Clutter. Not only does the word sound ugly, but it can also have some ugly psychological side effects without you even being aware of it!
Simply being surrounded by disorganization can actually increase stress levels and exacerbate mental health conditions (e.g. anxiety and depression).
Nobody sets off to have a cluttered mess, but soon enough you can find yourself in a stressful, messy environment if you don’t declutter and put everything properly back into place.
It sounds easy enough: clean up after yourself and eliminate things you don’t need. But when we look at the causes of clutter, there are many factors we can resonate with and need to address.
The top causes of clutter are:
- Disorganized lifestyle
- Being overly attached to our items and holding onto them forever
- Keeping a collection in the hopes it will increase in value
- No motivation; the mess seems too daunting to tackle
- Lack of time; prioritizing other activities over decluttering
In fact, giving up an item and throwing it out affects the anterior cingulate cortex, “the same area of the brain that lights up when you feel physical pain from a paper cut or drinking coffee that’s too hot.” according to a research report from LifeHacker. But, you can be assured that the “pain” will subside, and the benefits of a cluttered free environment outweigh the negative.
How Clutter Causes Stress
Now, let’s take a look of some of the negative psychological effects that can occur as a result of having a cluttered office space, closet, garage or home in general.
Many of these are obvious (for example, clutter is unsightly and an eyesore to look at, clutter makes it difficult to find things you are looking for, etc.) but many of these symptoms may surprise you; especially the psychological symptoms that you internalize:
By keeping a messy workspace, home environment, car, etc. your brain is working extra hard to process this information. Not only does it have to focus on the task you want to accomplish, but it is then distracted from your current strain of thought due to the excessive items that are surrounding you.
Those jumbled candles, disorganized magazines on the table; the cramped artwork on your walls, the buzzing cellphone; are all sending messages to your brain that make it hard for you to function optimally.
This is why simply sitting on your couch and listening to music, watching TV, etc. can all cause stress, because the various cluttered items are pulling your attention away.
Signals Our Brains to Keep Working Instead of Relaxing
Working is good for us, and it’s important to keep busy. But, when your brain is constantly telling you that you haven’t finished a task, and you don’t take breaks, you become a hamster on a wheel; running with no destination in sight.
So, once you finish completing something and you get home to a cluttered environment, it is signifying your brain that you still actually have work to do. And, what’s worse is that you become even more stressed out when you put off the organizing and decluttering process.
In order to train your brain to relax and accept that it is done working, you need a clear environment free of stressful stimuli.
Creates Feelings of Guilt
Having a cluttered environment starts the process of a vicious internal cycle. You begin to feel guilty and bad about yourself due to the mess.
While you may be attached to the various food in the pantry that you know in the back of your mind you will never eat, you still hold onto it and trick yourself into believing you will use it one day, instead of tossing it out or donating the food.
You may feel connected to your dad’s old pile of baseball and football cards, or your mom’s stuffed animal collection that was passed onto you, but you know deep down that holding onto these items is not healthy for you or your environment.
You may even be too embarrassed and ashamed to have people come over due to the mess, and excess items you have in your home. Thus, the best way to combat this feeling of guilt and embarrassment about your clutter is to clear it out, so that you can continue to go about your life normally and have people over without feeling embarrassed.
Inhibits Creativity and Deters You From Your Best Thinking and Brainstorming Potential
Again, going back to the excessive stimuli idea, clutter is your worst enemy as far as clear, innovative thinking. You simply cannot come up with your best ideas when something is constantly pulling you away from your focus.
That alarm clock on your desk, the jar of pens and pencils, the multiple tabs open on your browser; these are all distracting your creativity abilities. The best way to get some serious thinking done is to clear out your space, which subconsciously also clears the mind.
Clutter is something that should be addressed right away if you have it in your home. If you think you don’t have time to declutter, imagine the time that you waste trying to find what you are looking for in the cluttered mess.
If you feel bad for clearing out an old collection that likely won’t accumulate value, focus on the positive: that you will have a clearer, more tidy home to host your guests in.
If you can’t sit still without worrying about deadlines, work, or school assignments, clean out your environment so that you can finally distress without receiving signals that activate the stress hormones in your brain. Decluttering a cluttered environment may seem like a difficult task at first, but your brain will thank you once it’s clear.