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.


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!


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!

40 Ways to Get Organized, Part 2

Are you feeling overwhelmed and believe you need more organization in your life but think you don’t have the time?

Getting organized doesn’t have to be all or nothing and it doesn’t need to happen overnight. Doing little things here and there adds up.

I’m giving you 40 ways to get organized. If you need to catch up on the first 20 organization tips, click 40 Ways to Get Organized: Part 1. You’ll find the remaining 20 here:

21) Have a Place for Everything and Put Everything in Its Place

If you’re tired of wondering where things are, this is a great rule to follow. Find a home for each item in your home. When you need to use the item, you’ll know where it is and when you finish with the item it is important that you return it to its home. Get the family onboard by making sure they know where things are too.

22) Choose the Simplest Solution

The more complicated something is, the less you’ll want to use it. So, when figuring out a solution to a problem, pick the simplest option.

23) Leave Your Keys and Wallet or Purse in the Same Place

Pick one place to use as the drop zone for your keys and wallet orkeys purse. This location will likely be near the exit of your home so that when you are about to walk out the door, what you need is right there. No running late because you misplaced the keys!

24) Declutter Your Wallet or Purse

Every day, when you get home, give your wallet or purse a quick once over to remove unneeded items. Remove receipts, business cards that belong in your home office, or even your change.

25) Do the Dishes

Make doing the dishes everyday part of your routine. Fill or empty the dishwasher as need and wash what must be cleaned by hand before dishes start to build up and before food has the opportunity to dry and harden on your pots and pans.

26) Clean as You Go

Clean kitchen counters and bathroom sinks daily and they’ll never be difficult to clean. Furthermore, a clean looking sink will make you more reluctant to pile dishes and things inside of them.

27) Pick Up as You Go

Like cleaning as you go, picking up belongings that you find out of place when walking from place to place in your home will go a long way towards maintaining organization.

28) Declutter as You Go

Keep a box in a convenient location for the clothes you realize no longer fit and other items that need to be donated. When you find a broken or unused toy, go ahead and put it in the trash.

29) Complete Your Laundry

When your laundry has finished drying, don’t just pile it into a basket or throw it onto the couch. Go ahead and finish the job by laundryputting your laundry where it belongs in your drawers and closets. You’ll be glad you did when you don’t have to go digging through a pile of wrinkled clothing trying to find that shirt you need.

30) Put a Bouquet on Your Table

One tip for keeping the clutter off of flat surfaces in your home is to put a bouquet or some other form of decor (place settings, candles, etc.) on your tables. This act reduces the chances that you’ll pile the table high with things that don’t belong there.

31) Do Daily Pick Ups

I love this one; it’s been very helpful in my own home. At least once a day, schedule a time to do a quick pick up of your home. Set a timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes and go to town picking up anything out of place and returning it to its home. Small bursts of picking up will help keep your home in shape while preventing you from feeling overwhelmed. This is a great activity for the whole family to participate in too!

32) Utilize TV Commercials

Use commercial times to get things done. Shred a couple of papers. Take the newspaper to recycling. Put a dish in the dishwasher. Return a book to the bookshelf. The options are endless.

33) Organize Your Errands

If you have various errands that you need to get done for the week, schedule to do errands that are in the same area all at once. It’ll save you time and gas.

34) Tend to Your Clothing Immediately

When you take your clothes off, don’t just lay them across a chair. Put them in their place, whether that’s on a hanger or in the hamper.

35) Manage Digital Clutter

In today’s world, digital clutter is becoming more and more of an issue. Try to deal with pieces, such as photos, as they come in. Go ahead and delete the blurry photos and save your remaining pictures to digital folders or tag them as desired. Now you’ll know where the photos of your kids and grandma at the family reunion are so you can easily and quickly access them.

36) Set Up Digital Folders

Computer folders and subfolders are a great way to organize your computer data, from documents to photos and videos.

37) Use a Grocery App

There are many apps available now that will allow you to grocery-apporganize your grocery shopping by setting your own food categories and filling in your grocery list as you begin to run low on foods. You can also organize your categories in the order you will encounter them in the store. No more running back several aisles to pick up the items you missed!

38) End the Dread

There are always tasks we dread doing. Instead of putting them off to the end, grit your teeth and get that task done first. Then you can continue on with other tasks without the dreaded action hanging over your head, distracting you.

39) Make Labels

Use labels to identify what’s in your pantry organizers, what your drawers contain, and what is in your storage containers. When you label, not only will it help you know where things are, but it will help your family to return things to where they belong.

40) Put Everything Away at the End of the Day

End your day on a good note by putting away things you’ve used and are still out of their assigned spaces.

So, there you have it: 40 Ways to Get Organized. Remember, things didn’t get the way they are overnight and it will take some time to reach your organization goals. That’s okay. Just pick a couple of these tips to start. Even just 5 to 15 minutes a day can make an impact.

I know you can do it!


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!