Is it true that decluttering reduces stress and and anxiety?

Yes! Decluttering reduces stress and anxiety by banishing unnecessary visual stimuli (which trigger releases of the stress hormone cortisol). Decluttering also enhances your decision-making skills and creates a sense of order and certainty in your world. In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever to practise this form of self-care.

But just how much clutter is stress-inducing?

Every person has different levels at which clutter starts to impact their personal wellbeing. Many people have areas they really want to have organised and other areas which are less of a concern. In a family, individuals may not share the same areas of concern which can lead to friction and stress. For you, paperwork piling up on your kitchen counter may leave you you feel frustrated and anxious. However, for your partner, the cupboard of doom under the stairs may send their stress levels through the roof! Even if you don’t realize it, the disarray can be messing with your mental health subconsciously. Our day to day chores, from making breakfast to keeping appointments may feel overwhelming due to the clutter we are contending with. Decluttering reduces stress  and makes us feel calm and organised.

How clutter triggers stress

When we are not stressed, most of our cortisol is released in the morning enabling us to get up and start our day. Levels reduce over the day if we are relaxed, giving us physical and psychological well-being. However, a cluttered home can prevent our cortisol levels from naturally declining throughout the day as it triggers the release of more cortisol. If this happens too often, this can result in higher levels of depression and anxiety. It can also lead to a lower capacity to make decisions and stay focused. It can trigger coping and avoidance strategies such as eating junk food or oversleeping according to a study by Cornell University in 2016. In a 2011 study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, it was found that subjects were less irritable, less distracted and more productive in a clutter-free environment compared to a disorganised environment where their stress increased. If you have chronic clutter such as in cases of hoarding disorder, this can lead to prolonged stress. This means your body is in continual fight-or-flight mode (aka “survival” mode). Our fight-or-flight response minimises unnecessary functions during our body in times of stress but it is only meant to be for short periods of time. If our body is continually in this state then our physical and psychological health suffers.

Visual impact

Our brain can only absorb about 1% of the visual information it receives which means that information overload is real. Physical clutter leads to excess visual stimuli which means that too much information is competing for attention from our brain. It interferes with our ability to focus and process information. Our experience is that clients can find their memory is affected by too much visual clutter.

Roles in the home

In a 2009 study from UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF), it was shown that women who perceive their homes to be cluttered tend to have unhealthy patterns of cortisol levels. According to this study, the amount of stress women experience at home is directly proportional to the amount of stuff accumulated. In this study, men did not exhibit the same results. However, this may be explained by the results of other studies that have shown where men don’t think it is their responsibility to keep the home tidy, they are not so inclined to see the clutter. Therefore, they are not as stressed about it. Whereas in our experience, if a man is living alone or feels that they are responsible for the tidiness of the home, they are similarly affected to women. Decluttering reduces their stress levels too.

Why is it hard to let go of things?

For people who have hoarding tendencies, letting go of an item can feel physically painful almost as if the object is part of themselves. Where there are less extreme amounts of clutter, it can still feel uncomfortable to get rid of things. For example, if it was a mistake to buy an item or it has never been used but was expensive. The brain views the loss of a valued possession the same way it does something that causes physical pain. Most of us can override these feelings by dedicating time to making these decisions albeit experiencing some mild discomfort. However, for others they find it incredibly hard to override the feelings of pain or discomfort. Our brains make us avoid experiences that make us feel uncomfortable. If we cannot override these feelings then it leaves us stuck in a situation where we are unable to let go things easily. For people with hoarding disorder, cognitive behavioural therapy with an experienced psychiatrist alongside practical help from an experienced organiser has proven successful. For others with less extreme clutter, having an experienced organiser asking them the right questions at the right time, can help them declutter successfully.

Benefits of decluttering

  • There are many benefits to decluttering including:

Better sleep

  • If our body’s cortisol levels do not naturally decline throughout the day, this disrupts our sleep cycle. In turn, this means we are not able to get to sleep easily or access the deep sleep which rejuvenates us. This can lead to insomnia or over-sleeping. Decluttering reduces stress and provides us with better sleep. This results in a better mood and focus the next day.

Better diet

  • Florida State University research in 2015 revealed a link between hoarding and obesity, noting that if you have an extremely cluttered home, you are 77% more likely to be overweight.  Not everyone has an extreme clutter problem but clutter and disorganisation occurs often because of our overly busy lifestyles. If we are in a rush then we are more likely to eat microwave meals or order a Deliveroo! In excess, this can lead to weight gain. In a decluttered and organised home, there is more time and space to plan and prepare healthier meals. You can relax and enjoy mealtimes.

Better decisions

  • By making decisions about the items we bring into our homes, we hone and improve our decision-making ability.  For each of these small items, you have to decide what value it adds to your life. As they say, practise makes perfect. So by the time it comes to making the bigger decisions in our lives such as careers, relationships and finances, we will have perfected it!

Make a note of the clutter zones that heighten your stress or hinder your daily routine. Schedule some time to start sorting it out to feel better.