Cleaning Your House to Clear Your Mind – How Clutter Affects Mental Health

Modern society orbits around the idea that the more you have, the happier you are. This couldn’t be further from the truth! A consumer-oriented culture wants people to buy, buy, buy, but those mounting possessions can cause damage to your mental health. 

A cluttered environment stagnates your energy and causes undue stress by raising levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, but there’s an easy solution: clearing out and parting with excess items. It’s very easy to look up one day and find yourself in a house full of things you’ll never use — and it’s not just your home. Your desk, car, closet, and calendar or inbox can be aggravating factors to your mental health if not kept tidy. 

Tidying up your life doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, though. This guide will discuss how taking small, manageable steps to clear out your clutter also helps keep your mental health in tip-top shape. 

How Clutter Affects Your Thoughts and How You Feel

Clutter Affects Mental Health of the People

Stress hormones rise when you’re in a chaotic, messy room, and while you might get used to working around clutter, it ‘s still making your day harder, even if you don’t realize it. Lingering clutter puts your body in a constant fight-or-flight mode that leaves you mentally and physically exhausted. Bad habits, such as overeating, often become more prevalent when we’re stressed. Constant mess in any area of life has several distinct effects on mental health, including: 

Increased Cortisol

Cortisol is the stress hormone. Clutter and disarray cause the release of cortisol, which stimulates the alarm system in our brain. We get an unsettling feeling accompanied by a rushing heartbeat, sweat, and panic. Constant stress interferes with the way we think and feel. 

Unhealthy Eating

Being in a cluttered room may lead you to eat more sweets. Studies show that cooks in a messy kitchen reach for sweets more often than those in a tidy kitchen, for example, which may mean that a chronically chaotic environment leads to unhealthy choices.

Focus Fails

Disorganization makes it harder to focus. Too many things laying around makes it hard to concentrate on what’s happening now. It’s easy to forget your flash drive for the presentation at work when you’re surrounded by dirty dishes and this week’s junk mail. The brain naturally organizes things, so being in a continually messy environment taps its cognitive reserves and lessens its concentration abilities. Being visually distracted by a messy room causes a cognitive overload that reduces working memory.

Allergies and Illnesses

There’s a reason your dad calls all your mom’s figurines “dust collectors.” A lot of stuff gathers dust, and it’s impossible to keep a room full of clutter clean. Allergens such as pet dander and dust mites accumulate on clutter and cause itchy eyes, sneezing, and coughing. No one is at their best when they’re sick, and a constant sniffle will have you mentally stressed in no time.

Reduced Visual Processing

Reading your surroundings is more challenging when you’re besieged with visual stimuli. You feel slightly confused and a little distracted when surrounded by chaos. Clutter reduces your ability to process what you see as quickly as usual, even if you’re used to it being around. It also makes it harder to interpret someone’s facial expressions and emotional cues during a conversation in a cluttered room.

Many people can put it to the back of their minds and carry on, but there’s no doubt that clutter can make us feel bad physically and mentally. Clearing the clutter can cut back on the extra stressors and free up headspace for more important things. Tidying up even the biggest mess can be tackled in small, simple steps.

Simple Steps to Clear Clutter

Woman Decluttering

The idea of getting organized might seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Starting with the following basic steps can make it easier.

1. Take Out the Trash

Starting with the garbage gives you some room to move and see what you’re working with. Go through every room in your home and toss any old newspapers, store receipts, food wrappers, crusty cosmetics, and broken stuff. Tossing even small amounts of this kind of stuff can be a great first step to decluttering.

2. Recycle

Clothes you haven’t worn in over a year aren’t going to get worn again. Styles change, and so do our bodies. Go through your closet, take out everything you haven’t worn in more than a year, donate it to charity, have a yard sale, or try a selling app like LetGo. Try to keep track of what you want to give away and what goes up for sale by placing each item in either a sell or donate pile.

3. 10-Minute Tidy

Set aside 10 minutes at the end of every day to tidy up. Choose a simple task like vacuuming, folding the laundry, or doing a load of dishes. It helps to designate a certain place for items you use often, so you always know where to find them. Ten minutes a day of cleaning keeps you from falling behind on household chores while working on the clutter. 

4. Store Seasonal Items

Store your seasonal items out of sight until you need them, including clothing. This keeps a lot of clutter out of the way. Storing winter coats and heavy sweaters when spring arrives makes room for summer clothes instead of cramming them all together. Just make sure you aren’t storing things  to avoid dealing with them now.  It might be out of sight and out of mind, but if you haven’t worn it in the last few years, you probably won’t wear it next year either. 

5. Start With One Room

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you first start the decluttering process, especially if you’re doing your whole home. Start with one room before going on to the next. Seeing a fully decluttered room is excellent motivation to move on to the rest of the house.

A cluttered home or workspace can impact all areas of life without you even noticing on a conscious level. Clearing out possessions that no longer serve you is a step toward a healthy life. Taking just a few minutes a day to tackle a problem area will provide the necessary space to work on your physical and mental wellbeing and have you back to your usual tidy self in no time.

Your Go-To Resource for Naturopathic Health Questions in the D.C. Area 

An uncluttered life is one of many naturopathic steps you can take to better living. Dr. Karen Threlkel offers a wide range of naturopathic medical services in her practice, all aimed at finding a natural path to improving your well-being.  

Contact Dr. Threlkel to schedule a consultation for more information about decluttering for your health or to discuss natural remedies and treatments.

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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