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The Negative Impact of Clutter on Your Mental, Physical and Emotional Health
Reprinted with permission by NAPO colleague: Lisa VanDoorne, Owner, Northwest Home Coach

Clutter. We all have some, to one degree or another. Even as a professional organizer, I have plenty of it; from the mail that continues to stack up day to day, the unfinished projects in my studio, or the clothes that fill my closet! I work hard to keep it all somewhat organized because I am well aware of the many ways It can impact my life. How bad is clutter, really?

Did you know that clutter can impact your weight? A 2017 study determined that a cluttered and chaotic kitchen caused individuals to eat more cookies as opposed to healthier options like carrot sticks. Moreover, an earlier study determined that women who store their cereal on the kitchen counter weigh on average 21 pounds more than those who put their cereal behind the closed door of their cabinet. Further, those who leave their fruit on the counter weigh 6 pounds less than those who hide it away. That’s a strong argument for finding an attractive fruit bowl!

Clutter also impacts your sleep habits. A peer-reviewed study by Thatcher and Reinheimer in 2017 suggests that a clean and tidy room, along with other habits that improved sleep hygiene (such as avoiding electronic devices before bedtime) increased sleep quality and contributed to fewer sleep related problems. Another study by Esposito in 2015 says that an uncluttered bedroom leads to better sleep which is a contributor to improved health.

Household clutter collects dust and can be difficult to clean which can cause asthma to flare. Indeed, a 2009 study showed that dark, cluttered, crowded or noisy indoor housing conditions are associated with increased early childhood asthma. Additionally, clutter increases stress which contributes to asthma risk, and other conditions including eczema.

The interior condition of a home is a strong indicator of physical activity. Those with neater homes tend to be more physically active and therefore at a lower risk of heart disease. Of those who suffer from hoarding disorder (which ranks on the scale of mental health conditions), 78% are either overweight or obese and 64% suffer from a severe medical condition such as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Research has shown the ways visible household clutter is strongly associated with stress. Women particularly are vulnerable as they tend to bear the greater burden of housecleaning and child rearing. You might be aware that the stress hormone, cortisol, peaks first thing in the morning. In healthy individuals with balanced lives, this cortisol level decreases over the course of the day. Elevated cortisol at the end of the day is connected to depression, higher stress and early mortality. Because women tend to work about a half-hour longer on chores than their male counterparts and because they spend more time tending children, they have less time for leisure and sleep. Because they don’t recover from their daily dose of cortisol, they have an unhealthy level of cortisol at the end of the day.

Children too are impacted by household clutter. Home chaos has been linked to low family income; parental stress and emotional distress; parenting difficulties, particularly inappropriate discipline and a lack of sensitivity and responsiveness; and child behavior problems such as impulsivity, conduct problems and delinquency. Caregivers who report elevated levels of chaos in the home had children described by teachers as having elevated levels of behavioral problems.

Household clutter and excess visual stimuli causes negative reactivity in children which further impacts the way a mother responds to her children. Mothers who feel frazzled become more authoritarian and harsher in their parenting style.

Overall well-being can be improved by decreasing clutter and aiming for a simpler lifestyle. Many people who accumulate material goods do so to increase their happiness and satisfaction, though the opposite may be true. Those who are heavily materialistic tend to be less satisfied with their possessions than those who prefer a simple lifestyle.

Clutter tends to decrease relaxation as it gives an individual too much to think about and plenty to maintenance. If you have a high volume of clutter, it’s likely a subconscious distraction tactic to cover up resentment, regret or remorse. The clutter contributes to keeping these heavy, dense emotions anchored in and covered up. The negative energy is simply projected back onto yourself and is in essence a form of self-betrayal. This is a toxic pattern that can lead to physical disease.

The good news is, you can do something about it! And you don’t have to do it alone. If tackling your clutter feels overwhelming, you can always connect with a professional organizer to help you overcome the things that are standing in your way to a clutter free home. Working side-by-side with someone who has no stake in your stuff can be extremely helpful in clearing your path toward accomplishing the goals you have for yourself.

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