I still remember that feeling of actually making my bed and cleaning up my room when I was 12. After I spent all day cleaning I would just sit and stare at my room. If I had instant access to a camera and social media back then I probably would have shared it to Instagram. That’s how much I loved the look of a squeaky clean bedroom. Why then did it take me so long to realize that having a clean, clutter-free space is what I need to be my best self. Finally, it seems studies are proving what I should have known all along. That clutter and mess causes major changes in our bodies and increases anxiety and depression. Here’s the low-down on all the ways clutter affects us negatively and how we can fight back.
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Clutter and brain function
My kids and I went through this phase of watching Brain Games. Not the fun game show one either. The one where they are constantly spouting off facts about our brains.
One of the main things that is continually mentioned is that our brains seek consistency and patterns. It’s how we can go through our daily routines without constant stress and chaos.
Like when you drive to work and you have no idea how you got there.
Your brain helped you do it on autopilot. It loves consistency and routine, and clutter robs us of that consistency.
When you spend 30 minutes trying to find clothes in the morning on a pile on your bedroom floor, you’re instantly kicking in stress hormones.
Our brain has to try to make sense in the chaos and it throws off those autopilot habits. Needless to say this instantly starts sucking brainpower. (To put it in technical terms.)
So what happens when that brain power starts getting syphoned?
Clutter and your hormones
These areas where we start to feel stressed and burdened by clutter can deeply affect our hormones. Especially our cortisone (this is even higher in women).
Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” and it helps our bodies do things like:
- Maintain healthy stress levels
- Manage insulin levels
- Maintain blood pressure
- Keep a healthy immune system
Keep in mind that cortisol is a healthy hormone until it is released in excess. People who have lived through traumatic experiences or suffer from PTSD often have cortisol levels that remain higher than normal.
So to take a moment and understand that excess clutter can have a similar depression and anxiety effect as something as terrible as PTSD should really tell you something!
Constantly living with our bodies in a fight-or-flight response mode can lead to set backs in other areas of our lives starting with our health.
Clutter and your health
With raised cortisol levels, your body begins to feel like it is constantly in attack mode (think about being faced by a bear in the woods).
Living this way naturally will take a toll on your overall health not just in your mind, but in your body as well.
When you live in a fight-or-fight mindset, your body may respond with more consistent illnesses and can increase your chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.
To add to it all, these same hormone spikes and anxiety levels lead to some pretty shady eating habits as well.
Clutter and your diet
There was a study done in messy kitchens to see what effect the clutter had on the amount of food consumption and the results spoke for themselves. Of the 100 women in the study, the ones that were in the cluttered kitchen consumed over twice the amount of calories when compared to the women in the less cluttered kitchen.
However, there is another part to the study that is less discussed. They divided the women and had them write a paper on either a time they felt in control or out of control. Those who wrote a paper on feeling in control ate less food than those who felt out of control.
While this could be seen as a major factor in why they ate more, I would imagine the people conducting the studies did this to add that stress factor that is very much a part of living in clutter.
It also reminds us of the power our brains can play in helping us escape the clutter and all of the negative downfalls that come with it.
Anxiety during the decluttering process
It may seem obvious at this point that clutter definitely plays a negative role in your anxiety and depression. Naturally, living a more minimalist lifestyle would help ease all of the stress surrounding clutter.
However, those who are lost in clutter and consumption often struggle even more when it comes to getting rid of the stuff!
Research has shown that people with hoarding tendencies live in a state of depression that causes them to purchase more and then they are faced with crippling anxiety if and when they are presented with having to sell or donate their belongings.
Minimalist mindset to the rescue
What the kitchen study shows us is that we have more control than we think. Taking the time to journal every day can start to have a positive effect on how you see yourself, how you feel in your own body and can spill over into how you care for your space.
Simply telling someone to get rid of their stuff rarely works. They have got to begin to see themselves as valuable without their stuff.
Great ideas for journal prompts:
- The moment you were the happiest in your life
- A time when you felt strong and powerful
- One thing you love that you can’t buy
- Five things you’re grateful for that you can’t hold
- Describe in detail someone you really love
These types of journal prompts that focus on material-free joys can help shift our mindsets to be more focused on the good things in life that stuff can’t provide.
How to reclaim your space and your peace
Honestly, here are my two best pieces of advice:
Life can dish out a lot of crazy. A lot of chaos. If you can start your day by controlling one thing you are already off to a better start.
It’s like me when I was 12. If you can make your bed (with beautiful bedding that makes you happy), stand back and look at it all made, you will instantly feel a little bit better.
Starting your day on a positive note like this has the potential to spill over into other areas of your life.
Maybe you’ll wipe up the coffee you spill on the counter, maybe you’ll clean out a few items in your car.
Change won’t necessarily be drastic or monumental. It will most likely require small, intentional changes. For more inspiration, I highly recommend the book, Make Your Bed, and reading up on the Broken Window Theory.