Clutter and our mental wellbeing

It’s a fact – clutter makes us feel anxious.

Studies have found that women living in cluttered, untidy spaces have raised levels of cortisol -  a sign that they are feeling stressed and anxious.

This is bad news for us mums, because living with little ones usually means that our homes constantly look like a series of small tornadoes just swept through them!

Detecting clutter in our environment sets off a number of physiological and neurochemical processes in our body.

When we are in a space that is untidy, cluttered and disorganized, our brain starts working very hard to deal with all the visual stimuli.

At the same time, our brains are pulled in different directions, making it hard for us to focus and pay attention.

Clutter signals to our brain that our work is not done – that we cannot relax until there is order.

All of this triggers a stress reaction in our body, making us feel anxious and on edge.

When we have to deal with chronic clutter, that stress response is ongoing, and can have detrimental effects on our long term physical and mental health.

What can we do then, seeing that life with young children inevitably involves a degree of mess, clutter and untidiness?

Decluttering your entire home (á la Marie Kondo), and setting up systems to keep everything organised and in its place, can feel overwhelming and often we just don’t have the time or space to take on a project like that.

Instead, think small.

1.       Identify ONE area in your home that is creating anxiety for you and come up with a plan to keep it tidy and free of clutter

  • Start by imagining what this space or area will look like and how you will feel when you are in this space.

  • Brainstorm ways in which you can keep this area tidy and free of clutter.

  • Discuss this with your partner and kids and see if you can come up with solutions together. (Getting their buy-in is important!)

2.       Create a space at home that will be your sanctuary

  •   Find one space in your home that you can make your sanctuary – this could be a room, your office, a little corner in your bedroom or even a closet!

  •  Keep it minimalist, make it beautiful, calming and keep it tidy.

  • Claim this as your space and set firm boundaries around this. E.g. no kids, no toys.

  • When you notice yourself feeling anxious and irritated by untidiness in the rest of your home, give yourself a quick ‘time-out’ where you retreat to your space. Even just a few minutes will calm your nervous system by giving you a little sensory break.

Being aware of how our environment impacts our emotional state and taking small steps to manage that, can really support our mental health and wellbeing.