Clutter isn’t just unsightly—it can impact mental health, physical health, and other important areas of life such as finances. Too many people are experiencing negative effects of clutter when there are ways to gain freedom.
By educating yourself about all the potential negative effects of clutter, you can become more motivated to live a simpler life with less overwhelm due to excess possessions. Though it may seem like clutter has become the norm in much of Western society, it doesn’t have to be that way for everyone.
I certainly have experienced the negative effects of clutter, in particular when our household grew to have four kids and all the extra things that come along with them. When I realized a cluttered space made me stressed and anxious, I went on a mission to find ways to get rid of clutter.
As I worked to declutter, my passion for a more minimalist lifestyle grew.
While I’ve found decluttering to have many benefits, it will be easier for you to get started once you realize the way clutter is affecting you. See if any of the negative effects of clutter listed in this article sound familiar to you.
Once you have a clearer idea of how clutter affects your life, you can make a plan for how you want to move forward.
Tips are based on personal experience and should not be considered medical advice. Full disclaimer.
Mental Negative Effects of Clutter
I think many of us have probably experienced negative feelings due to clutter at one time or another. These effects over time can take a toll on mental health. Let’s review how this happens.
Clutter is distracting
Humans are hardwired to find comfort in predictable, ordered environments. It can be hard to focus attention on a task if our mind is jumping from one thing to another.
When there are piles of mess around, our brain can’t settle. For example, you’re trying to relax and read something, but you see a stack of papers on the table next to you and start thinking about how those need to be sorted.
Then your mind jumps to another surface that’s covered, and you start to feel overwhelm; your concentration is gone. Can you relate to this?
Whether at home or at the office, clutter can be a drain on productivity. It can also prevent the mind from staying in a state of relaxation.
“Clutter is like a physical representation of a to-do list.”Christina Scalise
Clutter causes stress
In research studies, clutter was found to be associated with increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
The effect was strongest for women, whose cortisol levels remained increased throughout the day. In other words, women in cluttered environments started and ended their days stressed. That’s no way to live, is it?
Researchers also found clutter to be associated with life dissatisfaction.
About half of people in a survey reported feeling stress, anxiety, or panic due to clutter in their homes.
The science is clear: clutter can really weigh you down.
Clutter is linked to anxiety and depression
The stress chemicals caused by clutter affect the ability of the body to stabilize mood. People with anxiety are also more susceptible to an overblown stress response.
In this way, clutter contributes to a cycle of anxiety and depression that can be hard to escape from when constantly in a disorganized environment.
Physical Negative Effects of Clutter
Not only our minds are negatively affected by clutter. Our entire bodies suffer, and even our safety is at greater risk.
Clutter can be dangerous
Falls and fires are leading causes of injury and death in homes. Clutter can place residents at increased risk for both.
Clutter itself can be a fire hazard, and it can also impede attempts of escape or rescue in a fire situation.
Tripping over clutter during everyday living can be a serious event, resulting in head trauma, broken bones, or other injuries. In severe cases, people have been crushed or trapped by their clutter, even resulting in death.
Clutter can aggravate allergies
The more belongings in a home, the harder it is to keep everything clean. There are also more surfaces and hidden areas where aggravating substances like dust, pet dander, and mold can accumulate.
A buildup of these substances on clutter can reduce the indoor air quality and trigger conditions such as asthma and allergies.
And we’re going to get gross for a second: insects and rodents can even take up residence in and around clutter, further depositing allergy-inducing substances.
Clutter may contribute to serious health problems
Chronic stress, such as the kind caused by clutter, is bad news for multiple systems of the body. It can cause pain, inflammation, and high blood pressure, to name a few issues.
Chronic stress also increases risk for serious conditions such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity, immune disorders, chronic fatigue, and gastrointestinal disease. Yikes!
Other Negative Effects of Clutter
In addition the negative effects of clutter on the body and mind, clutter can affect lives negatively in other ways.
Clutter wastes time
I hate starting my day by not being able to find something—shoes, keys, etc. It makes me irritable like nothing else and clouds my morning with negativity.
Having a house overfilled with stuff, especially things we don’t need or use, makes it harder to find what we actually need.
You also spend time, effort, and money trying to clean and organize an excess of belongings only to turn around and have things in disarray again. It’s an uphill battle when there’s just too much stuff.
Feelings of frustration, overwhelm, and anger can result.
According to one report, about 40% of housework could be eliminated by getting rid of clutter. Imagine what else you could do with that time!
Clutter wastes money
Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods and services.
More stuff means we’re buying bigger houses with larger closets, higher mortgages, and more space to store our things. The average American home has tripled in size over the past 50 years and contains an estimated 300,000 items.
As if our bigger homes weren’t enough, 1 in 10 Americans rents offsite storage. This means paying a monthly cost to store items you’re not using.
The home organization industry is booming. It has more than doubled over the past 20 years. More and more people are paying to try and impose some sort of order on their mountain of possessions.
When you can’t find things due to clutter, you also end up spending money to buy replacements that you don’t need.
Clutter can make it harder to have visitors
In one survey of Americans who reported being recently stressed, 84% said they were worried their house wasn’t clean or organized enough. Ever heard of CHAOS, or “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome”?
Having a cluttered home can put a damper on your social life. You’re not going to volunteer to host next month’s book club or mom’s night in if you’re worried what everyone will think of your messy house.
If all your extra sleeping spaces are filled with stuff, you may not be able to have overnight visitors.
Feeling stuck in this situation can be quite frustrating. Most people want to be able to have guests over, at least sometimes.
Overcoming Negative Effects of Clutter
You have to ask yourself—is holding onto all that stuff really worth it?
Despite the many negative effects of clutter that we’ve reviewed here, the good news is you can avoid many of them. Decluttering can be your lifeline to a calmer environment where you can focus more on the important things in life.
Getting rid of some clutter can make a big difference in your life if you have been experiencing any of the negative effects of clutter. You don’t have to become a minimalist to benefit from some decluttering.
Check out my article on 3 Biggest Mistakes Keeping Your House Cluttered to learn practices you should avoid going forward to reduce clutter.
Getting Started Decluttering
Decluttering is hard work, but you don’t have to tackle everything at once. You can start by making a plan for which areas you want to tackle first. For example, I like to have a “zen zone” in my bedroom where I know I can relax thanks to cleared surfaces.
I prioritize that area as a clutter-free zone. Decide what spaces are most important to you and then make progress at your own pace.
There are many methods of decluttering, but it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. You probably have a pretty good idea of things you don’t use or can get rid of, such as duplicates or broken items.
Getting rid of things can be harder for some people than others. Don’t be too scared: you get to determine your own threshold for a successfully decluttered space.
Try to be objective about your belongings and be sure to remember the specific negative effects of clutter you will be avoiding by downsizing your possessions. If you have a goal in mind for your efforts, you will have a greater chance of succeeding.
You can check out the Best Books on Decluttering and my article on Decluttering Your Closet for more information and step-by-step instructions for decluttering. Reading advice from organization experts can help you avoid decluttering pitfalls such as the “I might use it one day” trap.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a friend or family member if you need it or, if you’re able, hire a professional organizer.
Which of the negative effects of clutter is motivating you most to change? Share in the comments.