Decluttering your physical space….and your mind?

Many old adages suggest that cleanliness and organization are essential to healthy living. But is there any truth to sayings like, “outer order, inner calm,” or “cleanliness is next to godliness?”

In recent years, more studies about the impact of organization on mental health have emerged. Catherine Roster, PhD is a professor of marketing and director of the Behavioral Lab at the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico. She has spent two decades studying clutter, excessive acquisition and difficulty discarding.

“When there’s lots of clutter, you lose control over your physical environment, which is very defeating and can bring on stress, depression or anxiety,” Roster told Everyday Health.

Roster’s studies – and many others – support the positive impact of decluttering on our mental well-being. One study from the University of California at Los Angeles found a direct link between clutter and stress levels. Women who described their homes as cluttered were found to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol as compared to those who described their homes as tidy. The study also indicated that cluttered homes were associated with a depressed mood and less restful sleep.

Minimalist or Maximalist – Clutter vs Decor

Are there any upsides to clutter? For the most part, no, although clutter has been found to have a link to increased creativity. It’s also important to note that everyone has a different tolerance for clutter. What is overwhelming to one person, may seem very manageable to another.

Also important to note is that one person’s clutter may be another person’s style of décor. Known as “maximalism,” this decorating style often includes full gallery walls of art and pictures, shelves stocked with meaningful items and the decorator’s preferred color palette splashed across the walls. To the minimalist, a maximalist style can feel overwhelming and over-cluttered. To the maximalist, minimalism may seem far too bare and sterile.

According to Roster, “Clutter is a spectrum — some people with extreme amounts of clutter may think they don’t have a problem with it at all, while others can be quite distressed by it when there really isn’t much there.”

Most experts note a few important distinctions when it comes to clutter and mental health, including a clear difference between hoarding and clutter. Hoarding disorder is a treatable mental health condition in which you have a strong need to save a large number of items and experience distress when attempting to get rid of them.

Also, a cluttered room, particularly for someone who is typically organized, can be a warning sign of something else going on. While everyone tends to be more disorganized or messy when busy or juggling multiple responsibilities, depression can lead people to be messy due to hopelessness, a lack of energy or because they are struggling to practice self-care. If you are concerned that someone you know is depressed, seek out treatment.

For most of us, decluttering can provide a quick boost and usually leads to more positive feelings. It also helps keep harmony in the home, where family members and roommates typically have differing levels of tolerance for clutter.

Summer is an ideal time to declutter and there are all types of guidance on how to tackle an organization project. Regardless of your approach, the research shows decluttering will ease most people’s moods.

“It gives people a renewed sense of control over their environment,” Roster said. “When people go through the process of decluttering, they feel a sense of freedom and liberation. It’s a reclaiming of a sense of mastery and control. They feel more competent and efficient.”