I’ve never been a fan of clutter – something nags me about it on a subconscious level – and it turns out my vibes were right.

I didn’t know this until recently, but having too much stuff lying around can cause all sorts of problems, including increased time lost, lack of freedom of thought, feelings of oppression and lack of control, and diminishment of willpower.

All from a messy countertop or closet – go figure.

It seems simple, but the truths are pretty deep. When people eliminate their clutter, they gain a feeling of control (versus lack of control) over their lives, which is a reason in and of itself to attack your overstuffed inbox. And then there’s the story of less time wasted: some estimates put the amount of housework eliminated at 40% when clutter is ki-boshed.

Two recent books espouse the virtues of a clutter free environment: The Joy of Less and The Happiness Project, both of which were published in 2010.

In the Joy of Less, Francine Jay points out that clutter impairs freedom of thought and creativity: when you have empty spaces, not filled ones, more things are possible. A vessel has value when it’s empty, not when it’s full. She writes:

We reclaim our space, and restore function and potential to our homes.

And when you have to choose between five different pairs of pants versus two, you’re using up your precious decision muscles, leaving you prone at every turn to “decision fatigue” and the resulting decrease of willpower.

As Gretchen Rubin says in The Happiness Project:

I felt happier choosing between two pairs of black pants that I liked rather than among five pairs of black pants.

Here’s another thing: I’ve studied a lot of different productivity/personal improvement systems, and universal truths pop out. It kind of reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s commentary on the commonalities of the world’s religions. Again and again, you see the suggestion to eliminate clutter. David Allen’s “Dumpster Day” in the GTD system is another example.

So do yourself a favor during your holiday downtime, schedule a work and personal dumpster day, and eliminate clutter!