The Impact of Clutter on Physical and Emotional Health

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Life can get busy, and we all find ourselves feeling a bit disorganized sometimes. Over half of Americans find themselves stressed out by untidy spaces in their homes. The stress that clutter causes can be handled with a quick cleanup, usually. But if clutter is left unchecked, it can have a detrimental effect on our emotional health as well as our physical health. 

How Clutter Affects Our Physical Health

Clutter places our physical health at risk in a variety of ways. These include:

  • Fall risks, if items or piles of papers or books are lying about.
  • Allergies may be exacerbated due to a buildup of dust minutes, dander, mold, etc.
  • Furniture or objects are more likely to fall if overloaded with items. This can cause damage to property as well as to your person.
  • Paper, books, and magazines in excess can increase the risk of fire both by providing fuel for flames as well as by blocking exit pathways.

How Clutter Affects Our Emotional Health

Our emotions and mental health can be impacted by clutter in various ways, including:

  • Increased cortisol levels, especially in women. Cortisol is a hormone associated with chronic stress.
  • Feeling less satisfaction with life overall.
  • Inability to focus, which is especially significant if you have ADHD.
  • Being embarrassed by the clutter, causing you to feel an increased sense of isolation and fear, especially of inviting anyone over. This is one way hoarding contributes to depression and anxiety.
  • Sensory overload, triggered by a messy space, which may result in memory issues.

How to Address Clutter

The number one way to address clutter is: get rid of things that no longer serve you. 

Make a to-do list and start checking things off. The process of marking things off a list triggers the release of serotonin. That alone contributes to a good feeling and can motivate you to keep up the work of cleaning and organizing. 

Your to-do list can be simple, and it’s perfectly fine to start small. That might look like:

  • Decluttering just one drawer, cabinet, or the top of one table or desk. 
  • Set a timer for 15 minutes and accomplish whatever you can in that amount of time. You’ll be surprised at how much you can get done!
  • Create a system of boxes and label them to help you sort. Label suggestions include: Recycle, Repair, Trash, Donate, Keep

How to Keep Your Space Clutter-Free

Once you’ve tidied up your space, take steps to keep the area free of clutter. 

  • Everytime you bring a new item into your space, get rid of one or more older items.
  • When you receive a package in the mail, before tossing the box in the dumpster, fill it with items to donate or discard (and donate or discard them straight away). 
  • Give your things a designated spot, and be sure to return them to that spot when you’re finished using them.
  • Be a finisher. When you go through your mail, throw away the junk mail immediately, pay the bill that day, etc. This reduces “piles” of paper building up throughout your space.

Get Support If You Need It

If your finances allow for it, consider hiring a housekeeper or a professional organization team. You can opt to book these services once or on a recurring basis, whatever works best for your needs and budget. 

Remember, eliminating the mounds and piles of “stuff” is an effective first step in solving the clutter problem. Maintaining the tidy space through an organizational system or professional cleaner/organizer can help stop the clutter from building up in the first place. This two-step process can put a stop to the ongoing clutter and the anxious or depressed feelings that can come with it.

If your clutter concerns are more of a chronic disorganization or even a hoarding issue, consider cognitive behavioral therapy, which can be incredibly helpful. 

Whatever the reason for the clutter, the mess can be stopped. When we take control of the situation – by cleaning and asking for help if necessary – we are choosing to improve our physical and emotional health, as well as our overall quality of life.


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