By Margarita Cossuto
Take a moment to go into a space in your home that you enjoy being in. While you are in this space, notice how the objects and layout in the room make you feel. The room you enjoy being in is likely calming and inviting in some way, and chances are that your space is organized and tidy. Now, think about a room that is the opposite, a place that is cluttered and that you would avoid going into if you could. Compare how you feel while you are in the cluttered room versus how you feel in the organized room. Chances are that the tidy room made you feel relaxed and calm, whereas the cluttered room made you feel worried and tense. This is because the look and feel of a space, and how your senses respond to a place, can have a tremendous impact on your physical and psychological health. Physical clutter can lead to mental clutter, so clearing physical clutter can have many positive effects.
Being in a clutter-free room can clear mental clutter by giving you the sense that things are open and clear, and that everything is in its place. Think about how you react when you see an item out of place, like socks in the kitchen, homework in the bathroom, or tools on the dining room table. You may be perfectly fine with noticing something where it does not belong, and may not even notice the item right away, or you may see the item somewhere that it does not belong and immediately start thinking, how it got there, why it is there, who put it there, how long it has been there, where does it need to go, when will it be put back, etc. If you fall into the latter way of thinking, then organizing your space can help you prevent this cascade of thoughts, or mental clutter, from even coming up.
Any type of mental clutter can slow you down, physically and psychologically. Mental clutter is when you have numerous thoughts racing through your mind ranging from things to do, questions to answer, places to be, and so forth that make it challenging to process anything. As a result, mental clutter can cause worry, which can lead to stress and anxiety. There is research that demonstrates that people who describe their homes as “cluttered” tend to be more depressed, fatigued, and stressed than those who describe their homes as “restful” and “restorative.” These findings make sense since clearing clutter can improve focus and make it easier for the brain to process information.
Aside from seeing items out of place, seeing clutter in your home can also trigger automatic thoughts tied to that item when you are trying to focus on something else. For example, say you are at your sitting at your desk writing an important email and are working hard to focus and have a clear mind – when you move your foot and accidentally kick your child’s toy. While you can quickly move the toy and get on with writing your email, the toy will likely have triggered you to think questions similar to the ones listed earlier, including things like “this toy shouldn’t be here” or “my office will always be full of toys” or “I’ll never have a space to myself.” As a result, this toy that can be considered clutter and out of place caused mental clutter and changed your focus.
Taking the time to organize your closet, desk, bedroom, and office can help reduce the amount of clutter, and the automatic thoughts that often come from seeing clutter. Tidying up your physical space greatly encourages and improves mental clarity.