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Does clutter affect our mental health?

Does clutter affect our mental health?

There’s no shame in having a bit of clutter in your home. Perhaps you’re too busy to sort through things, or maybe you find it difficult to part with your possessions. Whatever the reason, berating yourself won’t help. But taking steps towards simplifying your living space could improve your health and wellbeing. Here we look at why we find it hard to part with our possessions, and how simplifying your life could be good for you.

Why am I finding it so difficult to get rid of things?

If you have a tendency to keep everything, you’re not alone. Many of us find it very difficult to part with things that we don’t need. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that objects we own can be closely linked to self-worth. Rather than viewing them as possessions, we view them as part of us.

This means that getting rid of possessions can lead to feelings of grief. If you’re struggling to let go of things you no longer need, reflecting on what they represent may help you to address the desire to hang on to them.

Clutter and concentration

A study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that multiple stimuli in the visual field – such as objects lying around – compete for your brain’s attention. So clutter not only restricts your ability to focus, it also affects your brain’s ability to process information.

So if you need to concentrate on a task, find a clear, comfortable space that’s free of unnecessary items. It could make a big difference in the speed and ease with which you get the job done.

Giving things away increases happiness

Psychologist Elizabeth Dunn conducted a study in which she gave cash to groups of college students. One group was told to spend the money on themselves. The other was told to spend the money on toys for children and other charitable gifts.

She found that participants who spent the money on others reported enhanced mood, increased sense of meaning and greater feelings of wellbeing. While this study focused on money as opposed to objects, other studies have looked at general acts of kindness and found they can improve our mental health. So giving things to charity has the double effect of de-cluttering your life while improving your mental wellbeing.

The link between clutter and diet

You wouldn’t expect the amount of clutter in your home to affect what you eat, but according to a study by Lenny Vartarian et al. (2017), it does. The study revealed that people will eat more biscuits and snacks if their environment chaotic, and they’re led to feel stressed. When the participants’ environment was disorganised, they were put in a low self-control mindset, and ate twice as many cookies as those in a tidy environment.

Ditch the guilt

If your home is a bit cluttered, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s easy to fall into a thinking trap like ‘I’m no good at housework’. This can lead to a vicious cycle of feeling out of control, which in turn leads to a more chaotic environment. Instead of being down on yourself, reward yourself for your successes.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you may find it useful to read our blog Managing stress and overload. You might also find it useful to use our app, which can help you reduce stress, anxiety and mild to moderate depression in eight weeks. Why not download the app today and start with our free module Managing Fear and Anxiety, or subscribe for the full range of modules and tracking tools.

Sam Weston

I am a social media manager, content writer and audio enthusiast - I set a world record once upon a time!