Clutter refers to owning too many possessions which collectively contribute to living spaces which are disorderly and chaotic (Roster et al 2016). People naturally have a desire to own items which link them to people, places and experiences they deem important – this is part of how we reflect our identities. However, having an excessive number of items can detract from these positive benefits and in fact contribute to a negative experience of well-being (Roster et al. 2016). This means that decluttering your space can be beneficial beyond simply making items easier to find. A tidy space can benefit your mental health and wellbeing in many ways.
Here are some of the major ways through which decluttering can improve your mental health
Research shows that people are more likely to make errors and mistakes in untidy spaces than in tidy spaces (Mateo et al. 2013). In a cluttered environment, the brain is less able to process information, meaning it is more difficult to concentrate on tasks at hand. By competing for your attention, clutter can decrease your ability to think clearly, in turn contributing to higher levels of stress (McMains & Kastner 2011). Allowing your space to impair your ability to focus means that you are allowing it to impair your ability to retain information, learn, use reason, solve problems, and make decisions. Overall, the ability to focus is fundamental to your ability to think (Taylor J 2014).
Clutter can also have negative impacts on sleeping patterns. Those who have lower quality sleep tend to have compromised cognition, which has similar effects to an impaired ability to focus. This means that cluttered spaces can negatively impact your ability to pay attention, learn, process information, use memory, and solve problems by compromising your sleep. Moreover, if an individual is at risk for depression or high levels of stress, a lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can heighten this risk (St Lawrence University 2015). Clutter can also inhibit one’s ability to relax by increasing unhealthy behaviours which can contribute to feelings of being anxious and/or depressed. Such unhealthy behaviours include eating more unhealthy foods, watching more TV, and exercising less (Tufvesson, 2020).
When the quality of one’s personal spaces is compromised by clutter, one’s subjective well-being can be negatively impacted (Roster et al 2016). Research conducted in 2009 found that the stress hormone cortisol was higher in people whose homes were more cluttered (Saxbe & Repetti 2009). Beyond stress and anxiety, the levels of clutter in our home contributes to overall satisfaction with life (Roster et al. 2016). This is because our homes are not just the physical spaces we live in, but something which is central to the creation of an individual’s world (Roster et al. 2016).
The simple action of decluttering your space has a significant impact on what is referred to as your ‘self-efficacy’. Self-efficacy is the extent to which someone perceives themselves as competent and able to act autonomously, which in turn allows a person to improve themselves and succeed overall (Stiff 2019). Successfully completing something such as decluttering your space can boost your sense of self-efficacy, which has been shown to positively impact overall wellbeing. To achieve this improved self-efficacy, however, it is important that realistic goals are set. Your space does not have to compare to that of a professionally styled TV set or social media post. Rather, your space should be functional and satisfying according to your own taste and how you use your space.
Give decluttering a try, not just for the cleanliness of your space, but the cleanliness of your mind.
Mateo R, Hernandez J, Jaca C, Blazsek S. 2013. Effects of Tidy/Messy Work Environment on Human Accuracy. Management Decision. Vol. 51. No. 9 pp. 1861-1877. DOI: 10.1108/MD-02-2013-0084
McMains S & Kastner S. 2011. Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex. Journal of Neuroscience. Vol. 31. No. 2 pp. 587-597. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3766-10.2011.
Roster C, Ferrari J, Jurkat P. 2016. The Dark Side of Home: Assessing Possession ‘Clutter’ on Subjective Well-being. Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol. 46 pp. 32-41. DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2016.03.003
Saxbe D & Repetti R. 2009. No Place Like Home: Home Tours Correlate with dail Patterns of Mood and Cortisol. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol. 36. No. 1 pp71-81. DOI: 10.1177/0146167209352864
Stiff C. 2019. Marie Kondo: a Psychologist Assesses the KonMari Method of Tidying. The Conversation [Internet]. Accessed 2 July 2020. Available from: https://theconversation.com/marie-kondo-a-psychologist-assesses-the-konmari-method-of-tidying-110217
Taylor J. 2014. Focus is the Gateway to Business Success. Huffington Post [Internet]. Accessed 2 July 2020. Available from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/focus-is-the-gateway-to-b_b_4206552#:~:text=Focus%20is%20so%20important%20because,ability%20to%20think%20will%20suffer.&text=Here's%20a%20simple%20reality%3A%20if,you%20can't%20think%20effectively.
Author Unknown. 2015. Student-Faculty Sleep research Published, Presented. St Lawrence University [Internet]. Accessed 2 July 2020. Available from: https://www.stlawu.edu/news/student-faculty-sleep-research-published-presented
Tufvesson A. 2020. Live Well with Less. Law Society of NSW Journal. Vol. 65 pp. 52-53.