What Clutter Does to Your Mental Health

Feb 29, 2024 / Laura Bolt

Clutter can have a significant impact on your mental health, and it’s something that many people struggle with daily.

Whether its piles of paper on your desk, clothes scattered about your bedroom, or a cluttered kitchen counter, excess stuff can weigh you down and contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety.

“There’s such a misconception when it comes to decluttering and organizing that it’s solely for aesthetics. While I aim for all my clients’ spaces to look beautiful, I care so much more about how it feels,” says professional organizer Jen Robin of Life in Jeneral. “Clutter isn’t just physical; it’s mental and emotional. It can make you feel anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed. It’s like every item is silently demanding your attention, which can be incredibly draining.”

The link between clutter and mental health has long been established, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to get organized.

If you feel stressed out by mess, check out our tips to cut clutter and improve your mental health.

Get to the Root of Things

So, what does clutter do to your mental health? For starters, it can make you feel overwhelmed and anxious. When surrounded by clutter, it can be challenging to relax and unwind, and it can be tough to focus on tasks and responsibilities. The physical manifestation of clutter can also be a constant reminder of unfinished projects and tasks, which can lead to feelings of guilt and shame.

In addition to contributing to stress and anxiety, clutter can negatively impact your overall sense of well-being. A cluttered space can make you feel disconnected from your home and personal life, and it can be challenging to find joy and contentment when you’re constantly surrounded by chaos.

“A cluttered home represents a cluttered mind,” says organizer Susan Stewart of Perfectly Placed. “I’ve worked with a lot of ADHD clients; the more clutter there is out, the more distracted you are, the harder it is to concentrate.”

It’s also worth noting that clutter can sometimes be a symptom of deeper issues, such as hoarding behavior or an inability to let go of certain items. If you find that you’re struggling to declutter and keep a clean and organized space, you may want to seek out the support of a mental health professional.

If you need help with time management, be sure to check out our blog’s tips for getting things done.

Start Small

When it comes to clutter and your mental health, it’s okay to start small. Kathleen Crombie, therapist and the cognitive behavioral coach behind Order to Organize says, “A simple way to get started is removing broken items and trash and recycling.

Remove items that do not belong to you or in the space at home. Next, sort like with like if there is space.”

If you’re not sure where to start, Robin says that “the space that will affect you most deeply will depend on who you are, your routine, and what you cherish most. For example, I thrive on my morning routine. It doesn’t always look the same, but I know that starting my day with my greens, coffee, and a list for the day ahead makes my entire day better. Therefore, disorganization in my supplement/coffee drawer and the table where I do my note-taking are particularly disruptive for me. If there’s clutter in those areas, I start my day feeling overwhelmed and frazzled.”

Feng Shui is one way to feel more peaceful in your space. Check out our guide here.

Clutter Can Weigh You Down

woman cleaning clutter to help improve mental health

Focus on getting rid of items that you no longer need or use. Donate or sell items that are still in good condition (giving back is also a great way to make yourself feel better).

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, Robin recommends that you “begin with a small drawer or a single cabinet. Not only will you start to build this beautiful habit, but I promise you that the feeling you will get when that small space is complete, will give you the motivation to keep going! The key is to make the task seem less daunting. Once you experience the immediate satisfaction of clearing out a small area, it builds momentum and confidence to tackle larger projects.”

Ask for Help

Sometimes, when it comes to clutter and mental health, there is strength in numbers! Having an impartial eye can make it easier for anyone to let go of clutter, but that extra boost of assistance can make all the difference if you’re struggling with mental health. Consider hiring a professional when you start feeling overwhelmed.

Stewart notes that for her clients struggling with depression, “it can be a real pick me up to have a professional come in and help them clear a space. That can be encouraging and empowering to realize that clutter is something that can be handled.”

Are you interested in hiring a professional organizer for your home? We’ve got some tips on finding a good fit.

Create a Routine

Establishing routines and habits can help alleviate clutter’s toll on your mental health. This might include setting aside time each day to tidy up, setting limits on the number of items you allow in your home, and finding ways to store and organize your possessions in a way that works for you. Remember, it’s okay to strive for “clean enough.”

How you feel in your space is the most important thing to consider.

As you work, Crombie recommends that you use positive affirmations to encourage yourself. A few phrases she likes are:

  • “I am working on the issue.”
  • “Progress, not perfection.”
  • “I am focusing on keeping items for my life now.'”

Clutter can significantly impact mental health, so it’s essential to declutter your space and set up routines that help you maintain a clean and organized environment. By taking control of your environment, you can improve your well-being and reduce stress and anxiety.

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