The Effects of Clutter (and how to manage it)

As the confetti flew and the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, resolutions were made and announced for all to hear. For some reason, we think each year is going to be the year something changes, and while for some that is true, for most… it’s a lofty goal never to be met. Aside from wishing for wealth, happiness, or your ‘best’ body, simplifying your life is often a top goal; more time to do the things you want to do and less time spent worrying about your current situation. One of the first places many people start is within their own home. Clutter not only keeps you in the past, but it also keeps you from living in the present day. If you’re looking for a push to de-clutter your home, perhaps the following six reasons clutter affects your well-being will be the gentle nudge to get organizing, purging, and donating!

Items are usually kept because they hold a special memory or evoke a feeling that you enjoy. Sometimes items are held onto because we don’t want to let go of a person, a place, a moment in time, or who we wish to be. Some people simply don’t toss items because they think they might need them in the future. Clutter can be in the form of clothing that we hold onto because one day those skinny jeans will fit again, or books stacked on tables and bookcases, read once, loved, but never to be read again. As a parent, clutter becomes even harder to get rid of. Children are natural hoarders, ever-loving of all the little trinkets and toys given to them, and feelings of attachment so strong that we dare you to try to get rid of them. While having ‘stuff’ around you, in general, may not bother you, it can ultimately take a toll on your mental health, whether you realize it or not.

1. Over-sensory

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Feeling as though the walls might be closing in on you? Perhaps you look around and think, “Where do I even start?” When a home is too cluttered, the brain is naturally over-whelmed as attention is placed on one too many things in your environment. Often, the feeling of having too much stuff leads to anxiety and difficulty concentrating. Looking around can cause feelings of ‘too much to do’, like a never-ending honey-do list. Often these feelings can discourage you from marking items off that list, or giving up shortly after starting.

2. Depletes energy

Feeling fatigued? Too tired to plan healthy family meals, work out, or plan social outings? If a newborn baby or a job isn’t your reason, take a look around your house and take notice of your habits. People that tend to hang onto items have disheveled desks or closets, crowded cabinets, or perhaps hundreds of unanswered/saved emails in their inbox often tend to have inherent problems prioritizing their time. Thus, energy and time is spent on trying to clean up their everyday lives, rather than focusing on one’s overall health and well-being. According to a 2008 study, conscientious people — those who are organized, meticulous, and careful — tend to be in much better health and live longer because they have the time and energy to focus on themselves.

3. Trouble Filtering Information

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Clutter has an interesting way of taking away attention from what’s happening in the present moment. When there is too much going on around you, your thoughts tend to bounce around in your head, making it near impossible for your brain to fully process a thought in its entirety before becoming distracted by something else. Making you feel stressed, clutter overloads your senses and drags your brain power in different directions.

4. Halts Creativity

If you rely on your creativity for work or even creating fun activities for your child at home, having clutter around only drags down your productivity. Ever tried cooking with a toddler in the kitchen? Worked from home with your children in the room, or even the next room over? Like that of an insistent child, clutter only seems to scream at you to “look at me!” While you may be able to distract yourself from it, you still acknowledge that it is there, waiting for you to do something about it. In order for creativity to thrive, your brain needs a serene place to fully process your ideas.

5. Poor Memory

Consistently losing your keys? Can’t remember where you placed the cable bill? When your mind is preoccupied by “stuff” you fail to make conscious decisions, thus setting things down without intentionally placing them in their correct place. Like those important everyday items, non-everyday items are also distributed throughout without thought, only adding to the chaos of clutter.

6. Increases Stress

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All five of the previously mentioned effects of clutter can all add up to our sixth point: Stress. It’s no wonder that with the busy lifestyle we lead today — with work, activities, family obligations, and technology at our fingertips — that we naturally live in a state of stress. With so much going on in our heads and in our environment, we leave very little time to focus on simplifying.  

How to Manage Clutter

Start by asking yourself, “What do I want for myself in this home?” Room by room, decide what you want to get out of the space. For example, if you want your bathroom to be relaxing and spa-like, removing clutter from the vanity or around the bathtub might be a good place to start. Make a list for each room, then pick one room (or even one shelf) to start. Work your way through your house and list. Set realistic expectations. Most likely you will not be able to do it all in one day.

Secondly, when deciding what is clutter and what are necessary items to keep, ask yourself if it is a need or a want. If it’s only a want, ask yourself the last time you used or wore this item. If you haven’t used or worn it in the last six months to a year, donate or discard it.

Once you have de-cluttered, set up another “de-clutter date” on your calendar. Figure out a schedule that works for you — either once a week or once a month — when you can go through each room again and organize what you’ve collected. This will ensure that it doesn’t become an overwhelming task for you each time.

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Getting started? Check out our 31 Day Organization Challenge: House Edition!

Photo Credits: StephanieFerenc Horvath on Unsplash



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Stephanie High
Stephanie High
Stephanie is a military wife, currently residing in North Carolina, and mama of two exceptionally curious little ones; a rugged pint-size princess and a mini Evel Knievel-in-training. When she isn't exploring the family's newest dwellings, running trails, and playgrounds, she spends her down time working from home, feverishly correcting "textspeak" in her college students' essays as an adjunct English instructor for a local community college. Her passion for writing and photography can be found on her personal blog Living Our High Life.