Have you ever found yourself overwhelmed when you see clutter and mess everywhere? Just the sight of scattered papers, unwashed dishes, and clothes in disarray can create a sense of chaos and stress. Perhaps it has even led to arguments with others because it bothers you more than it bothers them. You are not alone; many people experience feelings of stress and anxiety when confronted with a cluttered home.
So, why does clutter and disorder have such a profound impact on our well-being? Let’s try to understand this better and explore some strategies to tackle it.
Overloading our brain
When we are surrounded by distractions, our brains have to work harder as everything fights for our attention. Research shows that our brains prefer order, and we focus much more easily on a single task rather than multitasking. This means that a tidy environment reduces the competition for our attention so our brain doesn’t have to work so hard. Even if you are good at ignoring distractions, a cluttered space can still overwhelm your capacity to think and remember.
Clutter and mental health
While everyone experiences some level of clutter and disorganization in their lives, significant clutter problems can be associated with underlying mental health conditions such as OCD, depression, ADHD, autism and dyslexia. You may wonder which comes first: does clutter lead to anxiety and distress, or does poor mental health result in disorganization and clutter? It’s perhaps one of those ‘chicken or egg’ questions. The important fact is that the two are related and taking action to address your clutter with an awareness of your neurodiversity will certainly reduce the impact on your mental health. And addressing your mental health issues will help you with clutter as well.
Progress, not perfection: taking control
You can take proactive steps to address the anxiety triggered by mess and clutter, but we shouldn’t strive for perfection – real homes don’t resemble those in magazines. One approach is to regularly declutter your space, perhaps with a dedicated decluttering session each week. Establishing this routine can reduce clutter distractions, lighten your mental load, and ease the worry that clutter will spiral out of control.
If you don’t have time for a full declutter, commit to just five minutes clearing a small area every day. This may help you make a little progress, or at least stop things getting any worse, but ultimately you will probably need to do a bigger piece of work at some time.
If clutter is primarily caused by people you live with, calmly discuss with them how the mess is affecting your mental health. Agree a House Charter regarding what level of clutter is acceptable and how it will be dealt with if it goes beyond what you have all agreed.
Remind yourself that clutter does not define your value as a person. You deserve success, meaningful relationships, and happiness, whether your home is perfectly tidy or not. At the same time, remember that you also deserve to live in a space that nurtures and supports you. I recommend you combine self-compassion with getting into action.
Growing up, perhaps you simply were not taught or modelled the skills to deal with clutter and get organised. On top of this, you may face psychological challenges that simply make doing so harder. Or perhaps both. Developing organization skills takes time, especially if you are neurodiverse, so be patient and seek guidance and support. Most skills can be learned, and even if you never become a master at them, you can develop proficiency.
As a professional organiser and psychotherapist, I can help get your home beautifully organised and set up storage systems that will make it easier to keep it that way. Plus, I offer follow on coaching to help you build and maintain habits that will keep it that way. You might also choose to join my Clutter Shift programme and learn my methodology for yourself.
If the thoughts and feelings you have about clutter, perfectionism, or anxiety become unmanageable, speak with your GP about a referral to a psychologist. The right support can help you align your life with your deeper values, providing guidance and support to regain control over your mindset and living spaces.
You probably already know from experience the significant impact that clutter and mess can have a on mental well-being, productivity, and decision-making.
The good news is that understanding the unique why behind your clutter will empower you to take control of your mindset, your home, and ultimately, your life.
How do you find clutter and anxiety or connected? I’d love to hear in the comments.