Clutter is defined as ‘a collection of things lying about in an untidy mass.’ While some people can work great in chaotic and messy environments, others need things to be precise and meticulous in order to function properly. But some research might suggest that the role clutter plays in our mental well-being is a lot more prominent than you might think. A study conducted by UCLA’s Center On Everyday Lives and Families showed that the relationship between clutter, anxiety, and stress is chemical. The study showed that women who live in cluttered homes have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than average.
Another study by Princeton University found that working in a physically cluttered environment negatively affects your ability to focus and process information, which leads to stress. On top of the scientific literature on the subject, psychologists also agree that clutter can be a great source of anxiety for some people. According to psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter, who writes for Psychology Today, a messy home and/or work environment can lead to more stress and in some cases, the clutter itself can be ‘a significant source of stress.’ Sherrie says that there are 8 main components which contribute to clutter causing so much stress. The first is that clutter causes an abundance of stimuli from the external world whether it be through sight, sound, touch, smell or taste. Sherrier says that this causes ‘our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.’
Secondly, clutter takes away our attention because we are no longer focusing on our goals or task at hand and instead we need to take time to focus on the clutter. Thirdly, Sherrie says that clutter makes it hard for people to sit back and relax. Whether they have to physically clean the mess themselves or whether it be a mental taxation on the mind, clutter makes it hard for people to relax. And fourth, Sherrie says that clutter sends signals ‘to our brains that our work is never done.’
Because of the clutter and the mess, clutter causes our brains to think that we are never finished when in reality, you could have been done all your work! Clutter can also cause anxiety in some people because they don’t know exactly where things are and they are unsure ‘what it’s going to take to get through to the bottom of the pile.’ Sixth, clutter causes mixed emotions in some people. For those who need an organized and clean home or workspace, seeing clutter can cause feelings of guilt or embarrassment.
Seventh, Sherrie says that open spaces (which are free from clutter) allow people to be both creative and productive. Thus, on the contrary, a lack of open space prevents creativity and productivity which Sherrie says is necessary for thinking, brainstorming, and problem-solving. And finally, clutter can cause feelings of frustration or even anger since we can get agitated when we can’t find what we need amidst the mess and clutter.
But have no fear, Sherrie doesn’t just offer the symptoms of anxiety with clutter, she also comes forth with suggestions to declutter and also de-stress. Sherrie said: ‘tackle de-cluttering as a family. If clutter has invaded your entire house, don’t tackle the job alone. Get the whole family involved by starting with a room everyone uses and making each person responsible for a section. If you’re on your own, start with one area at a time and finish de-cluttering that area before moving on to another. This will give you a sense of accomplishment as you see your successes little by little.’
Sherrie went on to say: ‘create designated spaces for frequently used items and supplies so that you can quickly and easily find what you’re looking for when you need it. However, try to make these designated spaces “closed” spaces, such as drawers and cabinets. “Storing” things on open shelves or on top of your desk does not remove those visual stimuli that create stress and lessen the amount of open space that your mind “sees.”’ And finally, Sherrie said to make cleaning fun! Turn on some music, or clean with family and friends, by making the activity enjoyable it makes it less of a chore and more easily adherable.