Clutter, Declutter, and Mental Health

By: Nick Ma

Did you know January is National Get Organized Month? Nick walks us through its origins, the kinds of clutter, how to declutter, and how it all relates to mental health.

Content warning: decluttering, clutter

Origins

The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) came up with the idea of “National Get Organized Month” in 2005 to promote the hiring of professional organizers. In most cases, hiring a professional organizer is not something an individual needs, but we can all benefit from having a clean, organized space to help clear up some of anxiety and stress.

Clutter and Mental Health

Having less clutter is about freeing up space to be more productive so we focus on living a balanced life.

Scientists have long studied the effects of clutter on our mental state. There is ample research correlating stress with clutter. A great article from Psychology Today highlights some key points.

Why does mess lead to so much stress?

  1. Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.
  2. Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on.
  3. Clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
  4. Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.
  5. Clutter makes us anxious because we’re never sure what it’s going to take to get through to the bottom of the pile.
  6. Clutter creates feelings of guilt (“I should be more organized”) and embarrassment, especially when others unexpectedly drop by our homes or workspaces.
  7. Clutter inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brainstorm, and problem solve.
  8. Clutter frustrates us by preventing us from locating what we need quickly (e.g. files and paperwork lost in the “pile” or keys swallowed up by the clutter).

Scared? Well don’t worry, that’s only physical clutter. Did we mention that mental clutter is a thing as well?

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Just like a cluttered desk, mental clutter builds up and impacts our ability to function. Like the author on declutterist so eloquently worded it, mental clutter is the stuff that keeps us stuck in self-sabotage, suffering, struggle, stress, and separation. It is the stuff that makes life hard and complicated. It is the stuff that puts us at odds with everyone else.

Indeed, an article on Psychology Today mentions the accumulation of clutter leads to feelings of emotional conditions in which anxiety, shame, embarrassment, [and] depression.

It manifests as, confusion, chattering inner-dialogue, feelings of chaos, the sense of losing control. Such intense inner clutter exacerbates feelings of anxiety and stress in daily life.

The Need for Decluttering

As humans, we have a natural tendency to gather stuff in our life. However, many times we don’t stop to think about how these mundane objects affect our daily life. For many of us, organization sounds like a chore that parents scolded us for not doing. It had no tangible benefit other than to get the parents off our backs. In truth, the reality of decluttering is so much more intricate.

This is what allows professional organizers and organization businesses to exist. As our understanding of clutter and stress increases, we realize the effects and benefits to managing it.

Physical Decluttering

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Maintaining a clean home can help you de-stress . For instance, a clean desk can help us focus more on work. Think of a time when you had a clean environment and the next time that it was messy. Be mindful of feelings of peace or anxiety in each environment. We hope that as you become mindful of your feelings in each environment, that it becomes motivation to invest in organization habits however minor it may be.

Mental Decluttering

Multitasking has been heralded as the king of the digital work environment, but scientists have argued time and time again, that the human brain can only focus on one task at a time. When multitasking, multiple unfinished tasks pile up and becomes mental clutter. As we add more tasks and deadlines, every time we context switch to another task, we thrash around the numerous mental piles of paper on our desks. This leads to us taking longer, and longer to perform tasks as our minds scramble to find information among the various piles of mental clutter.

How has Decluttering Impacted your life?

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Personally, as I worked to find balance in my own life, I found myself more interested in decluttering and organization. As the anxiety and stresses of school and career became more dulled, space and time to organize came up. As more organization happened, there was a lower the amount of stress and anxiety in my work and home, that allowed me to focus better and free up even more time. A virtuous cycle so to speak.

I think either we find ourselves free of the stress that we being to look into decluttering and organizations or we start organizing things to help fight stress. It doesn’t matter which way we start, just so long as we are mindful of the benefits of organizing in our increasingly hectic culture.

How has decluttering helped you in your life? Share in the comments below!


For more about clutter and its relationship with focus and mental health, visit: bebrainfit.com, unclutteter.com, shape.com, paruresishelp.com, sonima.com, makeuseof.com, attn.com

You can use our site if-me.org to share with loved ones your mental health experiences and plan out strategies to tackle them. We’re an open source organization run by volunteers.