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Why Decluttering Is Important for Self-Care (and When It Isn’t)

I know that cleaning or organizing my home is not always the first thing on my mind, but there are some true benefits of tidying up. It can help you de-stress, gain a sense of control, and improve your state of mind in numerous ways.

The process (and results) of putting things in their place can improve your mood and state of mind. If it puts you at ease, it can be an important part of self-care.


We’re living in a time when many of us feel overloaded with stress. Yet many of us don’t realize how our personal habits may be contributing to our angst and anxiety. For one thing, clutter and messiness can cause distress, which may be part of the reason why the Marie Kondo tidying method and minimalism trends dominate the headlines in wellness news more and more. After all, decluttering not only makes it easier to find what you’re looking for, it can also improve your mood and state of mind in myriad ways.

It gives people a renewed sense of control over their environment. 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.

Clutter reflects an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces. Clutter is often the result of an over-attachment to our personal items, which makes it difficult to part with them. It isn’t the abundance of things that’s the problem as much as attachment to abundance.

Why Does Clutter Affect Our Emotional Well-Being? The perks that come with decluttering the physical space around you aren’t surprising given that exposure to cluttered, disorganized environments can compromise your attention, concentration, and focus — and even drain your cognitive resources, according to research on the results from fMRI scans. When I am living in a cluttered space, I find that I have reduced productivity and more chronic procrastination.

RELATED: The Most Common Causes of Stress: What You Need to Know Notably, procrastination and clutter can be a two-way street. A study published in January 2019 in Environment and Behavior (also coauthored by Ferrari and Roster) found that indecision and procrastination at work are associated with increased office clutter. In a paper published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology in 2016 (also by Ferrari and Roster), survey responses from adults in the United States and Canada revealed that clutter can have a negative effect on subjective well-being and happiness. Though “home” is typically considered a safe and secure place, clutter compromises some of that security, according to the survey responses.

Clutter can also be a safety hazard if there are items or wires on the floor that someone can trip over, or a health hazard if your piles of stuff have become magnets for dust or bugs. In addition, clutter can become a source of tension or friction between people in the same household — especially if they have different ideas about what’s acceptable when it comes to tidiness.

It can take a toll on your social life, too, if it gets to the point of embarrassment where you won’t have people over, Roster says.

Finally, there’s even some evidence that over time being in a cluttered space could affect your weight: A study published in January 2016 in the journal Environment and Behavior found that spending time in a chaotic, messy kitchen can contribute to an out-of-control mindset, and people in that type of kitchen chose higher-calorie snacks than people in a neater kitchen.

What Amount of Decluttering Helps Anxiety and Well-Being? It’s Different for All of Us If clutter contributes to stress, can decluttering and organizing the environment around you relieve that stress and improve your sense of well-being? Yes, but know that we all differ when it comes to what’s an acceptable amount of clutter.

Clutter is ‘in the eye of the beholder’ in the sense that some clutter might perturb some people and be totally fine for others. 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.

No matter what you physically count as “clutter,” there is a constant visual reminder of things that need to be done. Decluttering allows you to cross things off the to-do list, which gives you a sense of accomplishment. Removing clutter also takes away visual interruptions. It’s an easy way to cleanse the palate and have a fresh start.

Paring down and getting organized also promotes greater productivity, a sense of order, and feelings of self-efficacy, as well as improving your mood. Looked at another way, tidying up, putting things away, and getting rid of piles of unnecessary stuff is a way of managing symbolic pollution.

When Decluttering Is Self-Care and When It Isn’t Of course, you can take anything to an extreme level, so if decluttering becomes an obsession or you become super strict about having everything in a specific place, you can go overboard. If decluttering is keeping you from turning your attention to other things in your life, that’s not helpful or adaptive.

In other words, it’s important to find what works for you in this realm and be flexible enough to relinquish the reins of control when appropriate (whether that’s over a weekend or special occasion or in certain places in your home or office). But it’s worth the effort to find your personal sweet spot, because in the right amount, decluttering can be good for your mental and emotional well-being in many ways.


And in that respect, decluttering can certainly be a form of self-care. (Remember self-care is anything that promotes your health and well-being and that you simultaneously enjoy doing.) To better define the potential benefits of decluttering, It’s a form of self-care, just as not doing it is a form of diminishing the self.

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