How does a cluttered house affect your mental health? A psychologist explains

“Chaos is only order waiting to be deciphered.”

It would be inaccurate to think that any home or workplace is free of disorder. The pendulum swings between order and chaos. Chaos has been known to breed life and help many get their creative juices flowing. It also helps build alertness and resilience.

So how can we know when the chaos becomes dysfunctional? How can we tell when the mess affects our efficiency?

Do you feel stressed about things not being in the right place? Are you accomplishing little because of all the clutter and the distraction caused by it? If the answer to any one of these is a yes, the clutter in your life might be getting dysfunctional. “Many of us live in denial and struggle to understand that clutter affects our efficiency levels, eventually leading to subconscious anxiety of constantly being unable to choose and hence procrastinate,” said Jenisha Shah, psychologist and outreach associate at Mpower- the Centre, Mumbai, therapeutic movement facilitator.

The different types of clutter that affect us are:

Physical clutter

Physical clutter consists of piles in drawers, closets, counters and everywhere else. It could be at home with having unnecessary items like showpieces that are hoarding up the space. It could be at work on your desk with piles of files, paper stubs, unnecessary stationery that might not be even useable anymore. The reasons we allow this clutter to fester and grow is our perceived lack of time, not having a designated place for stuff or the clutter you hoard because you can’t let go of it.

Research shows that persistent disorder in your surroundings can have a negative impact on your ability to focus and process information: Neuroscientists at Princeton showed that ‘physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress.’

Psychologists commend that a cluttered home adds to the air of perturbation and triggers suppressed emotions. (Source: Pixabay)

Emotional clutter

Pent up emotions, unexpressed feelings, failures, unresolved issues, relationships, or any other suppressed emotions contribute to emotional clutter. It often results from being unable to acknowledge our feelings to ourselves and further the disability to express or share feeling with others. Instead of the fear of judging ourselves and others, we should accept reality and focus on moving ahead from the past.

Digital clutter

If you have 15 browser tabs working in the background while you are reading this article, are accumulating digital files like emails, photos, documents, then you will struggle to find a digital file on your phone or computer. If this is you, then you might have a case of digital cluttering. This level of clutter often could lead to feeling overwhelmed eventually causing stress.

“It’s that the false sense of security of finding something, we store somewhere, which we can use later that leads to the need to hoard,” explained Shah.

Research suggests many adults with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) have cluttered workspaces and homes. One of the major traits of ADHD is disorganisation; because of symptoms like distractibility and difficulty focusing. Organisation becomes a difficult task for people living with ADHD. Then, because of the clutter, ADHD symptoms of distractibility and difficulty in focusing increase, which becomes a vicious cycle, said Shah.

The paradox of choice is what causes the infinite hoarding. There is a profusion of options out there haunting us through media, word of mouth and other marketing gimmicks. But questioning the need for inconsequential things can forge the path  to a clutter-free life.

Life can be very messy on occasions, but we can use methods to teach us how to create order and balance:

*Allocate time. Dedicate time to plan and create a system of what to begin with and when to do it. Playing your favourite music while you do that will help you enjoy the process than being frazzled.

*Visualisation of how things would be if they were neat and clutter-free. What would you do with that space? This is good place to start, to create a clear perspective.

*Take baby Steps. Avoid tackling it all in one go. Divide it in bite-sized pieces with regular breaks. Enjoying the little accomplishments will help you stay fresh and keep yourself motivated.

*Buddy system. Asking for help is OK. Ask a friend or family. You’ll have someone to help keep you on track and sort things.

“If you identify with symptoms of ADHD or feel unable to look or think beyond the clutter, then remember it’s ok to seek professional help from a counsellor,” said Shah.

*Tackling clutter is not a one-off task. Rather it’s an ongoing process that will keep changing keeping in view of the situation. Break it into small clusters and take it from there.

“Eliminating clutter does not mean you must be a minimalist owning only few things. It’s okay to keep what you need, want and like so long as they are organised and relevant. Let clutter not overwhelm you. Every small step matters so rather than feeling disappointed congratulate yourself for the effort and keep moving on,” she explained.

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