The negative impact of clutter on mental health

Studies have shown that clutter can have a negative impact on your mental health. Overall, it can increase stress levels, make it more difficult to focus and can have a negative impact on your relationships. Studies have shown that clutter can impact on your mental health causing increased stress levels, difficulty to focus and negatively impacting on your relationships.

What is clutter?

Everyone knows the infamous junk drawer filled with items you think you need, but never actually use. Clutter refers to items that are hurled around in a disorganised way. It is a collection of items that people accumulate in their homes or offices and do not necessarily use, but don’t want to dispose of. It exists in every aspect of our lives: clothes, books, appliances, and even digital clutter has become an enormous problem (as our digital footprint grows, so does the digital clutter).

So, why do people have clutter? The assumption that it can be attributed to laziness is not accurate. There are underlying psychological aspects of clutter and disorganisation that prevent people from tidying up.

Potential reasons could include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed.
  • Objects act as reminders of important things or have sentimental value.
  • Fear of letting go.
  • Finding comfort in possessions.

Why is clutter so damaging to your wellbeing?

Clutter impacts your physical space (home/office) in an obvious way, but not everyone realises its negative mental health effects. Not everyone is affected in the same way. Someone with perfectionist tendencies is likely to be more stressed out by clutter than the more relaxed personality. Becoming aware of how much clutter you have and whether it creates stress as a result will equip you better to improve your space. Research suggests that it can be more difficult to control your impulses when your mental health and your environment are stressful or chaotic.

Here are some of the ways that clutter impacts on your mental health:

  • Increased stress levels: One study found that women who reported more clutter in their homes had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Difficulty focussing: Our brains can only focus on a limited number of stimuli at a time. Clutter can easily make it harder for you to think clearly.
  • Procrastination: People with cluttered homes tend to procrastinate on important tasks. If you must dig through stacks of papers to pay bills, or piles of dirty clothes to start the laundry everything feels overwhelming.
  • Difficulty with relationships: It is common for “space sharers” to argue over one person’s belongings that are taking up too much of the shared space. If this is an annoyance to the other person, it will contribute to unnecessary disagreements and disputes.
  • Trouble controlling impulses: One study found that a cluttered environment with an “out-of-control mind-set” triggered participants to engage in unhealthy eating behaviours.
  • Lower quality of life: Clutter can lead to a constant feeling of frustration as you struggle to complete basic daily tasks. The time you spend looking for stuff you could spend with loved ones or just relaxing.

Decluttering tips

The following tips can assist to address the clutter BUT it is equally important to pay attention to your emotional experience as you address the situation. Dedicate 30 minutes per weekday to declutter a single area of your home. It’s ok to go slowly but ensure that you set goals with a reward system in place.

Use the famous four piles:

  1. Trash: Get rid of this pile first.
  2. Donate: Contact NGOs and other charities – making a difference will also make you feel good.
  3. Keep: Sort and put away everything in this pile.
  4. Undecided: The 1-year golden rule remains. If you haven’t used an item in the last year, chances are you can donate it safely. There is also the option to sell items that are in good condition via Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree or other online platforms.

Organise: Organise items you use every day to be easily accessible. Ensure that you keep surfaces such as countertops and desks free of belongings. Take small steps when organising. Put a system in place that works for you.

Buy organising and storage bins. Most importantly, notice how you feel when you declutter. Does it feel refreshing? Do you feel empowered? A clutter-free home can help inspire you to keep going on your declutter journey.

Maintain a clutter-free space: The key is consistency! Ensure that you can maintain the work you have put in during the declutter process. Get the family involved. Teach the kids to pack away their toys in allocated toy bins – this is also a good learning exercise for their development.


Learn more about decluttering: There are loads of TV shows, books and articles on decluttering. You might be interested in the Japanese art of feng shui which has guidelines on promoting good energy flow in a room based on the arrangement of furniture and belongings. You will also find useful tips online for getting rid of digital clutter.

Be kind to yourself: Blaming and shaming yourself will not change the situation. Also remember you are not alone. Give yourself goals to achieve with time and practice it will get easier. Reward yourself for your efforts!

Lastly, if you feel overwhelmed with this process, consider asking a professional declutter specialist to assist with the process.

Live in Taste: professional organisers, home staging & interior décor services

People hire personal trainers or nutritionists to help with fitness and diet goals. Hiring a professional organiser will assist in rearranging any physical spaces in your life. Professional organisers do more than help you set up great systems, they also transfer skills so that you can maintain the systems going forward.