There Is Good Evidence That Clutter Causes Anxiety & Stress


Clutter in our home or office certainly does cause stress, according to an article in Psychology Today. Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter lists the following 8 reasons that stress may ensue from a cluttered environment:

1. Clutter bombards our consciousness with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.

2. Clutter distracts us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on.

3. Clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.

4. Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.

5. Clutter makes us anxious because we’re never sure what it’s going to take to get through to the bottom of the pile.

6. Clutter creates feelings of guilt (“I should be more organized”) and embarrassment, especially when others unexpectedly drop by our homes or work spaces.

7. Clutter inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brainstorm, and problem solve.

8. Clutter frustrates us by preventing us from locating what we need quickly (e.g. files and paperwork lost in the “pile” or keys swallowed up by the clutter).

Psychologist Carter also offers 8 remedies in the same article which are quite reasonable and practical.

1. If clutter has invaded your entire house, don’t tackle the job alone. Get the whole family involved by starting with a room everyone uses and making each person responsible for a section. If you’re on your own, start with one area at a time and finish de-cluttering that area before moving on to another. This will give you a sense of accomplishment as you see your success little by little.

2. Create designated spaces for frequently used items and supplies so that you can quickly and easily find what you’re looking for when you need it. However, try to make these designated spaces “closed” spaces, such as drawers and cabinets. “Storing” things on open shelves or on top of your desk does not remove those visual stimuli that create stress and lessen the amount of open space that your consciousness “sees.”

3. If you don’t use it, don’t want it, or don’t need it, get rid of it. You can toss it, recycle it, or donate it (one person’s trash is another person’s treasure), but don’t keep it. If you use it, but only rarely, store it in a box in the garage (or if it’s your office, in a high or low place) to leave easy-access space for things you use more often. Also, put a date on the box. With rare exceptions, if you haven’t opened the box in a year, whatever is inside is probably not something you need.

4. When you take something out of its designated space to use it, put it back immediately after you’re finished with it. Sounds simple, but it actually takes practice and commitment.

5. Create a pending folder. A pending folder helps you clear off your work space while at the same time provides you with a readily accessible folder to centralize and easily locate pending projects.

6. Don’t let papers pile up. Random papers strewn everywhere can be Public Enemy number one when it comes to stressful clutter. We’re inundated with mail, flyers, menus, memos, newspapers, and the like. The key is to be conscious of what you bring and what others bring into your spaces. Go through these papers as soon as you can, tossing what you don’t need and storing what is necessary in its proper place.

7. De-clutter your primary work space before you leave it. It’s normal to pull things out while you’re working in a space, but make a habit of cleaning off your work space before you go. Not only will this give you a sense of closure when you leave, it will also make you feel good when you return to a nice, clean space.

8. Make it fun! As you’re going about and cleaning things out, put on some of your favorite tunes. The more up-beat, the better! Not only will you enjoy the tunes, the time will pass faster and you’ll probably work faster than you would without the music.

Consciousness Over Clutter

Consider whether an anxious consciousness is the result of clutter, or if clutter is actually the result of an anxious – one could say cluttered – consciousness. It’s great to get tips on how to eliminate clutter in our environment, but if our consciousness is ‘cluttered’ to begin with, and we don’t directly address this, we will probably not put the advice we’ve been given into practice, or may do some de-cluttering in a spurt only to revert back to our old habits.

It’s true that cleaning up clutter in our environment will likely help to ease our stress momentarily; but in the long run, the pattern of sucking up the energy to de-clutter only when the stress of clutter has become unbearable means that we will perpetually live cluttering and de-cluttering, rather than creating far less clutter to begin with.


If you were to step back like a fly on the wall and see yourself in the process of actually creating all the clutter you live with, much of it would be predicated on having too many activities in your consciousness, moving onto a second activity before finishing the first, allowing yourself to get distracted and untracked by external events. Negative thoughts or feelings are often present.

The practice of mindfulness then becomes our first priority. We need to be fully at peace in the moment and let go of any judgments about it.

• If you see the clutter as ‘wrong,’ as something you urgently have to ‘fix’, don’t act instantaneously. Take a moment to accept it as it is.
• If you feel bad about yourself because there is clutter, again, don’t act instantaneously. Take the time to accept yourself, and let go of whatever guilt, shame, or embarrassment you feel.
• If you think you can’t feel good until you clean up the clutter, think again. Get yourself out of the addictive pattern of blame and judgment as a motivator to do work.

At first, it might take some time in a quiet space to empty your consciousness of the judgments and negative feelings. As you get used to this process, it may only take a few deep breaths to re-orient yourself. You will know you are there when the process flows, and is even enjoyable. If it is not enjoyable, stop – and reach for mindfulness.

When we look at clutter this way, we are less likely to be impacted by the list of stressors described above – and far more motivated and inclined to deal with the clutter efficiently. Eventually, mindfulness will serve to mitigate much of the creation of the clutter to begin with. This is because we naturally create order in our physical world as a reflection of the order in our consciousness.


May 15, 2020


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