Is mess causing you stress? You’re not alone.
Studies show the large majority of Australians are living in a cluttered home, and over 25% report that clutter creates stress and anxiety in their lives.1
Having excess stuff in your surroundings can impact your ability to focus and relax, making your mind feel as cluttered as your environment.
We spoke to international bestselling author and leading expert in decluttering, Karen Kingston, for some insight into how clutter can negatively affect several areas of your life, including:
Karen also shares some of her top tips for clearing clutter, so you can be on your way to a healthier and happier home.
Clutter Affects Your Happiness
Do you sleep better in a clean room? Does a sink full of dishes make you feel restless and overwhelmed? Clutter can negatively impact your happiness in many ways.
“Many people acquire things in the hope that it will make them feel happier, but any contentment is usually only short-lived,” Karen explains.
“Soon they are looking for the next thing. And the next. Enough is never enough.”
If you continue to surround yourself with items you don’t use or love, your home ends up filled with clutter, and this can lead to bigger issues than just untidiness.
Stress and Anxiety
Clutter can be a significant source of stress and anxiety for many people. The physical chaos can cause chaos in your mind, the excessive stimuli overworking your senses and distracting you from the task at hand. It can also create a feeling of loss of control.
Guilt and Shame
Clutter can cause feelings of guilt, as it’s a constant reminder your work is never done. You may feel guilty that you’re not more organised, and ashamed of the clutter in your home, which can lead to low self-esteem.
Sentimental items can weigh you down and affect your ability to live in the present. As Karen says, “The problem with sentimental clutter is that it has an emotional weight that keeps you anchored in the past.”
If your clutter is made up of items with strong emotional value (like your ex’s old T-shirt), it can be draining. Karen recommends having regular clear-outs to keep the things you surround yourself with up-to-date with who you are and who you wish to become.
She explains, “It’s fine to keep some gifts and mementos of happy times, providing they still have current value for you and there are not so many of them that they anchor your energy too much in the past instead of in the present.”
“The problem with clutter is not just the space it takes up or the untidiness it can create. An even bigger issue is the stagnant energy that accumulates around it over time. You are connected to everything you own. So the more clutter you have, the more stagnant energy there will be in your home, and the more there will be a corresponding ‘stuckness’ in some aspect of your life. Instead of being an asset, possessions that become clutter can seriously hold you back.”
– Karen Kingston
Clutter Jeopardises Your Health
If your mental health and happiness isn’t reason enough to declutter, consider the effect clutter can have on your physical health.
“The old adage, “cleanliness is next to godliness”, can be found in all the major religions of the world,” Karen says.
“That’s because cleanliness is fundamental to maintaining health at all levels, from the buildings we occupy to the condition of our physical body, mind and emotions.”
With all those extra belongings piled up in your home, dust, debris and pet dander are more likely to accumulate. This can trigger your allergy symptoms and cause or worsen breathing problems, like asthma.
All those extra bits and pieces can block your doors and windows, causing a fire hazard. They also increase the risk of trips and injuries around your home, not to mention the possibility of being trapped under an avalanche of stuff.
Rodents and Pests
As Karen states, “In the homes of people who have hoarding behaviour, the amount of clutter and dust may be so extreme that it also becomes a breeding ground for insects and vermin, which can present health hazards of more worrying kinds.”
Your clutter could be inviting pests into your home that often carry diseases that can harm your health.
“It takes at least twice as long to clean a place that is cluttered with objects, and not only that, the objects themselves also need cleaning. The more clutter you have, the more dust accumulates, the more the energy stagnates and the less inclined you are to clean at all. It’s a downward spiral.”
– Karen Kingston
Clutter Hurts Your Relationships
Clutter doesn’t just affect you – it can also have a significant impact on your relationships. This isn’t limited to the people living with you, either.
The negative effects of a cluttered home can take a toll on everyone living in the environment. Clutter can become a topic of debate and cause arguments and disharmony between other members of the household.
Karen states that nagging and pleading your partner to get rid of the clutter rarely works. She explains, “Something fundamental has to change in a person’s belief system for them to see clutter clearing as a positive step rather than a chore or a process that will destabilise them or cause them to feel at loss in some way.”
Karen describes clutter as a symptom of deeper underlying issues, stating, “It highlights a fundamental difference in beliefs, values and emotional makeup which is sure to be reflected in other areas of a relationship, too.”
When your home is cluttered, you may be less inclined to invite people into it. In fact, 17.5% of Australians say clutter causes them to not want friends or family coming over.1 Feeling embarrassed about your clutter can cause isolation and alienation.
“When someone lets go of their clutter, they become less emotionally attached to their stuff and more emotionally available to their partner, too.”
– Karen Kingston
Clutter Impacts Your Finances
Did you know your disorganised home could be draining your wallet? Clutter can lead to poor money management and financial stress.
If you can’t find your favourite book among your clutter, you’re likely to go out and buy another copy. This encourages bad spending habits, and just leads to more clutter in your home.
How can you pay your electricity bill if you can’t find it? Sure, there are other solutions to ensure you pay your bills on time (e.g. direct debit), but a tidy, more organised home will help you stay on top of your finances.
5 Quick Tips To Declutter Your Home
We asked Karen for her top 5 tips for decluttering the home.
1. Establish your motivation for clutter clearing
Get very clear about why you want to clear your clutter so that when the going gets tough, you’ll be motivated to keep going.
2. Create a clutter clearing plan
Decide when you’ll begin and schedule it on your calendar, as you would any other activity. Make a date with yourself to do it and show up.
3. Discover your most effective clutter clearing time of day
Most people find they have a best time of day for clutter clearing. Some prefer the morning. Others like to clutter-clear through the night. Discover when you are at your most decisive and do your clearing then.
4. Break your clutter down into manageable tasks
Break each area down into smaller chunks and tackle them one at a time. Set your timer for 20 minutes and work against the clock to do each chunk within the time box you have set yourself. You can clutter-clear your entire home 20 minutes at a time.
5. Let your clutter go
Don’t make the mistake that so many people make of bundling up their clutter in bags or boxes but not actually letting it go. Decide what you want to do with it – donate it, sell it, gift it, throw it away, etc. – and get it off the premises as soon as you can.
“Most people who have accumulated clutter over time feel overwhelmed by it. After clearing it, they regain control of their home and their life. They generally feel lighter, happier and freer.”
– Karen Kingston
How To Live Clutter-Free
Karen’s tips to prevent re-cluttering your home and living a clutter-free lifestyle include:
- Discover why you felt the need to accumulate clutter in the first place, so you know what warning signs to look for.
- Do regular clear-outs to prevent your belongings from building up again.
- Only hold onto the things you love and use.
“When you are about to acquire something new, you look at it differently. You learn to recognise when you are about to buy something that will become clutter in the future and instead of succumbing to the impulse, you pause, smile and walk away. You learn to intercept clutter before it even starts.”
– Karen Kingston
Karen Kingston is based in Australia. You can learn more about her and her international bestselling book here.
1CoreData Happy Home Survey, October 2017