Most of us have heard about the importance of taking care of our mental health. When you think of things you can do to improve psychological well being, you probably imagine taking time for self-care, finding balance in your life, developing healthy stress-management strategies, and perhaps even working with a counselor or therapist.
What you may not imagine when it comes to mental health is the importance of maintaining a clean and tidy home. It turns out that the environment you live in can have a significant impact on your mental health status, so taking time to organize might just become a part of your self-care plan.
How Clutter Affects Mental Health
If you’re not yet convinced that cleaning should be a part of your self-care routine, you might be interested in what the research has to say. A recent study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that clutter not only reduces psychological wellbeing but also decreases the feeling of psychological home, which can be described as the sense of belonging associated with your living space. Study authors described clutter as being an overabundance of physical possessions, which makes the home environment seem chaotic. Given this description, it’s no surprise that clutter can be damaging for mental wellness.
The above study is not the only report linking clutter to reduced psychological wellbeing. In fact, it is part of a growing body of research showing that clutter can contribute to stress, increased cortisol levels, and depression. Among teens and adolescents who live in clutter, the disorganized home environment is associated with lower academic performance and behavioral problems. Based upon the available research, it’s pretty clear that when a home becomes too untidy, it can negatively affect mental health.
So, Does Tidying Up Really Have Benefits?
Given that clutter and chaotic home environments are linked to reductions in psychological wellbeing, it would make sense that maintaining a tidy home would have the opposite effect. Researchers have conducted studies to determine the benefits of having a clean and tidy home, and the results have been promising. A recent study that explored the impact of clutter found that having lower levels of subjective clutter in the home was linked to higher levels of positive emotion, improved relationships, and increased wellbeing.
Additional research has suggested that decluttering has the following benefits:
- It is uplifting.
- It reduces stress.
- It’s refreshing.
- It improves the overall quality of life.
While you’ve probably heard about the benefits of decluttering in a magazine article or perhaps on the morning news, the reality is that tidying up can improve your mental health by reducing your stress, giving you a sense of rejuvenation, and allowing you to focus on living a meaningful life.
Strategies for Tidying Up Your Home
If you’d like to take advantage of the mental health benefits of a clean, tidy home, organizational experts have some tips that can help you to get started:
- Handle One Area or Task at a Time: Cleaning up the entire house from top to bottom can seem overwhelming, and may deter you from cleaning at all. Instead of pressuring yourself to tidy up the entire house, pick one small area, or one task, to get you started. For instance, you may begin by scrubbing the bathrooms, or cleaning out clutter in the garage. Tackling small tasks on your to-do list makes cleaning seem less daunting, and you’ll feel accomplished when you cross something off of your list.
- Evaluate What Needs To Go: Sometimes, an unorganized home is the result of accumulating too many items, which means it may be time to let go of those that are no longer used and simply taking up precious space. Instead of finding a place to store an old item, or mindlessly throwing it in a drawer, take a moment to assess whether you really need it. If you haven’t used the item in the past month, or if you have replaced it with a newer version, it’s probably time for it to go. You might even consider whether someone else, such as a loved one or a local community center, might get more out of the item than you do. For instance, you might donate old clothing to a non-profit that serves the homeless.
- Keep it simple. Organization doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. Creating simple routines, such as taking five minutes each morning to vacuum a room, or always hanging your keys and purse by the door, can make a difference. Incorporating these small habits takes less time than tackling the clutter that piles up when you always throw your purse on the table, or wait until each room in the house is visibly dirty, to consider vacuuming.
When Clutter is a Sign of a Mental Health Condition
For many people, keeping a tidier home is a matter of making small changes and learning new organizational strategies, but for some, it can be incredibly difficult, and even distressing, to get rid of clutter and make a commitment to organization. If you are finding it challenging to incorporate cleaning and organizational strategies in your home, there may be a larger mental health issue at play.
For example, depression comes along with symptoms like extreme fatigue, lack of concentration, and loss of interest in usual activities, which can make it difficult to put forth the time and energy required to maintain a clean and orderly home. In other cases, people who find it distressing to clean and remove clutter may be experiencing hoarding disorder. This is a diagnosable mental health condition that makes it difficult to get rid of possessions, even if they are of little value, and leads to living spaces becoming so cluttered that it is difficult to use them. For instance, a person who experiences significant distress over parting with old or broken items may have bedrooms or bathrooms that are so full of clutter they can no longer use them.
If you are living with a mental health condition that makes it difficult for you to maintain a clean, organized home, or if you are experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression symptoms that persist despite your best efforts to manage them, you may benefit from reaching out to a mental health professional. Mission Harbor Behavioral Health provides outpatient services for teens and adults in the Southern California area. We have offices conveniently located in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and we have various levels of care to meet each client’s individual needs. Contact us today to begin the admissions process.