Home Health Clutter Is A Trigger Of Stress And Anxiety, Psychologists Say

Clutter Is A Trigger Of Stress And Anxiety, Psychologists Say

clutter is a trigger of stress and anxiety

Imagine this: you come home after having a hard day at work and the first thing you notice when you walk through the door is that the whole place looks like a bomb went off.

Your kids have made piles of clothes, books, and toys in their room, the kitchen sink has been cramped with dirty dishes, the coffee table has been covered with empty and half-filled cups, and let’s not forget your dog, which has knocked over a couple of flowerpots.

Well, if you’re like me, you’d start to have a panic attack and go nuts immediately. But don’t worry. You’re not crazy, and there’s nothing wrong with you. In fact, psychologists say that cluttered space triggers stress and anxiety.

Have you ever wondered what the fear of clutter is called? Well, the medical field doesn’t have a specific term for this disorder. However, psychologists call it “obsessive-compulsive disorder”, which is a disorder that happens when people have unwanted recurring thoughts, sensations, or ideas that make them feel obsessed and driven to do something compulsive, such as obsessive hand washing, or cleaning, etc.

What Is Clutter A Symptom Of?

People tend to keep stuff they don’t need or use, such as clothes, documents, photographs, furniture, souvenirs, or bills, because they associate them with memories and remind them of happier times in their lives. Here we can see the psychological elements of mess. One such element is the inability to make decisions that can define a person’s relationship to their belongings and space.

Other factors that cause people to retain things they don’t need or use any longer are attachment, guilt, low self-esteem, and grief.

In addition, clutter can indicate certain psychological conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. People with this condition fear that they may make wrong decisions or feel guilt or regret about throwing away stuff.

Moreover, a person who was raised in a cluttered environment is more likely to retain old stuff which they no longer use or need as an adult.

Does Clutter Cause Stress – Clutter Stress Syndrome?

Clutter causes stress, anxiety, and depression, according to 2009 research from the USA. The research found that the cortisol levels were higher in mothers who lived in cluttered houses (1).

8 Main Reasons Why Clutter Is A Trigger For Stress And Anxiety:

  • Clutter makes us feel overwhelmed since it exposes us to a lot of unimportant stimuli.
  • It makes it harder for us to relax mentally and physically.
  • It makes us feel guilty for not being more organized and embarrassed, especially when someone pays us an unexpected visit.
  • It takes our attention away from things we should focus on.
  • It sends our brains a signal that our work is never finished.
  • It hinders our productivity and creativity.
  • It makes us think about how we’re going to tidy up all the mess.
  • It frustrates us by making it more difficult to find what we need.

Does Clutter Cause Anxiety?

Yes, clutter can cause stress and anxiety. Researchers don’t know exactly why, but they speculate that it may be due to the fact that some people care about tidiness and can’t stand being in a disorganized space. Plus, they tend to associate peace and happiness with a clean house.

Here are 4 other ways in which clutter causes anxiety:

1. Clutter feels never-ending. Therefore, it is extremely overwhelming to see cluttered rooms. It seems as though you need enormous work and effort to clean it up.

2. Clutter will waste your time by distracting you and lowering your focus. It can make you unable to find things you are looking for, which can cause you to feel stressed.

3. Clutter can make you feel guilty because every time you look at it, you may berate yourself for not being more organized and tidy.

4. Clutter may decrease your productivity and creativity. Because when you are stressed out, you forget about being creative or properly doing something you need to do.

What Does Clutter Do To Your Brain?

Clutter has a deteriorating effect on the cognitive functions of our brain. Our brain likes order. It wants to look at organized things because, in that way, it is fully able to focus. On the other hand, looking at a messy home can reduce our ability to focus and think straight. Plus, the cognitive overload that is a result of clutter reduces our working memory.  (1)(2)

Removing clutter from your house and work environment can improve your focus and your ability to process information, as well as increase your creativity and productivity.(3)(4)

How Do You Deal With Clutter Anxiety

Living in a constant state of clutter over-stimulates your brain and prevents you from relaxing and focusing on more important issues as well as projects you need to complete. The tons of stuff scattered around your home constantly reminds you of all the tasks you need to fulfill. (5)

For many people, living in a cluttered environment causes feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt. It also causes them to feel anxious and a loss of control. All this can result in depression fast.

To overcome clutter anxiety, the first and most important thing you need to do is change your mindset. Once you do that, you can truly deal with your clutter and turn your home into a neat and organized space. In what follows, we’ve presented 7 steps you should take to deal with clutter anxiety.

1. Start Small

Many people think that in order to get rid of clutter, they need to declutter their entire home at once. But, this is wrong. 

What you should do is declutter one drawer, cabinet, wardrobe, or room at a time. For example, if you’re tackling the clutter from your dresser, don’t get rid of all your clothes at once. Instead, get rid of items that are torn or stained. After that, you can throw them away. Then take out items that you no longer use and can donate. Having fewer items in your dresser will make it easier to organize and keep it tidy.

2. Clean The Obvious Clutter

What we mean by “the obvious clutter” is the trash and the dishes in the sink. Having an empty and wiped sink and clean kitchen countertops, and taking out the trash that is built up will reduce your stress and anxiety and make you feel in control.

3. Don’t Blame Yourself

When your home is in a state of mess, you can easily begin blaming yourself for the clutter and feeling unproductive and useless. But, instead of engaging in negative self-talk, be proud of yourself for deciding to declutter your home and turn it into a beautiful, neat, livable space.

4. Observe How You Feel

You may have noticed that piles of clothes or dishes you didn’t even notice in the morning make you feel overwhelmed and anxious by the end of the day. Well, there’s a good reason for that. The thing is that the longer you are exposed to mess, the more it affects your mental state.

So, if you notice you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed for no reason, take a look at your environment. For example, if you realize that the clutter in your home is causing you to feel stressed and irritable, make sure you tackle it first prior to continuing to do other things around your house.

5. Reward Yourself

Once you’ve tackled some of the clutter in your home, don’t forget to reward yourself. For instance, if you cleared your wardrobes of clothes that don’t fit you anymore, go buy yourself a few comfortable and stylish pieces of clothes to replace them. Or, if you got rid of a couple of torn boots, buy a new pair of boots that you know you’ll wear the next winter season.

6. Keep A Gratitude Journal

When decluttering your environment, it’s a good thing to keep a gratitude journal where you’ll write about all your efforts that are improving the quality of your life. For example, ask yourself the following questions and write the answers in your gratitude journal: Do I spend less time looking for my keys in the morning before going to work? Do I get ready for work faster? Am I feeling calmer and more relaxed? Am I feeling more patient with my family? 

7. Be Consistent

Sometimes you’ll manage to tackle a small amount of clutter, and other times, you’ll manage to declutter an entire room. Sometimes the clutter will get worse, and you’ll feel unproductive. And that’s okay. What matters is that you stay consistent. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Tackle as many spaces as you can, one at a time.

Is clutter a mental illness? Or, more importantly, what does clutter do to your mental health?

Sadly, clutter doesn’t go away when we go to sleep. And our problems don’t stop there. In fact, sleeping in a cluttered room can cause you major sleep problems such as insomnia or disturbed sleep, which negatively affect your overall health (6) (7).

According to research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, clutter has a negative impact on the overall well-being of a person. For example, clutter causes stress, anxiety, and depression. Plus, another research has discovered that when you are in a cluttered room, you’re more likely to grab a bar of chocolate than an apple. Poor health choices have also been linked to clutter, which causes people living in cluttered homes to be overweight.

The Clutter-Depression-Anxiety Cycle

A cluttered environment can cause anxiety and depression, and one of these conditions or both can lead to a cluttered environment. It’s a vicious and never-ending cycle.

The only way to break this cycle is to shift your mindset. Find the strength and decide to declutter your home and part with items you no longer need or use.

Decluttering and organizing your environment will reduce your stress and anxiety. It’ll make you feel more relaxed and in control of your home. It’ll increase your energy levels and enable you to focus more on other projects and issues.

Can People Feel Pain From Clutter?

Yes. Clutter can make you experience pain that feels almost physical. When we keep buying things we don’t need, getting rid of them can be a painful experience. Namely, people with compulsive hoarding disorder keep possessions and buy unnecessary things which clutter their space, and removing them from their house can also be a trigger for anxiety and depression. (8)

People with hoarding disorder can feel physical pain when they throw away their items because the areas of the brain associated with pain get activated (the same regions that get started when you put your hand on a hot stove or slam your finger in a door).

Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter says: “Clutter can play a significant role in how we feel about our homes, our workplaces, and ourselves. Messy homes and workspaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed. Yet, rarely is Clutter recognized as a significant source of stress in our lives.” 

So, the question is: Why is the mess stressful and anxiety-inducing?

If you are like me, you often question yourself: “Why am I so messy and disorganized?”

The answer is that people who are surrounded by clutter are often perfectionists. However, they lack the skills to organize their lives. You can’t blame yourself for that. Clutter stress syndrome is a mental disorder, but you can regain control over it and change your life.

If you are often late for meetings, if you always lose things and can’t find anything you need, if you hate deadlines, and if everything in your life seems chaotic – don’t worry. It can be solved with time and a good strategy.

Here’s how you can effectively do that, according to Carter:

1. If your house is full of stacks of clutter, don’t clean out things by yourself. Instead, get the whole family involved in decluttering.

You can do this by making each person responsible for one room. And if you are on your own, start by cleaning up the clutter in one room at a time and finish tidying up that area before moving on to the next one.

2. You can prevent clutter from invading your place by creating specific places for items you often use. In this way, you’ll be able to find what you are looking for faster and more easily.

Yet, avoid storing items on open shelves because you’ll still be able to see the clutter that triggers stress. Instead, store items in “closed” spaces, such as cabinets and drawers.

3. Get rid of things you don’t use, need, or want. Whether you’ll recycle it, donate it, or just toss it out, it doesn’t matter – make sure it no longer occupies a place in your home.

As for the items you rarely use, you can keep them in boxes (e.g., in the garage) so that you make more space for the things you use more commonly.

4. After you’ve finished using something, put it back to its designated place right away. In this way, you’ll prevent clutter from piling up all over the house.

5. Make a pending folder. This will benefit you in two ways. First, it’ll help you clear off your workspace. Secondly, it’ll make it easier for you to find pending projects.

6. Make sure you don’t let papers turn into piles. Go through all your newspapers, magazines, menus, flyers, and mail and get rid of those you don’t need.

7. Tidy up your workspace after you’ve finished working. In this way, you’ll feel more satisfied because you’ll know you’ve finished with your work, and I believe you’ll agree that it feels really good when you return to a clean space.  

8. Last but not least, don’t forget to make it fun. As you’re decluttering your home, put on your favorite songs. This way, not only will you enjoy the music, but the time will pass more quickly, and you’ll more likely work faster.

How Does Decluttering Reduce Stress?

If you’ve ever felt happier and calmer just because you decluttered your bedroom and got rid of so many things, know there’s a good reason – decluttering reduces stress. (9)

Decluttering and organizing a space enables you to take control of your environment and makes you feel calmer, more relaxed, and happier. Creating a relaxing and clean environment, in turn, helps you focus your attention on other projects you need to complete and more important problems in your life.

Another way decluttering decreases stress is by providing a sense of satisfaction, pride, and accomplishment. Getting rid of unnecessary stuff makes you feel more in control, more organized, and satisfied.

Clutter Is A Trigger Of Stress And Anxiety, Psychologists Say