How Clutter Affects your Mind (and What To Do About It)

So many people want to do it all: keep a clean home, cook healthy meals, work out, tackle their seemingly infinite to-do list, spend time with friends, and thrive at work – biting off more than they can chew. For some, the automatic response to a busy schedule is to leave any cleaning and organizing for “later” – you know, when things calm down. You may know how clutter can make you feel, but do you know how clutter affects your mind? 

  • Clutter affects your attention.

A 2011 study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that clutter actually affects your ability to focus and process information. If my desk is cluttered when I sit down to work, I can’t fully focus. Simply having clutter in plain sight overstimulates the brain. It’s like trying to read a book with the TV on in the background – your attention is being pulled in different directions when, suddenly, you realize you’ve been rereading the same sentence over and over.

  • Clutter depletes your energy.

Decision-making requires energy and is a limited resource. When your brain is inundated with visual stimuli, it’s more difficult to make decisions. Should I clean before I start work? Can the cleaning wait? But if I don’t do it now, the mess will still be there later. I really should clean this now.  By the time I decide what to do, I’m almost too tired to do anything!

  • Clutter impacts your mood and self-esteem

Researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) found a link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. Having more things can mean having more stress. The study also found that women tend to associate a tidy home with a happy family, while men are less concerned about mess. Conflicting priorities and expectations regarding tidiness can lead to tension in the home. If you spend time and energy maintaining your tidy living room only to have your husband leave his dirty socks by the door, it can be frustrating and feel as though your efforts and time are not appreciated.

How to prevent the effects of clutter:

Working in an organized space is shown to decrease irritability and distractions, and increase productivity and the ability to process information. If you want to be your most focused and productive self, here are some ways to help:

  • Find the meaning behind the clutter.

    Understanding the meaning behind the clutter is an imperative first step in reducing the amount of stuff you choose to keep around you. Does your clutter cause you to have a physical or emotional reaction when you think about it? That’s the perfect place to start! Set aside time to dig into the feelings associated with the clutter. It’s important to allow yourself the space to process the emotions and not hide them or shove them down with more stuff. The more you can befriend, understand, and welcome the emotions that arise, the less powerful and scary they will be.  

  • Adopt a “Less is More” Attitude.

    A small shift in your perception can go a long way. Having more things means having more to think about. When you have fewer clothes, you have less laundry. When you have less laundry, you have more time to spend doing things you actually 

    want to do. Discover what belongings no longer serve you, keep what brings you joy, and lovingly – let the rest go.  

  • Communicate your needs.

    Do you share a home with someone who doesn’t share your same needs for organization? Calmly communicate how clutter makes you feel and gently give your significant other an easily actionable task.

“It’s really important for me to have the living room clean, would you mind putting your socks in the hamper after you take them off? It would help me feel much more relaxed.”

  • Give your things a specific place to live.

    Consciously assign a place to each item. So the next time you need to tidy up an area, you’ll know exactly where the things go. Knowing where each item lives takes the guesswork and indecision out of organizing and you know exactly where to find it next time.

  • Maintain your space.

    Do your best to maintain your newly refreshed space. Whether you tidy 10 minutes before bed or 30 minutes once a week – continue to give your space love and attention by making organization a part of your routine.

Knowing how clutter can affect the brain motivates me to maintain my home and work environment on a regular basis. Prioritizing organization and cleanliness – especially during busy times –  can be so beneficial to your capacity to handle all the things you want to do.  A clear home makes for a clearer mind and you deserve to have it all.