Do you dig through piles of clothes to find the top you want to wear for the day? When you leave the house, do you struggle to find your keys and your bag among all the items on your side table? You might tell yourself, I'll declutter eventually, but time keeps passing, and your home, office, or car is still filled to the brim with stuff. If any of this resonates with you, you're not alone. But many people don't realise the connection between clutter and mental health.
While accumulating a few extra possessions may not seem like a big deal, clutter can actually have a negative impact on your mental health. Clutter can increase stress levels, make it difficult to focus, take a toll on relationships and more.
The word clutter refers to items that are thrown about in a disorganised fashion. In general, clutter is a collection of items that people accumulate in their homes and don't necessarily use, but hold on to anyway. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, chances are you have some degree of clutter in your home:
Do you own anything that you never use or no longer need, like clothes that don't fit anymore or old electronic devices?
Do you have a "junk drawer" of things you think you'll need, but don't ever use?
Do you find yourself buying new items to replace ones you've lost in your house?
Do you lack access to certain spaces in your home (i.e., you can't open a draw or cupboard)?
Are you afraid to have houseguests over because of the messy state of your home?
Clutter can even be digital — maybe you never get around to clearing out your email inbox or organising the documents on your laptop. Just looking at the amount of files you have on your computer might overwhelm you.
Clutter impacts your physical space in an obvious way; but some people don't realise that clutter can have negative mental health effects, too. Of course, not everyone is affected by clutter in the same way. For instance, someone with perfectionist tendencies is likely to be more stressed out by clutter. But, by becoming aware of how much clutter you have and whether you experience any stress as a result, you'll be better able to discern if there's an opportunity for you to modify your physical space and improve your mental health.
Raised Stress Levels
Ideally, home is a place where we can rest and relax; however, clutter can make it hard to do that. One study found that women who reported more clutter in their homes had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol throughout the day compared to women who had less clutter.
Clutter can actually be distracting. Our brains can only focus on a limited amount of stimuli at a time. So if you're surrounded by clutter when you're trying to work from home, for example, the clutter can actually make it harder for you to think clearly.
Research shows that people with cluttered homes tend to procrastinate on important tasks. You might have to dig through stacks of papers to pay the bills, or maybe you have so many piles of dirty clothes that it feels overwhelming to start the laundry.
It's not uncommon for spouses, partners, or even roommates to argue over whether one person's things are taking up too much space. There might be added strain in a relationship if your clutter is an annoyance to the person you're living with.
In addition, if you're not inviting friends over because your home is cluttered, you might feel a sense of social isolation or even shame.
Fancy a clear out? Here are our key actions that will get you on the right track to decluttering your home and mind, and make your house feel like a home again and less like a dumping ground.
1. Be Prepared For Your War On Clutter
Before you get stuck in, it’s best to set aside some time to dedicate to your decluttering campaign. First off it’s a good idea to make a list of all the rooms or areas you plan to tackle. This doesn’t need to include your entire house unless you’re feeling particularly ambitious, but you should make sure it includes what we call the ‘danger’ zones – the places people often accumulate too much clutter, fail to tidy on a regular basis or just generally use as a dumping ground.
These zones can include kitchen cupboards (or a larder/pantry if you’re lucky enough to have one.) Closets and wardrobes, cupboards and storage areas around the home as well as any garages or sheds you have on your property.
2. Give Yourself A Clean Slate
When attacking your first "danger zone," be sure to empty out the room as much as possible.
Granted this isn’t always the easiest task, especially if you have a lot of heavy furniture in the room, but by clearing out in even one corner it gives you a bit of space – physically and psychologically – to get started.
Arrange similar items together in different areas so you can get a clear idea of just how much you have to sort through – from household bills and papers to kitchenware – so that it’s out of the way.
Then take a good look at the room or zone you’re focusing on so you can visualise how you’d like it to look when the task is complete.
3. Decide What You Need & What You Don’t!
This is likely to be the hardest part of the task and it could well bring up a lot of emotions as you sift through all of those items you’ve accumulated over the years. But it’s important to really think about whether each one is something you’re likely to need in the near future or not.
That dress you’ve been saving for a future occasion but haven’t worn in years, the lamp that doesn’t quite fit with the room’s decor anymore, or all of those canned goods that are almost past their sell-by date – do you really need to keep hold of them?
It’s worth being a little more ruthless than usual for this task – perhaps invite a friend or family member round to help and question you if you’re the type of person who struggles to let go of sentimental items. By the end of this step you should have a large pile of items you don’t need and several (hopefully) much smaller piles of items you plan on keeping.