Clutter and Mental Health: What's the Connection? (2024)

Clutter and mental health are connected. While clutter is sometimes associated with increased creativity, it can also leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed if it gets to be too much or interferes with your ability to function effectively in your daily life.

Do you dig through piles of clothes to find the shirt you want to wear for the day? When you leave the house, do you struggle to find your keys and wallet among all the items on your kitchen table? Maybe you can't open the garage door because there are so many boxes of knick-knacks.

You might tell yourself, I'll declutter eventually. But time keeps passing, and your home, office, or car is still filled to the brim with stuff. If any of this resonates with you, you're not alone. But many people don't realize the connection between clutter and mental health.

What Is the Impact of Clutter on Mental Health?

While accumulating a few extra possessions may not seem like a big deal, clutter can actually have a negative impact on your mental health. Clutter can increase stress levels, make it difficult to focus, take a toll on relationships, and more.

This article covers what clutter is, clutter's impact on mental health, what hoarding is, as well as ways you can manage clutter and get organized.

How to Cleanse Yourself

What Is Clutter?

The word clutter refers to items that are strewn about in a disorganized fashion. In general, clutter is a collection of items that people accumulate in their homes and don't necessarily use, but hold on to anyway.

How to Identify Clutter

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, chances are you have some degree of clutter in your home:

  • Do you own anything that you never use or no longer need, like clothes that don't fit anymore or old electronic devices?
  • Do you have a "junk drawer" of things you think you'll need but don't ever use?
  • Do you buy new items to replace ones you've lost in your house?
  • Do you lack access to certain spaces in your home (i.e., you can't open the door to your basem*nt or park in your garage)?
  • Are you afraid to have houseguests over because of the messy state of your home?

Clutter can even be digital—maybe you never get around to clearing out your email inbox or organizing the documents on your laptop. Just looking at the amount of files you have on your computer might overwhelm you.

Impact of Clutter on Mental Health

Clutter impacts your physical space in an obvious way; but some people don't realize that clutter can have negative mental health effects, too.

Of course, not everyone is affected by clutter in the same way. For instance, someone with perfectionist tendencies is likely to be more stressed out by clutter.

By becoming aware of how much clutter you have and whether you experience any stress as a result, you'll be better able to discern if there's an opportunity for you to modify your physical space and improve your mental health.

Increased Stress Levels

Ideally, home is a place where we can rest and relax. However, clutter can make it hard to do that. One study found that women who reported more clutter in their homes had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol throughout the day compared to women who had less clutter.

Clutter can also contribute to household chaos, which is associated with worse parenting practices, negative emotions, and stress.

Difficulty Focusing

Clutter can actually be distracting. Our brains can only focus on a limited amount of stimuli at a time. So if you're surrounded by clutter when you're trying to work from home, for example, the clutter can actually make it harder for you to think clearly.


Research shows that people with cluttered homes tend to procrastinate on important tasks. You might have to dig through stacks of papers to pay the bills, or maybe you have so many piles of dirty clothes that it feels overwhelming to start the laundry.

Difficulty With Relationships

It's not uncommon for spouses, partners, or even roommates to argue over whether one person's things are taking up too much space. There might be added strain in a relationship if your clutter is an annoyance to the person you're living with.

In addition, if you're not inviting friends over because your home is cluttered, you might feel a sense of social isolation or shame. This might increase your risk of loneliness, which can take a serious toll on both physical and mental health.

Research has also found that background clutter made it more difficult for participants to accurately identify the emotions expressed on the faces of movie characters. In relationships, this might lead to misunderstanding and poor communication.

Communication Skills for Relationships

Trouble Controlling Impulses

One study found that a cluttered environment combined with an "out-of-control mind-set" triggered participants to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors.

In other words, the research suggests that it can be more difficult to control your impulses when your mental health and your environment are stressful or "chaotic."

Lower Quality of Life

Clutter can easily lead to a nearly constant feeling of frustration as you struggle to complete daily tasks. The time you spend looking for objects you need or attempting to organize your items could be time spent with loved ones, doing some self-care, or even just relaxing.

One study found that clutter, particularly among older adults, decreased overall life satisfaction. Other research has found that helping older adults find ways to tidy up and declutter could help them feel more accomplished and in control.

6 Ways to Improve Life Quality

Decreased Well-Being

The clutter in your environment can even cause you to develop negative feelings about your home. In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers suggest that this is because 'home' is more than just where we live.

Instead, they suggest that home is a constellation of situations, experiences, and meanings. The individual shapes these experiences, but they are also shaped by them.

For this reason, excessive clutter was found to harm subjective well-being.

Why Do People Have Clutter?

While some chalk it up to laziness, there's actually underlying psychology of clutter and disorganization that keeps people from tidying up.

Potential reasons people hold onto clutter include:

  • They feel overwhelmed: It's often a huge job to get rid of things, which can be physically and mentally exhausting. In the short term, it feels easier to keep things the same.
  • Objects remind them of important things: People keep clothes that don't fit anymore because they hope to lose weight. They hang on to old brochures for cruises because they want to travel. However, keeping objects that remind you of your goals doesn't make you closer to achieving what you want.
  • Objects have sentimental value: People keep objects from childhood that they associate with fond memories. If a loved one passed away, throwing away their possessions is often hard.
  • They're afraid to let things go: People are often afraid of feeling guilty about throwing things away (especially, as mentioned, if the object has sentimental value). Also, being unable to get something back once they get rid of it can be scary. What if they need it later on?
  • They find comfort in their possessions: It wouldn't be so hard to get rid of things if material items didn't benefit people somehow. People's possessions, even if they don't use them, often bring a sense of safety and security that can be painful to let go of.

Some neurodivergent people, such as those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may struggle more to stay organized. Over time, this can contribute to a more cluttered environment.

What Is Hoarding?

Having clutter in your home and having hoarding disorder are two different things; however, it's important to recognize the signs of hoarding in yourself and your loved ones.

Hoarding disorder is a psychiatric condition characterized by a person's inability to get rid of possessions. Those with hoarding disorder also find it difficult to organize their possessions.

Someone who hoards usually shows some or all of the following signs of the disorder:

  • They have cramped and cluttered living spaces. Entire rooms or sections of the house may be piled with belongings that they don't use.
  • Their homes may not be fully functional (i.e., they can't access their bed because their belongings are in the way).
  • They may not see the problem with their clutter.
  • They accumulate items no matter where they are living (even if they're staying in someone else's home).
  • They have difficulty throwing things away, and they often become upset at the idea of throwing things away.
  • There's a buildup of food or trash, creating unsanitary living conditions.

Experts aren't sure of the exact cause of hoarding. It's likely a combination of different factors including personality (many people with hoarding disorder are indecisive), family history, and stressful life events such as the death of a loved one or losing possessions in a fire.

Hoarding disorder is also linked with other psychiatric conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

One study, for example, found that between 28% to 32% of those with ADHD experienced clinically significant hoarding. This was more common in those who had inattentive-type ADHD.

How to Remove Clutter From Your Life

The following tips can help you address the clutter in your home. But it's just as important to pay attention to your emotional experience as you address clutter. As you may know, it's not always as easy as simply throwing things away.

You might have difficult feelings come up, like anxiety, stress, and even depression. Be sure to talk to a doctor or mental health professional if this is the case.

Dedicate the Time

No doubt, decluttering your entire home is a daunting task. But what if you tried breaking up your time into manageable blocks? Maybe you dedicate one hour of every weekday evening to decluttering a single section of your home.

It's OK to go slowly. You most likely didn't accumulate all of your possessions in one day, so chances are, you're not going to declutter everything in one day, either.

But it could be helpful to set a goal for how long you spend on each room of your house (i.e., two weeks on the living room and three weeks on the garage). You can even invite a trusted friend or loved one to help you.

Reduce Items

Try making four piles of things: the first that you keep, the second that you give away or donate, and the third that you throw away. If you're having trouble deciding what to do with certain items, you can put those in the fourth pile and decide at a later time.

It's often easiest to start with items that can be thrown away, like expired food, old cosmetics, or anything that's broken and cannot be fixed. You may need to look up some recycle centers near you to make sure you're properly disposing of items.

Ask yourself whether you've used an item within the last year. If the answer is no, chances are you can safely donate it without missing it.

Research charities and other organizations that accept donations. It can help with the anxiety you may feel as you're parting with your possessions to realize that you're giving things away to people who will value them.

There's also the option of selling items that are in good condition. You can try having a yard sale, selling items online, or bringing belongings to pawn shops or thrift stores. You might be able to earn some money by selling your items, which can be an extra motivator for tidying up.


Try to organize items based on what you use every day—you'll want those to be easily accessible, for instance, in the top drawer of your nightstand or in the kitchen cabinet you use most often.

A good rule of thumb is to try to keep surfaces (like countertops and desks) free of belongings.

Once again, take small steps when you organize. As you go, you can consider buying an organizing bin or storage container where it's needed; however, be careful not to buy too many. Go back to reducing the number of items you have whenever you feel you can get rid of more. (That's a step you'll return to again and again when keeping a clutter-free home).

Most importantly, notice how it feels as you declutter. Are you able to appreciate the beauty of your furniture when it's not covered with clothes? Does it feel refreshing to sit down at your desk without moving stacks of paper out of the way first?

Noticing how great it feels to have a clutter-free home can help inspire you to keep going on your decluttering journey.

How to Be More Organized

Maintain a Clutter-Free Space

It's just as important to maintain your decluttered home as it is to declutter it in the first place. The key is consistency. Once again, you may find it helpful to dedicate regular time to tidying up. For instance, you might spend 10 minutes at the end of each day putting things back where they belong.

Before you make future purchases, you might want to double-check that you don't already have that item or something similar. Also, consider whether you will actually use the item. You're not alone if you've purchased the latest workout equipment or a new electronic device only to have it sit in the corner collecting dust.

A clean, decluttered room can help you feel more in control of your environment and promote a sense of calmness.

By being more mindful about what you bring into your home (and what you let go of), you're honoring your space and benefitting your mental health.

Learn More About Decluttering

There are tons of TV shows, books, podcasts, and articles on decluttering. Simply start your search online and see what resources come up.

For instance, you might learn more about the Japanese art of feng shui, which has guidelines on promoting good energy flow in a room based on how you arrange furniture and belongings.

Research suggests that bedrooms that are aligned with the practice of feng shui can even help promote sleep.

There are also plenty of tips for getting rid of digital clutter. Unsubscribing from email lists, deleting documents you no longer need, and organizing your files into folders are all useful ways of making your digital space easier to navigate.

Effects of Lack of Sleep on Mental Health

Be Kind to Yourself

It's natural to have thoughts like, How did I accumulate so much stuff? But try not to be too hard on yourself. Blaming or shaming yourself will not change your situation, and you're not alone if you're overwhelmed by the number of possessions you have. Practice self-compassion and remember, you can achieve your decluttering goals with time and patience.

Reward yourself for your efforts. Instead of waiting until you've decluttered your whole house, giving yourself some type of reward each time you clean may help you persist over time to achieve your long-term goal.

For instance, after you spend an hour cleaning, maybe you sit down and watch an episode of your favorite TV show or play some music and have a solo dance party. These types of rewards can help keep you going until you overcome all of your clutter.

Seek Professional Help

If you're finding it difficult to clear your home of clutter, know that there are mental health professionals who can help.

One type of therapy that may help is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT brings your underlying thoughts and feelings to the surface, so you and a therapist can address anything preventing you from making positive life changes. (CBT is a common treatment type for those with hoarding disorder, too).

A therapist can teach you healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the anxiety, stress, or guilt that may arise from getting rid of clutter.

A Word From Verywell

There are many reasons that people hold onto things they don't need, use, or want. While you might judge yourself or others for accumulating clutter, remember that we develop emotional attachments to objects that often make it harder to get rid of things.

Try paying attention to how you feel in your home; if it's not a space that's relaxing, you may want to consider donating things you no longer need. You may choose to speak with a mental health professional as well, such as a therapist, to uncover any underlying thoughts or feelings that are preventing you from having the space and the life you truly want.

Clutter and Mental Health: What's the Connection? (2024)


What is the link between clutter and mental health? ›

Evidence suggests that having a messy, cluttered environment can create stress and interfere with your ability to concentrate, at least for some people. The actual act of cleaning and decluttering can boost your mood, help you move your body more, improve focus, and help you feel more in control of your surroundings.

What is the root cause of clutter? ›

Signs That the Root Cause of Your Clutter is Transitional.

Transitional Clutter is usually a temporary, albeit overwhelming dilemma that occurs as a result of a major life change. Some examples of transitional clutter can be a move, a divorce, an illness, a job change, or a family member's death.

When clutter is emotionally overwhelming? ›

Summary: The presence of clutter can often lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. The brain tends to favor order, reducing the competition for attention and mental load. While clutter affects many, women may experience heightened stress levels due to societal expectations and roles.

What are the mental health benefits of decluttering? ›

If you're looking for an easy way to reduce stress, decluttering your environment may be a good place to start. Getting rid of excess stuff can benefit your mental health by making you feel calmer, happier, and more in control.

Is clutter a symptom of trauma? ›

Excessive clutter and disorganization are often symptoms of a bigger health problem. People who have suffered an emotional trauma or a brain injury often find housecleaning an insurmountable task.

Is compulsive decluttering a mental illness? ›

Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism, also known as Obsessive Decluttering, is usually seen as a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

What causes a person to be cluttered? ›

Potential reasons people hold onto clutter include: They feel overwhelmed: It's often a huge job to get rid of things, which can be physically and mentally exhausting. In the short term, it feels easier to keep things the same.

Why does clutter stress you out? ›

You become anxious as you're overwhelmed with so many things to do to put things in order. Here are reasons why clutter leads to stress: Clutter puts your mind into overdrive, causing your senses to focus on what isn't important, leading to stress. A messy environment draws your attention from where it ought to be.

Why is clutter triggering? ›

Clutter is a distraction and time-waster.

It can prevent you from finding what you're looking for, whether it's an unpaid bill or a missing sock. “The mess keeps beckoning to you, causing frustration and unease to kick in every time you see it,” he says.

How do you emotionally detach from clutter? ›

7 Tips to Help You Get Rid of Sentimental Things
  1. Start With an Easy Space. ...
  2. Remember, You Are Getting Rid of the Item and Not the Memory. ...
  3. Find Closure by Using the Item One Last Time. ...
  4. Keep Items That Bring You Joy — and Only Those Items. ...
  5. Take Time to Recognize Items That Are Truly Meaningful. ...
  6. Digitize Memories.
Feb 17, 2023

What does a messy room mean psychologically? ›

Psychologically, a messy room can represent:

A disorganized mind. Feeling overwhelmed. Difficulty letting go (common for hoarding behaviors) Trouble focusing on a task. A “nothing matters” attitude (which can also include poor hygiene and a disheveled appearance)

How to clear clutter when it feels impossible? ›

If you've been feeling overwhelmed by your stuff, these tips will help you to get started.
  1. Set your goals. To overcome your decluttering paralysis, you need to get clear on what your end goals are for your home. ...
  2. Start small. ...
  3. Set a timer. ...
  4. Stay consistent. ...
  5. Pair it with something fun. ...
  6. Celebrate your victories.

What does clutter say about your mental health? ›

It's exhausting. As we said, it could be an emotional trigger, but we know that the more clutter leads to more depression, more mood disorders. As I said earlier, lower psychological wellbeing, life satisfaction, negative emotions about the self. People with lots of clutter do lots of self devaluing the data shows.

What happens to your brain when you declutter your home? ›

Cleaning your home or surroundings isn't just a physical process, but a mental one as well. Reducing clutter minimizes distractions, allowing your brain to concentrate on more important tasks at hand.

How do you release mental clutter? ›

How to deal with mental clutter
  1. Declutter your environment. ...
  2. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness involves being fully present and aware of your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in the present moment without judgment. ...
  3. Write things down. ...
  4. Prioritize tasks. ...
  5. Develop routines, systems, and habits. ...
  6. Practice self-care.
May 25, 2023

What is clutter syndrome? ›

A hoarding disorder is where someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner, usually resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter.

What is the emotional toll of clutter? ›

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.

What is messy house syndrome? ›

The messy house syndrome (Diogenes syndrome) is present when, owing to a disordering of the personality structure, a person is unable to keep order, for example, in the household or his finances. Such persons are also referred to as "messies".

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