Can Clearing Out Clutter Boost Your Mental Health?

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Marie Kondo has received a lot of attention in recent months with her conviction that clearing out clutter can somehow clean up your life. The gist: Purge the items you don’t use regularly and only hang on to the things that “spark joy.” It might sound gimmicky, but a growing body of research suggests she may be on to something.

Why De-Cluttering Matters

Research aside, most of us agree that having too much stuff around can make us feel bad. The never-ending stream of junk — and valuable possessions — piling up around you can make you feel anxious and even depressed. It can even interfere with your ability to complete a task.

Learn why all of that clutter can wreak havoc on your life — and what you can do about it:

1. It increases stress: Having a slew of items constantly in your field of vision can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

What to do: Pick up your stuff. Decide on a place for each item and take 10 minutes at the end of each day to put things away.

2. It interferes with your ability to focus: At any moment, your brain has to process thousands of pieces of information simultaneously. Don’t give it more stuff to weed through. If your desk is piled with papers, folders and unopened mail, it can be tough to stay on task. The same rule applies to your digital workspace. If you have several windows open on your computer, or you’re navigating email while also writing a report, you run the risk of overwhelming your mind.

What to do: Organize your space before you try to work in it. Take your time doing so and be deliberate about how you organize your space.

3. It can sabotage your sleep: Most Americans have trouble getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night. Research suggests that having too much stuff in your space can impact the quality of your shut-eye.

What to do: Even if you can’t keep clutter out of your house, at least keep it out of your bedroom. Also, make sure to establish a soothing sleep routine. Take a warm bath, meditate for 15 minutes or read a modestly engaging – but not too challenging — paperback.

4. It can make you cranky: When you walk into your house and see stuff scattered about, your self-esteem may take a hit. You may feel disorganized, confused and even guilty for not getting rid of stuff you don’t need.

What to do: Recognize that your space doesn’t define you but make a plan to declutter and start with the items that don’t bring you joy.

Support Your Space

Anyone who has a desk piled with files or a closet that has spilled out into the bedroom knows that clutter isn’t just a physical nuisance, it can also have emotional effects. Nearly any object can dredge up emotions — good and bad.

The good news: Getting rid of clutter is easy to do. Just ditch anything that doesn’t make you feel good. While getting the job done can be difficult, if you’re methodical about it, you might be surprised by how quickly you can clean up your act — and how good you feel about yourself afterward. A few strategies:

  • Make a plan: Work together as a family to clear out the clutter. Ask each family member to choose a designated space to organize. Then, make keeping it clean a family affair.
  • Pitch what you can: If you don’t use an item, or if you don’t want it, get rid of it. If you only use an item occasionally, find a spot for it in a high or low cabinet or closet to free up space in easy-access locations for things you use every day.
  • Create a space: Keep items in designated spots so you can find what you need when you need it. Use closed off spaces, like drawers or cabinets, so you don’t have to look at clutter.
  • Clean as you go: If you take something out of its designated space, put it back as soon as you’re done with it.

Keep in mind that the quality of the things you keep (that is, how an object makes you feel) has as much impact on your health as the amount of stuff you’ve accumulated. If something makes you feel bad, ask yourself why you’re hanging on to it.


To find a doctor or therapist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

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Categories: FeelWell

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