It seems as if everyone is Marie Kondo-ing (yep, the decluttering guru is now a verb) their home. Clearing out clutter is the activity du jour. A tidy and orderly house is nice, sure, but if you need further motivation to throw stuff out, do it for your mental health. There’s a growing body of research linking clutter with stress and depression.
Read on to learn what the science says about clutter and your state mind. Plus, actionable tips from a professional home organizer on how to purge your home of things and gain control of the mess. Download this clutter checklist to start decluttering today.
Tidy house, tidy mind: What the science says
It turns out, more stuff won’t make you happier.
A 2017 study examined the effects of clutter on different age groups: college students, young adults in their 20s and 30s, and older adults over 50. The report found that procrastination and clutter were closely linked — people put off clearing out their homes because cleaning and organizing can be cumbersome, so they’d rather not do it. But this avoidance impacts your mental health. Clutter problems led to a big drop in life dissatisfaction among the older adults.
Clutter can also raise your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. An extensive study from the Los Angeles-based Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) looked at 60 families and found that women who described their home as cluttered had higher levels of cortisol throughout the day. They also reported feeling more depressed as the day went on, more tired in the evening, and had more difficulty switching from work to home.
Men, however, weren’t as bothered by the mess, and as a result had lower levels of cortisol. The study suggests that women may feel more responsibility for the home environment, compared to men.
Clutter and brain power
A cluttered space can also negatively impact your concentration. A study from the Princeton Neuroscience Institute looked at clutter’s effect on the brain. It found that having too much visual stimuli makes it difficult for your brain to focus and process information. When people look at too much stuff, their brain power and productivity tank.
“I find that my patients with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) start to function better in their lives when their home feels neat and organized, and they’re able to create systems for where they keep certain objects like phone, wallet, and keys,” says Ellen Vora, MD, a holistic psychiatrist.
How to get rid of clutter
Here’s the good news — while that giant stack of old magazines may seem insurmountable, you can get a handle on clutter.
There isn’t one way to clear up the mess, and you’ll want to pick an approach that resonates with you. Marie Kondo, for instance, suggests an all-or-nothing approach. You tackle your entire house over the course of a mere few weeks, and keep only those things that “spark joy,” as she puts it. Others may adopt a more modest approach, and recommend starting with something small, like your bathroom cabinet.
Visual clutter versus physical clutter
“Organizing is important because the more organized you are, the less stress you have in your life, and the more time you’ll have to do what you want to do,” says professional organizer Barbara Reich.
Reich distinguishes between two types of clutter: visual (what you see when you look around a room) and physical clutter (the amount of stuff you have).
To reduce visual clutter, she recommends:
- Start with countertops and surfaces. “Having clear countertops and surfaces is one of the easiest ways to reduce visual clutter,” says Reich. “If there’s an area that you tend to dump or drop things, consider placing a tray with a candle or framed picture there.”
- Have uniform hangers in closets to tone down visual noise
- Choose identical containers (even if they’re different sizes)
To cut down on physical clutter:
- Get rid of all toiletries passed their expiration date.
- Eliminate all food that is passed the “use by” date.
- Throw out or give away all clothing that is stained, doesn’t fit, or beyond repair.
And the most obvious strategy — buy less. The fewer things you bring into your home, the less stuff will pile up.
For more home organizing strategies, head over here to start decluttering your life — and your mind — today.