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Clean up your act: Why decluttering your home can save your mental health, according to a doctor

Overworked businessman sitting at a messy desk in office
Overworked businessman sitting at a messy desk in office

Declutter your space — and your brain.

Experts suggest that something as simple as cleaning the space around you can improve your mental health.

Dr. Faith Coleman, a family practice doctor and medical journalist, wrote on StudyFinds.com that while a mess might seem like a small job, it’s taking up more space in your mind than you think — despite being so easy to prevent.

“When clutter is winning, mental health is losing,” Coleman wrote.

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Coleman argued that there are many significant consequences that a messy space can have on mental health, such as impairing memory, poor eating habits and a decrease in impulse control.

Clutter can also increase the risk of developing a mood disorder, stunt creativity, decrease productivity, diminish energy, and interfere with concentration and decision-making.

The amount of time spent rummaging through clutter to find misplaced items takes up 5% of your time.

“What is five percent of your income? That’s what your clutter is costing you,” Coleman said.

A highly cluttered environment could lead to communication or relationship struggles as well since the distraction of all the visual stimuli could interfere with reading other’s expressions and emotions.

Studies have shown that the space we live in is our “psychological home” — a place of comfort and security that’s an “extension of your identity to which you form an emotional bond.”

One study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology looked at what things could detract from and contribute to a psychological home.

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Catherine Roster, study author and professor at the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management, discovered that possession clutter can have a largely negative impact on well-being.

The amount of time spent rummaging through clutter to find misplaced items takes up 5% of your time. deagreez – stock.adobe.com
The amount of time spent rummaging through clutter to find misplaced items takes up 5% of your time. deagreez – stock.adobe.com

What are the mental health benefits of decluttering?

Coleman listed the following as some of the greatest powerful impacts of decluttering your environment:

  • Decluttering relaxes the mind and boosts mood.

  • You’ll see improvements in healthy eating habits, combatting the association between clutter and becoming overweight, in turn improving physical health.

  • Increases the ability to focus, which prepares the mind to perform tasks.

  • Increases productivity as visual accomplishment is rewarding.

  • Having clutter makes you fear more clutter, so decluttering can relieve anxiety.

  • An organized environment increases sleep quality.

  • Communication is more effective and relationships can see improvement.

A highly cluttered environment could lead to communication or relationship struggles as well. trekandphoto – stock.adobe.com
A highly cluttered environment could lead to communication or relationship struggles as well. trekandphoto – stock.adobe.com

How to declutter and organize

  • Start small. Coleman suggests focusing on a small area at a time to not get overwhelmed. You can even bask in the success of cleaning just a drawer or a shelf. She also suggested listening to music or an audiobook while doing it.

  • Plan time to declutter. Set aside a specific time to declutter in advance and think about how good it will feel to have a clean and organized space.

  • Categorize your items. Put items into designated keep, discard, donate and relocate piles. Coleman said sentimental or seasonal items can be stored at a separate place, such as a storage unit.

  • Digital declutter. Try to tackle your inbox with a few emails a day. Coleman warned not to try to go through hundreds of emails in just one sitting.

  • Don’t touch every item. Coleman claimed that touching the item increases attachment to it.