How many times have you yelled at your kids to clean up the mess in their bedroom or playroom? Believe it or not, that clutter isn’t just stressing you out because you are annoyed—it is stressing out the entire family because the sheer existence of clutter is linked to stress and anxiety. In fact, according to a study by UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF), the amount of stress family members experience at home is directly proportional to the amount of stuff the family has accumulated. Why is this the case and what can we do about it?


Why Clutter Causes Stress

It’s no surprise that constantly seeing piles of stuff build up in our homes—whether it be papers, toys, loose pictures, laundry, gadgets, etc.—can take a toll on us, but the reasons are more complicated than you would think. Messy homes can leave us feeling anxious, helpless, overwhelmed, embarrassed, ashamed and/or guilty. We may not even recognize that clutter is the source of our stress, especially if it’s been part of our environment for so long.


Clutter causes us to feel stressed because it:

  • Overstimulates our mind and overloads our senses.
  • Distracts us.
  • Constantly signals our brain that we have more work to do.
  • Makes it very hard for us to relax, both physically and mentally.
  • Creates feelings of guilt and embarrassment when guests come over and see our disorganization. (We worry that we will be judged and even ridiculed for the way we live.)
  • Frustrates us when we have trouble finding what we need. According to the American Demographics Society, Americans waste nine million hours each day searching for misplaced items, and 23 percent of adults say they pay bills late because they
    lose them.
  • Stunts creativity and productivity. A study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute discovered that individuals surrounded by physical clutter in a disorganized environment are less productive and more distracted.


Clutter can also cause sleep problems and relationship issues due to arguments with family members about the mess. And if your clutter causes you to lose items and makes you late, this can impact school drop-off times, job performance and finances if your bills are not paid on time.


Many American families are overwhelmed by clutter, according to research by UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF). During the study, researchers visited the homes of 32 families across the country and found that living in a cluttered space can create a subtle, constant sense of stress that impacts mood and self-esteem. Additionally, they discovered that women in the household were more stressed out by the clutter than the rest of the family members. The mothers in the study had elevated levels of stress hormones when sorting out their possessions to try and get them more organized.


Why Reducing Clutter Helps

All that stuff taking over your closets, drawers and counter space starts to send out negative energy throughout your home. Those piles exude chaos, disorder, and confusion, which can stress us out. When we clean up the mess, our overall stress level starts to dissipate and we feel more positive energy to help us live happier, healthier lives.


According to Joyce Marter, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and Founder of Urban Balance, “Our environment is a direct reflection of our internal mental health and vice versa. So, if our homes are disorganized, our minds may feel scattered as well.” She suggests purging unnecessary items from our homes so that we can live more efficiently. When we have less clutter to manage, we save time and are less stressed overall.


Professional organizer Angela Betancourt has seen evidence firsthand of mental health benefits as a result of clients decluttering their home. They typically experience less stress and anxiety, more inner peace, a boost in self-confidence and improved health habits like more restful sleep.


Finally, decluttering tends to help us feel more confident about having guests in our homes. We no longer worry about being judged for our mess, relieving us of anxiety, embarrassment and relationship conflicts.


How To Get Organized

It may feel overwhelming and intimidating to start tackling your clutter. You may feel stressed even just thinking about getting rid of your belongings because it can muster up a sense of loss or bring up old memories. It’s important to get over that emotional hurdle so that you can start sorting and throwing out items that no longer serve your family. Remind yourself that the process will ultimately lead to less stress!


Your goal is to simplify your environment by clearing out items that you no longer need or that no longer bring you joy and to clean up the areas where things tend to get messy and disorganized. There are many websites, articles, books, professional organizers and stores that offer amazing tips to help you declutter your space. Find what is most effective for your family, but be careful not to get too overwhelmed by all the options.


Finally, follow this popular sorting method that most experts suggest:

  1. Keep. These are items that you continue to need and use and that bring joy to your life.
  2. Sell. These are items that you want to try and sell online through Craigslist or eBay or at a yard sale.
  3. Donate. Your trash could be someone else’s treasure. Give these items to individuals who could use them or donate them to a local charity.
  4. Trash. These are unwanted or unused items that are too damaged to be donated or sold immediately. Please recycle if possible.
  5. Store. If you really can’t decide what to do, box it up and put a date on it. Look at it again in six months. Store in an attic, extra closet, garage or offsite storage facility to keep it out of the way.

Sandi Schwartz is an award-winning author, freelance journalist and mother of two kids. She has written extensively about parenting, wellness and environmental issues.

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