For the media

Yes, mess causes stress

By The Health News Team | March 20, 2023
Woman stressed over messy kitchen

Spring has sprung! But have your closets, drawers and kitchen cupboards done the same? If so, it might be time for some stress-relieving spring cleaning.

Because let’s be honest: Mess causes stress.

While some people are comfortable with a bit of disorderliness in their homes and offices, for most people, cluttered physical space can create cluttered emotional space too. Experts say your external world relates to your inner world — each affects the other in both positive and negative ways.

How mess causes stress

According to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, clutter in your personal spaces can:

  • Affect your ability to execute normal life activities, such as cooking, cleaning, working and moving about safely

  • Create disconnectedness from important dimensions of feeling “at home,” safe and comfortable

  • Be a hallmark of compulsive hoarding, which can pose serious threats to your health, safety and well-being

Additionally, a cluttered personal space can lead to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and depression. In fact, a cluttered lifestyle can affect nearly all areas of your life — from your relationships and your ability to parent to your physical health and finances.

Here’s how clutter in the spaces you live your life can affect you:

  • In the kitchen: Studies have found that a cluttered kitchen can lead to feeling a loss of control and unhealthy food choices. Along with being related to obesity, high blood pressure and some chronic diseases, an unhealthy diet can cause or worsen fatigue and lead to stress, mood disturbances and depression.

  • In the bedroom: Clutter in the bedroom can affect your ability to create a healthy sleeping environment, free of distractions and concerns. When someone is sleep-deprived, they may experience decreased concentration, slower reaction times, anxiety, sadness, stress and irritability.

  • In closets and drawers: The inability to easily find the tools needed for daily activities — personal hygiene items, car keys, clothing items and shoes — can cause frustration and tardiness, both of which are stressful. Additionally, disorganized or missing paperwork can lead to financial consequences, such as late fees.

  • At work: Disorganization and messy workspaces can lead to mental discomfort and decreased ability to think clearly and work efficiently and effectively, thus affecting your livelihood. It can also lead to financial loss for employees and their employers, which becomes a stressful situation for all involved.

  • In your car: A dangerous road trip translates into a stressful road trip. Clutter in a car can cause dangerous distracted driving and lead to auto malfunction if loose items become engaged under gas and brake pedals or the car’s gear shift. And according to AAA, in a 30-mph car crash, even light objects can “become a deadly missile.”

Losing the mess can relieve stress

Overall, clutter decreases your ability to think clearly, move through life easily and safely, and calmly approach challenges. Taking control of your space, and the things in it, offers several benefits to you and those around you.

In fact, a Princeton University study found reducing clutter in your personal spaces can help you be:

  • Less irritable

  • More productive

  • Distracted less often

  • Able to process information better

Inspire yourself to decrease the clutter by imagining what life can be like without the mess surrounding you. What will improve: your ability to get work done, get along with others, get out the door on time, relax comfortably at home, sleep well? You may find that the list of benefits goes on and on.

To decrease the clutter in your spaces, try the following steps:

  • Schedule time to declutter each week. It doesn’t need to be done all at once. You can start with a single drawer, closet or room.

  • In each area, make four piles: throw away, donate or sell, store and use.

  • Decide how you would like to organize and stow similar items, such as paperwork, photos, keys, cables, kitchen tools and office supplies, and keep them in one place.

  • Buy less and borrow things you only need once or occasionally from friends, colleagues and neighbors, such as tools, small appliances and books.

If you suspect your disorganization — or an overwhelming need for cleanliness — is affecting your mental and physical health, talk with your doctor to discuss next steps. While conditions like hoarding or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are serious, they are highly treatable.

Learn more about mental health; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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