Mess = Stress

The relationship between our cluttered rooms and how we feel.
Published March 14, 2017

We all know that feeling of satisfaction after tidying a messy room, how everything looks clean and spacious, and just feels … right.

Researchers have found a clear relationship between the clutter level in our surroundings and how we feel. Recent studies show a direct correlation between clutter and stress, as well as a connection to weight gain. Living in a cluttered home can create subtle, constant, low-grade stress.

“In my experience, the people who seek out our services are highly stressed because their working and living environments have become overtaken by physical elements, so much so that they’ve become uncomfortable and, as a result, are not able to focus on the task at hand,” says Laura Kay, Principal of Laura Kay Organizing for 11 years.

She notes, however, that some people simply aren’t bothered by clutter.

Common Clutter Culprits

  • Paper
  • Objects
  • Children’s toys
  • Lack of sufficient storage space

So where does all this clutter originate?

Kay suggests it’s due, in part, to how fortunate recent generations have been.

“We buy more than we need,” Kay says. “We buy on impulse. We consume without thinking.”

Our consumer habits can lead to duplicate or even triplicate items, she explains, a very different lifestyle compared with the postwar environment, when most people had one good dress, for example, and perhaps two pairs of shoes, she says.

Additionally, we get caught up in the idea of achieving the unattainable – perfection.

“I don’t believe perfection exists,” says Kay, who is based in Toronto and is on the board of directors for Professional Organizers in Canada. “I think good enough is good enough.”

She goes on to explain how home magazines feature staged, edited photos, which highlight an ideal that is not realistic.

“Your house is not going to look like a segment out of Architectural Digest.  They’re all staged,” Kay explains. “They’ve taken away the coffee machine, they’ve taken away the toaster, they’ve only put out the white dishes that match.”

Laura’s Practical Tips to Keep Clutter at Bay

  • Be mindful when you shop. Ask yourself, is this something that you need or something that you want, and learn to differentiate between the two. “If [the item is] duplication, consider eliminating one other thing. The one-in, one-out rule is what it is.” Ideally, she adds, take out two things when you bring in one new thing.
  • Don’t put it down, put it back. When you’ve read the paper, paid the bill, worn the sweater, used the scissors, Kay says, “Walk over to its home and put it back in its home.  That requires mindfulness.”
  • Be mindful that perfection doesn’t exist. “Don’t try and achieve perfection, but try to find your level of satisfaction.”
  • Be mindful that not everyone in your home or office subscribes to the same thinking as you. “Being organized is a lifestyle.” Kay likens it to changing your eating habits and activity level. “You have to accept that it’s going to be a lifestyle change and you have to really want it.”
  • Create (and utilize) “Clear Out Day.” Take the time at least once or twice a year, but ideally once every season, to eliminate stuff from your home. Try the first Sunday of the season, Kay suggests, and write it into your calendar: CLEAR OUT DAY.