Life & LifestyleHealth & Well-Being

Why Mess Causes Stress

Clutter can play a significant role in how we feel about our homes, our workplaces, and even ourselves. Messy homes and workspaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed. Yet, rarely is clutter recognized as a significant source of stress in our lives.

According to an article in a 2012 issue of Psychology Today, mess causes stress. But why? Here are eight reasons behind the mental cost of clutter — along with eight remedies.

  1. Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (sight, smell, touch), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.
  2. Clutter draws our focus away from what our attention should be on.
  3. Clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
  4. Clutter signals to our brains that our work is not done.
  5. Clutter makes us anxious because we’re never sure what it will take to get to the bottom of the pile.
  6. Clutter creates feelings of shame, guilt (“I should be more organized”), and embarrassment — especially when others visit our homes or workspaces without warning.
  7. Clutter invades the open spaces that allow people to think, invent, and problem solve. This inhibits productivity and creativity.
  8. Clutter prevents us from locating what we need quickly (files and paperwork lost in the “pile,” or keys swallowed up by the clutter), leading to frustration.

Fortunately, unlike other more commonly recognized sources of stress — like our jobs and/or  relationships — clutter is one of the easiest life stressors to fix.

  1. Don’t tackle clutter alone. Get the whole family involved: Start with a room everyone uses and make each person responsible for a section. If you’re on your own, start and finish de-cluttering one area before moving on to another. This will give you a growing sense of accomplishment as you progress.
  2. Create designated spaces for frequently used items and supplies so you can always find them when you need them. Try to make these designated spaces “closed” spaces, such as drawers and cabinets. Storing things on open shelves or atop your desk does not remove the visual stimuli creating stress or lessen the amount of open space your mind “sees.”
  3. If you don’t use it, want it, or need it, get rid of it: Donate, recycle, or trash. Just don’t keep it!  The original financial investment and current perceived financial value of your stuff probably doesn’t align. If you rarely use it, store it in a labeled, dated, clear container in a lesser-used location (such as a high or low place, if the room is your office) to leave easy-access space for items you use more often. 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. Sounds simple. But this takes practice and commitment.
  5. Create a pending folder. A pending folder helps you clear off your workspace and
    provides you with a readily accessible folder to centralize and easily locate pending projects.
  6. Don’t let papers pile up. While we’re inundated with mail, flyers, menus, memos, newspapers, and the like, remain conscious of what you and others bring into your spaces. Go through these papers as soon as you can. Toss what you don’t need; store what’s necessary in the proper place.
  7. De-clutter your primary workspace before you leave it. It’s normal to pull things out while you’re working, but make a habit of cleaning off your workspace daily. 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 decluttering, put on your favorite music. You’ll enjoy the tunes and time will pass more quickly.

Happy organizing!



Tammy O’Neil

Tammy O’Neil is an Associate Certified ADHD Coach, Certified Parent Trainer, Certified Student Success Coach and a Professional Organizer that specializes in ADHD, chronic disorganization, and hoarding. O'Neil fosters a cooperative coaching partnership with her clients and collaborates with them to reach their goals. If you want more information about how to get and stay organized, contact her for a FREE 20-minute phone consult at 304.834.5678 or or Tune in to "LIVE with the Organizer Coach," virtual presentation every second and fourth Tuesday of the month from 6:30–7 pm. Visit for more information.

Related Articles

Back to top button