How decluttering can improve physical and mental health

May 16, 2017 Swedish Blogger

a mother organizing her child's toys


In this article:

  • Research shows that clutter can negatively impact your mental health.

  • Removing or lessening clutter can help you reduce stress, improve your diet and even lose weight.

  • Mental health professionals at Swedish can help patients address issues around clutter.

Laundry to wash, meals to make, meetings to plan . . . Is there anyone who doesn't feel overwhelmed when faced with the seemingly endless to-do lists of life? Just looking at the sheer amount of stuff in our home or workspace can make us feel tired and anxious before we even get started.

Home organization experts have always recommended decluttering to make the home a safer, more pleasant place to live. But beyond that, scientific research shows that clutter can be bad for your physical and mental health. In this light, Spring cleaning can mean more than cleaning out cabinets and recycling old magazines: it can refresh one's overall well-being.

Here are five ways decluttering can make you healthier — both physically and mentally.

Decluttering can reduce stress

Clutter can cause feelings of stress, fatigue, and depression, according to recent research. A University of California study found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol were higher in mothers who lived in homes they described as "cluttered" or full of "unfinished projects." Stress contributes to poor sleep, poor eating habits and general poor health, so it's a good idea to start decluttering — one step at a time. Set aside 15 minutes per day to straighten up one place, such as a messy shelf or drawer. This way you'll feel happier and more relaxed at the end of the day, and you can gradually create more order as you go along. 

Decluttering can help you sleep better

Since decluttering reduces stress, you’ll naturally enjoy better sleep. But keeping your bedroom decluttered is itself an aid to sleep. People who take the time to make their beds every morning experience longer, more restful sleep, especially when they use fresh, clean sheets. Decluttering one’s bedroom should also include keeping electronic devices turned off or in another room, so you can unwind and go to sleep at an earlier hour. And by staying more organized during the day, there will be fewer tasks to distract you later.

Decluttering can boost your productivity

Clutter is visually distracting. The sheer number of objects in your field of vision can affect your ability to concentrate on one thing at a time, even if you think you're multitasking efficiently. According to a study by the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, clutter overloads the visual cortex and interferes with its ability to process information. When you cut the clutter, you're able to think and work efficiently, enabling you to spend less time on tasks, both at home and on the job. That leaves you with more time to enjoy personal activities, spend time with family, prepare healthy meals and rest. 

Decluttering can help you eat better

The stress triggered by your clutter may also trigger coping mechanisms like overeating “comfort foods,” according to a Cornell University study from 2016. A psychological experiment conducted at the University of Minnesota likewise found that while disorder can sometimes spur creativity, a messy room was likely to lead to eating unhealthy snacks. While there may be multiple reasons why people eat more poorly in cluttered surroundings, it’s a good idea to make cooking and dining areas as free of clutter as possible.

Decluttering can help you lose weight

Along with triggering poor food choices, science shows that clutter can lead to weight gain, too. A study conducted by researchers at Florida State University has revealed a link between hoarding and obesity, noting that people with extremely cluttered homes were 77 percent more likely to be overweight.

While not everyone has a severe hoarding problem, clutter-linked weight gain may also point to people’s too-busy lifestyles. Individuals in a rush are more likely to eat what’s handy, like pre-packaged and fast foods, which in turn lead to obesity. In a more organized home, there’s more time to plan and prepare healthier meals — as well as more time to relax and eat more slowly.

Whether you follow these tips to lose weight or to sleep better, decluttering gives you more time for yourself and your family, and helps to establish a healthier, more balanced life.

Find a doctor

If you have questions about mental health, contact Swedish Behavioral Health and Wellbeing. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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