Clutter refers to items that are strewn about in a disorderly, disorganized manner. It’s a collection of things lying about in an untidy state. In many homes, clutter includes unused or broken items that are still lying about. Clutter doesn’t just make it difficult to find things and move about, it also has an effect on your mental health.
Your house probably has some degree of clutter if any of these statements resonate and ring true
- You own things that you no longer use or need like clothes that don’t fit and old electronic devices.
- You have a junk drawer of things you think you’ll at one point need but never use.
- You find yourself buying new items to replace the ones you’ve lost in your house.
- You lack access to certain spaces in your home.
- You are hesitant to have guests come over because of the messy state of your home.
Clutter can also be digital for example, a perpetually full email inbox or unorganized documents on your devices.
Mental health effects of clutter
Cluttered spaces make you feel more stressed. Studies show that people who describe their houses as cluttered had higher levels of the stress hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol is called the stress hormone because of the levels of cortisol in the body spike during periods of high stress. Another study found that women who reported more clutter in their homes had higher levels of cortisol throughout the day.
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For people already struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, clutter can function as a trigger impacting your mental health.
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Physical clutter can lead to clutter in the mind negatively impacting your ability to focus. It has the effect of making your brain feel like it’s being pulled in too many directions so that you can’t give anything your full attention. Clutter can make it especially difficult for people who work from home to be productive. A cluttered environment can also decrease your sleep quality leading to a negative feedback loop.
People with cluttered homes tend to procrastinate on tasks. If you have to dig through a stack of papers before you start working, you are likely to procrastinate. The same applies to housework like doing the dishes or washing clothes, if you have piles of dishes or laundry, the task ahead can feel overwhelming so you just postpone the jobs you should be doing.
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The continuous clutter in a messy environment overstimulates the mind. Our brains can only process a certain amount of information at a time. Overstimulation has a negative impact on memory and cognitive function.
Lower subjective well-being
When your home is cluttered with too many things in a small space, your home environment begins to feel like your enemy, not your friend. It takes from your home that feeling of a safe retreat from the retreat of the chaos of the outside world.
One study found that people ate more unhealthy snacks when they were in a disorganized kitchen than when they were in an organized one. The students in the chaotic kitchen ate twice as many cookies as the ones in the orderly one.
There’s a sense of embarrassment and shame that comes with living in a cluttered home. This leads to people locking themselves in and not being as open to hosting guests which can lead to social isolation and loneliness. For people who live with others, clutter can make it difficult to decode other people’s emotional states. That means people who live in a cluttered house together have a decreased ability to accurately figure out how other people are feeling when seeing them in a cluttered space.
One study about perception in movies found that when the background of a scene is highly cluttered, viewers find it more difficult to interpret the emotional expressions on the faces of the characters.
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