Depression and Anxiety vs. Clutter and Disorganization: A Vicious Cycle (and How to Break It)

Is your home cluttered and disorganized because you’re depressed or anxious?

Or are you depressed and anxious because your home is cluttered and disorganized?

If you have a messy home and are suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety, the answer is probably “yes” to both.

It’s a vicious cycle :

This post will closely examine the relationship between clutter and disorganization, and depression and anxiety. I will also give you some methods for trying to break through depression and anxiety in order to address the clutter and disorganization in your home.

The Effect of Depression and Anxiety on Clutter and Disorganization

In her “Dysfunction Interrupted” column on PsychCentral, Dr. Audrey Sherman noted that the biggest problems depressed people report are chaos and disorganization. She stated, depression“Emotional baggage has a way of building up, and then expressing itself in an outward display of turmoil.”

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) 5, there are many debilitating symptoms of depression. Among these, I’ll focus on those with the strongest relationship to clutter and disorganization:

  • Slowed thinking and a reduction in movement-This could create difficulty in figuring out how to declutter and organize as well as curtail the movements needed to perform these tasks.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy-If you’re so tired it’s a challenge just to get out of bed, it may be beyond your capability to summon enough energy to take on the challenging work of decluttering, organizing, and maintenance.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt-With such feelings, you may not believe you deserve to live in a beautiful and functional home.
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions-Lack of concentration could promote distractions and making choices about what to keep or discard may feel impossible.

Nicole Reiner, a New York-based therapist, stated, “The combination of lethargy, lack of motivation, and negative thinking can make something like cleaning one’s home feel like an insurmountable task.”

The Effect of Clutter and Disorganization on Depression and Anxiety

In a Psychology Today article, Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D. discussed several of the negative effects of clutter:

  • Clutter overloads our senses, causing them to work harder, with unnecessary stimuli.
  • Clutter redirects our attention from the things we need to be focusing on.clutter
  • Clutter reduces our ability to physically and mentally relax.
  • Clutter tells our minds that we are never finished.
  • Clutter increases anxiety because we never know when we’ll get to the bottom of the pile.
  • Clutter creates guilt feelings because we think we should be organized and embarrassment when someone visits unexpectedly.
  • Clutter causes frustration when we can’t find things that we need.

Furthermore, in a UCLA research study, researchers found women whose spaces were cluttered had higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone which gives rise to our fight or flight responses. They also experienced higher levels of depression.

And I can speak from personal experience that the amount of clutter, and the anxiety that it results in, can be overwhelming and paralyzing. This can lead to avoidance, allowing the clutter to remain or continue to grow.

The mind responds well to order. When it perceives nothing but a room full of clutter and disorganization, it struggles to maintain focus. Regina Leeds, an author of 10 books and personal organizer with 30 years of experience, said, “Chaos in physical space means chaos in one’s mind.”

Breaking Through

“Cleaning your home is a way to show up for yourself, and a reminder that you care about the quality of your life,” Reiner says. “Decluttering can show us that we can face what seems unmanageable and get past it (and let go of what doesn’t serve us anymore).”

So what does it take to break through depression and anxiety and be able to effectively confront the clutter and disorganization in our homes?

There’s no magic wand or quick fix. I’m sorry if that’s what you were looking for. Believe me, I wish I had a wand (then again, I’m a big Harry Potter fan).

The fact is, those of us suffering from depression and anxiety symptoms will probably have to work harder at making a dent in our clutter than someone who isn’t. That said, it’s not impossible.

If you’ve read Decluttering and Organizing – The 2-Part Formula for Success, then you know that decluttering comes before organization, so start by just focusing on that. Even just decluttering will make a huge difference in your home which can create momentum.

When you’re feeling tired and depressed or anxious, don’t think about everything that has to be decluttered. Start small. Pick a clean-dishesdrawer, shelf, or box. You could also pick one obvious thing that’s bothering you, like the dirty dishes in the sink. Set a timer and work on that for 5-15 minutes, your choice. If the timer rings and you feel like continuing, go for it. If not, that’s okay. Look at your results and remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Give yourself a pat on the back for what you did accomplish. Focus on how you’re feeling. Accomplishment? Happy? Pride? Great! Focus on and remember those feelings and use that memory for the extra push to get you going next time.

Another trick that I use to help manage my anxiety is to watch a show with commercials (sorry Netflix, this doesn’t include you.) Try to pick something that you will be able to pause by using a watch-tvDVR or streaming channel or device that allows for this. Pick a show and, every time it goes to commercial, pause it and go work for 5-15 minutes. You know it won’t last long and you’ll be back in front of the TV where you can focus on your show instead of your clutter. This helps me because I’m able to get in several quick sessions and not think about it in between them. My anxiety stays in check and I feel a real sense of accomplishment when the show is over.

So, what do you do when you’re having a bad day? If it’s one of those days that you can barely get out of bed, maybe you won’t get in your 5-15 minutes. Be kind to yourself; avoid negative self-talk. Remind yourself that you’re struggling right now. It’s okay. Hopefully, you’ll feel a little better tomorrow. And if you’re really having a good day, try to get as much done as you can without burning yourself out. That way, on the next not so great day, you won’t have as much clutter to bring you down.

Living in a clear, organized, and clean environment has been proven to elevate your mood. It allows for feelings of hope and can motivate you to tackle other basic tasks around your home, such as doing bills and taking care of your personal self-care needs, like cooking a healthy meal for yourself. Living with less reduces distractions and will be easier to maintain.

Conclusion

Depression and anxiety along with clutter and disorganization created a vicious cycle.

Depression and anxiety interfere with our ability to plan, physically function, concentrate, and make decisions about what to keep or discard.

Clutter overloads our senses, distracts us, and increases anxiety, guilt, and frustration. Living in a constant state of chaos increases cortisol levels, is overwhelming, and can be paralyzing.

While there’s no quick cure to break through depression and anxiety to create a clear and organized home, you can start with small areas and short chunks of time to get you started. Give yourself compassion on tough days and make the most of good days.

I know you can do it!

Joey

P.S. I hope this post has been of some value to you. I’d love to hear your comments or questions. Please feel free to share your stressors and successes here!

4 thoughts on “Depression and Anxiety vs. Clutter and Disorganization: A Vicious Cycle (and How to Break It)”

  1. I agree that depression and anxiety can be lessened by organization and a clean home! I think there are chemical properties in the brain that are caused by depression and anxiety but having a clean and orderly home can lessen the stress of being in your home and cooking and cleaning in a calm space! I think the happiest people live simply. With less possessions and chaos around you I think it is easier to be happy! Thanks for your article! 

    1. There are multiple chemicals in the brain which are related to depression and anxiety. Of course, one of those chemicals is cortisol, which increases in cluttered environments and can result in a host of negative consequences, including heightened stress. So, having a decluttered and tidy home does help to keep stress levels more under control. 

      Different people will have different levels of tolerance to clutter, though. Some people need and desire more of their treasured possessions around them. But, in the end, there are levels of clutter that will cause each person to experience stress, anxiety, and depression so we each need to figure out what that level is and keep our homes accordingly. 

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Depression and anxiety, clutter and disorganization to me work hand in hand. At time, an anxiety and self guilt can cost me to get disorganized thereby leaving my space cluttered. The funniest part is, most time I get back to my normal self and become organised to address the matter and become free after doing alot of body exercise (mind declutter),get my space clean (home declutter). This usually make me realize how I can address the issue bothering me and become free.

    Another thing is , I can easily get disorganized and become unproductive when I find myself in a cluttered environment. That is why I try to make everything stay orderly before I start my work at home online business. This is a very concerned topic that is very useful for many people that want to gain emotional freedom. Thanks

    1. Yes, our mood and the state of our homes, even our lives, are very interlinked. If our minds are in chaos, our environment is likely to follow and the same can be true in reverse. I’m glad that you are able to get back to your normal self and be able to address the decluttering that needs to happen in your environment, thus enabling you to be more productive. 

      Thanks for commenting!

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