27 April 2019

The Health Benefits of a Decluttered Space and Home

If you are dealing with clutter in your home or business, you know just how difficult it can be to stay organized and get work done. The downsides of clutter don’t stop there. Recent research suggests that clutter can have negative impacts on our moods, our memory, and our overall cognitive performance. Inversely, decluttering can help improve health and well-being for people of all ages.

Clutter: What Is It and Where Does It Come From? 

Loosely defined, clutter is a collection of things that take up an inordinate amount of space. Clutter can be compromised of all types of items, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be dirty. The main characteristic of clutter is that it gets in the way. Clutter often occurs due to an excess of possessions and a reluctance to sort and store them properly.

For many, clutter may seem like a just a mild inconvenience. Over time, however, this space-consuming phenomenon is more than just a nuisance. It’s a risk to productivity, physical health, and mental well-being. By reducing clutter in your life, you can improve your health and reap benefits in the home and the workplace.

Clutter: A Subtle and Insidious Health Hazard 
It’s no secret that clutter is a bad thing—but just how bad is it? In a 2017 article for Psychology Today, Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne enumerates the many negative impacts clutter can have on human health. Whitbourne cites several studies that show sobering data on clutter’s effects on visual processing, stress levels, memory performance, mood and more. Put simply: clutter drastically affects the brain’s ability to perform. The solution? Decluttering.

Decluttering Health Benefit #1: Improved Self-Confidence and Efficacy
Where Dr. Whitbourne outlines the negative health effects of clutter, Dr. Alice Borne enumerates the many ways that eliminating clutter can improve. In her 2018 article for Psychology Today, “6 Benefits of Uncluttered Space,” Dr. Borne starts the list with the benefit of improved self-confidence and efficacy. Less clutter means greater self-confidence. Just as importantly, the act of getting rid of clutter feels empowering, which gives us confidence in our productivity and our decision-making skills.

Decluttering Health Benefit #2: Reduced Anxiety 
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions. In addition to making an individual feel unpleasant and worried, anxiety can make it incredibly difficult to focus and be productive. As both Whitbourne and Borne show, clutter can contribute to anxiety, even if we don’t realize it. Getting rid of clutter can lift the weight of anxiety and generalized stress off an individual’s shoulders, leading to an increase in overall happiness.

Decluttering Health Benefit #3: Increased Energy 
This benefit applies more to the act of decluttering rather than a clutter-free space effect on the body. As Borne asserts, the very act of removing clutter puts us in a “getting things done mode,” which can increase energy and productivity. However, the benefits don’t stop there. When decluttering is finished, a decluttered space leaves the mind and the body free to address other things with ample energy no longer drained from lingering clutter.

Decluttering Health Benefit #4: Mind Wandering and Physical Activity 
Both the process of decluttering and the environment created in a clutter-free space are conducive to healthy mind-wandering and beneficial physical activity. Decluttering itself gets the body moving and the brain thinking about topics of its choosing, both which can improve cognitive performance and lead to what Borne calls “lightbulb” moments. Likewise, a clutter-free environment can help clear the mind and literally clear space for stretching out, exercising, and moving.

Decluttering Health Benefit #5: Reduced Relationship Tension 
Clutter creates stress for both individuals and groups. Families fight about mess. Spare rooms become disorganized storage units; garages no longer fit cars. Coworkers collectively struggle to stay productive in cluttered work environments. Documents get lost amidst piles of paper; delegation of tasks becomes difficult when no one navigate a disorganized space. This can put a strain on relationships in both the home and the workplace. By reducing clutter, you can reduce relationship tension and help everyone get along.

Decluttering Health Benefit #6: Improved Mental Organization 
Everybody knows that clutter is antithetical to organization. Items get lost, papers misplaced, and some things just seem to disappear. However, this disorganization doesn’t stop there. As Whitborne and Borne both show, clutter can actually cause us to become disorganized mentally. A study performed by University of Toronto's Lynn Hasher (cited by Whitborne) found evidence linking physical clutter to mental clutter. Where there is one, the other is typically not far off. The correlation adds up intuitively: just as we have trouble locating things among physical clutter, we have trouble “locating things” (remembering, or problem solving) among mental clutter.

With the benefits of decluttering now clear, the next step is to take care of the clutter in your home or business. One of the best ways to declutter is to move a portion of your possessions into offsite self-storage, where they’ll be securely stored away from your working or living space. Once you’ve decluttered your space, you’ll feel how your overall health and wellbeing increase.

5 Reasons to Clear the Clutter out of Your Life. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. (2017). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201705/5-reasons-clear-the-clutter-out-your-life 
6 Benefits of Uncluttered Space. Alice Borne, Ph.D. (2018). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201802/6-benefits-uncluttered-space

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