You Out—and How to Make it Zen

Even if your home isn’t a castle, it should be a refuge from your daily hassles. Here’s how to chill out a stressful home.

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You don’t cook because there is so much stuff on your kitchen counters

“The kitchen—the hub of your family activity—is usually the most cluttered room in the house. It’s where you end up when you first go home. Mail, shopping bags, backpacks, and school bags all land there,” says Donna Smallin Kuper, an organizing, cleaning, and small-space living expert who’s been driving around the country in a motor home with her husband for the last three years. Many people add to the clutter by packing their counters with pots, appliances, and containers. “After you find a place for stuff that obviously doesn’t belong in the kitchen, keep on the counter only what you use every day, such as your coffee maker and toaster,” Kuper advises. “If you use an appliance like a bread maker every so often, put it in the front of a cabinet. Or if you pull out something only once a year, such as turkey roaster for Thanksgiving, put it in a garage or on a high shelf in a closet.” Try these fast tips for cleaning your most used appliances.

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You’re always searching for the remote (purse, keys, cell phone, fill in the blank)

“Everything in your home needs to have a home,” Kuper says. “Don’t just put something down, put it away. A lot of stuff gets left out because it doesn’t have a storage place.” Keep the remote inside the TV cabinet, for example, or your purse on a shelf in the bedroom closet. “Try to make these designated spaces ‘closed’ spaces, such as drawers and cabinets. ‘Storing’ things on open shelves or on the top of your desk does not remove those visual stimuli that create stress and lessen the amount of open space that your mind ‘sees,’” writes psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter, PsyD, in Psychology Today. And put items back right away after you use them. “Sounds simple, but it actually takes practice and commitment,” Carter adds. Here are fast ways to banish clutter from your life.

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Your closet is filled with clothes you can’t (or won’t) wear

Hanging on to clothes that don’t fit is a sure way to make yourself frustrated every morning. “As you get dressed, there are things you put on, then—for good reason—take off,” Kuper says. “Keep a donation box in your closet and throw clothes into it that don’t fit or look good on you.” You can also cut closet clutter by following the “one in, one out” rule. “Before you purchase something, think about what you’re going to let go. I have X number of hangers. If I buy new clothes and there are no hangers, it means something has to go. It really keeps my closet in order,” Kuper notes. Here are 16 things you should toss from your closet (with zero guilt).

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You’re drowning in paper

First, reduce the flow of paper coming into your home by getting off catalog mailing lists. Add your name to a national “do not mail” registry run by the Direct Marketing Association (dmachoice.org). Get as many bills and statements (from utilities, banks) as possible sent to you electronically. With the paper that’s still necessary, you can opt for physical filing systems such as FreedomFiler (freedomfiler.com). “The key is that it promotes purging. You know that when you get a new insurance policy, you will weed out the old one,” Kuper says. A number of online systems also work well, Kuper adds. Shoeboxed (shoeboxed.com; there’s a free version) stores receipts and categorizes them—which is helpful at tax time. Neat Desk (shop.neat.com/neatdesk) offers a scanner and software that scans receipts and documents into searchable files.

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You bump into things when you walk around the house

You probably have too much stuff. Go around your house and see what you can remove. The simplest rule: “If you don’t love something or use it, lose it. This makes it really easy to decide,” Kuper says. When the issue isn’t clutter but rather poor furniture placement, enlist a fresh eye. If you’re not blessed with a BFF who’s a home design maven, consider hiring a home stager for an hour. Stagers typically are paid to make a house attractive for selling but some moonlight as consultants who help you declutter and rearrange furniture. You can find one through real estate agents or by Googling your locality. Alternatively, some professional organizers have an aptitude for interior decorating and can tell you, for instance, that you’ll stop hitting your shin on a bed if it is placed horizontally rather than vertically in your room. Locate an organizer through the website of the National Association of Professional Organizers. For either kind of pro, ask for references and a portfolio. Here are the main changes stagers make to simplify to your house.

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You have trouble sleeping

There are, of course, many reasons why you may have trouble falling and staying asleep. But keeping a TV or other electronic device in your bedroom can be a factor. When turned on (and sometimes when off), electronic devices such as TVs, computers, and certain e-readers emit a blue light that interferes with the production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. “For those who just cannot turn off digital devices, here are a few suggestions: You can dim the brightness of your devices or you can make use of programs that filter out short-wavelength light in the evening,” Harvard University neuroscientist Anne-Marie Chang, PhD, told Scientific American. Other bedroom factors associated with better sleep, according to a National Sleep Foundation Bedroom Poll: Making your bed every day or almost every day, sleeping with one or two pillows (versus three or more), having a comfortable mattress and using sheets with a fresh scent. Here are other fast ways to sleep better, from professional sleep doctors.

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Your house isn’t as clean as you want it to be

You need a routine so you don’t have to think about—and possibly procrastinate—performing your chores. “It could be as simple as doing laundry on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and cleaning every Saturday morning,” Kuper says. She adds, “Make your cleaning and decluttering time a meditation time. Your home is probably the biggest asset you’ll own. Set aside that time to appreciate the beautiful floorboard you’re cleaning. Pay attention to what it is you love about your home. It will make you less angry that you have to do this and more appreciative of what you have. You’ll feel like you have more abundance in your life.”

Originally Published in Reader's Digest