How Clutter Affects Your Mental Health – and How to Address It

We humans like stuff. We want to have things to show for our hard work, we like to have beautiful things that our neighbors do, and we like to fill our homes with something to make it more, well – homey. But stuff can quickly get out of hand if we’re not careful. What started as an innocent collection might be piled up in the guest bedroom, covering the bed. Maybe the living room suddenly feels cramped with all the toys, whether kids or grown-up, expensive toys. You might find yourself wondering, How did I get here?

Our clutter has an impact on our health. Not just physical health – I know there’s probably some extra dust bunnies floating around – but also our mental health. It blocks our movement and blocks our train of thought, to the point that we succumb to the “I’ll deal with this later,” trap day after day, week after week, month after month.

You don’t have to be an official “hoarder” to experience negative ramifications from your clutter. Clutter isn’t picky! Maybe you have a lot of memoirs from your life, or perhaps you can’t part with your books, and now they’re stacked in the bedroom. It still affects your mind.

When our clutter gets out of control, we start to see the effects pretty quickly. Here’s what clutter can do to your mental health.

Effects of Clutter

Clutter increases stress and cortisol levels.
Nestled in the temporal lobe of your brain is a tiny thing called the amygdala. The amygdala controls your stress responses, both physical and mental, and activates your survival instincts. When cortisol, a hormone known as the “fight-or-flight hormone,” is released into the brain because of stress, it triggers the amygdala’s stress response. You become tenser, can’t think very clearly, and start to get that sweaty, panicked feeling in your stomach.

Suppose our amygdala is continuously exposed to high levels of cortisol. In that case, the cortisol begins to break down the amygdala, making it even more susceptible to stress and cortisol release. This, in turn, makes us more vulnerable to stress!

Clutter in our home triggers stresses because our brains no longer see it as a safe place of refuge. The more confusion there is, or the longer the clutter is there, the more cortisol is unleashed onto our amygdala. You guessed it, makes us more and more stressed in the long run and causes us to be short-tempered, tense, and keep us from thinking with reason.

Clutter causes memory issues.
Your brain is not meant to keep track of thousands of things at once. It performs best when it’s only responsible for a few core details – so a house full of clutter quickly overwhelms your mind!

The more items you have in front of you, the more information there is to process. This information “clogs” your brain’s thought processes, limiting your mental capacity and causing lapses in your short-term memory. You might even find yourself forgetting pieces of long-term memory that should be second nature – people’s names, phone numbers, names of major streets around you, to name a few. The clutter in your home is pulling your brain in too many different directions!

Decluttering and tossing out the trash is beneficial to your home environment, but it’s also helpful for cognitive function! Committing to end the clutter is committing to improving your memory and overall mental health!

Clutter causes isolation and feelings of shame.
Houses that are clean and “in order” are warm, welcoming, and inviting for those who live there and for guests. If your home has become overrun with clutter, you may feel too ashamed or embarrassed to have people over to visit. This leads to you feeling lonely, sad, and isolated. And it can make a substantial impact on your relationships!

If your relationships start to suffer, that makes you feel even more depressed. Hence, you isolate yourself in your cluttered home, which makes you feel even worse. It’s a vicious cycle into a zero-sum game of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

It can be disheartening and overwhelming to have your home and life overrun with clutter. But you don’t have to live your life this way! Here are the steps you can take to fight back against the clutter and regain control.

How to Change

Ask for Help
I know, we just talked about how clutter can be embarrassing. But the people around you, those you love, are going to be your most potent weapon in this battle. Be transparent and open with them. Tell them about your struggle, and ask them for help and support. Maybe they will be there with you on cleaning day, or perhaps they’re just a listening ear, but you need someone on your side. Ask for help.

Set Guidelines
Establishing some rules or guidelines will help you tremendously as you begin to sift through your clutter. You will still have to make decisions, but the guidelines you set will make a lot of them. Maybe set a direction that you will donate all of the shoes you haven’t worn in the last year. Or make a rule that anything in the kitchen not used in the previous year will be thrown away. These guidelines will help you make quicker work of the sorting process.

Get Organized
It sounds daunting, but bear with me. To get organized, you have to break up your tasks into smaller chunks. Start with one room, maybe your smallest or least cluttered room, to give yourself a smooth start. Sort everything in that room into three piles: Keep, Toss, Donate. If you don’t need it, love it, or haven’t used it in the last year, find a new home for that item!

When you’re done, sort through your Keep Pile and find a place or home for every item. Ensure the house for that item is logical and accessible so that item doesn’t end up just sitting there unused again. If you can’t find a right home for an item, chances are it doesn’t belong in the Keep Pile anyway!

Take it slow, ask for help, and stick with it. Soon, your clutter will no longer hold your mental health hostage. You’ll need somewhere to put your old belongings, consider a dumpster to help you with your new decluttering journey. You’ll find all that and more on our Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.