What does clutter do to your brain and body?

Could a disorganised environment be hurting you more than you think?

Your brain loves order

Bursting cupboards and piles of paper stacked around the house may seem harmless enough. But research shows disorganisation and clutter have a cumulative effect on our brains.

Our brains like order, and constant visual reminders of disorganisation drain our cognitive resources, reducing our ability to focus.

The visual distraction of clutter increases cognitive overload and can reduce our working memory.

In 2011, neuroscience researchers using FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and other physiological measurements found clearing clutter from the home and work environment resulted in a better ability to focus and process information, as well as increased productivity.

So what about  your physical and mental health

Clutter can make us feel stressed, anxious and depressed. Research from the United States in 2009, for instance, found the levels of the stress hormone cortisol were higher in mothers whose home environment was cluttered.

A chronically cluttered home environment can lead to a constant low-grade fight or flight response, taxing our resources designed for survival.

This response can trigger physical and psychological changes that affect how we fight bugs and digest food, as well as leaving us at greater risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Clutter might also have implications for our relationships with those around us. A 2016 US study, for instance, found background clutter resulted in participants being less able to correctly interpret the emotional expressions on the faces of characters in a movie.

And surprisingly, it doesn’t go away when we finally get to bed. People who sleep in cluttered rooms are more likely to have sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep and being disturbed during the night.

People have been found to produce more stress hormones when they are surrounded by clutter.

Could clutter be the real cause of being  overweight?

Multiple studies have found a link between clutter and poor eating choices.

Disorganised and messy environments led participants in one study to eat more snacks, eating twice as many cookies than participants in an organised kitchen environment.

Other research has shown that being in a messy room will make you twice as likely to eat a chocolate bar than an apple.

Finally, people with extremely cluttered homes are 77% more likely to be overweight.

Tidy homes have been found to be a predictor of physical health. Participants whose houses were cleaner were more active and had better physical health, according to another study.

The pain of Hoarding

Buying more and more things we think we need, and then not getting rid of them, is an actual disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM–V). According to DSM–V, those with hoarding disorder compulsively acquire possessions on an ongoing basis and experience anxiety and mental anguish when they are thrown away.

A Yale University study using fMRI showed that for people who have hoarding tendencies, discarding items can cause actual pain in regions of the brain associated with physical pain. Areas of the brain were activated that are also responsible for the pain you feel when slamming a finger in a door or burning your hand on the stove.

People who suspect they have hoarding disorder can take heart: cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment.

Minimalism : Tidy house, happy life?

Participants in Marie Kondo’s Netflix show Tidying Up report that her decluttering method changes their lives for the better. Indeed, her first book was called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Research does indeed show cluttered home environments negatively influence the perception of our homes, and ultimately our satisfaction of life. The study authors note the strong effect is because we define ‘home’ not just as a place to live, but as:

“The broader constellation of experiences, meanings, and situations that shape and are actively shaped by a person in the creation of his or her lifeworld.”

Minimalism and Well Being

Minimalism is a lifestyle characterized by profound simplicity.

A minimalist lifestyle embraces living more intentionally and values simplicity, satisfaction, and purpose. It also  embraces visual simplicity to cultivate a clean, uncluttered look. At its core, minimalism is about eliminating the unnecessary to bring focus and appreciation to what is necessary.

There have been many benefits of minimalism and the one that trumps all is that it nurtures well being. Bringing a greater sense of well-being.

Minimalism can help you create a happier, more meaningful life by increasing your well-being. 

Those with greater well-being are happier and perceive that their lives are going well. They have higher life satisfaction and fulfillment, positive functioning and fewer negative emotions.

A review of studies on minimalism and well-being showed 85 percent found a positive association between minimalism and well-being. One study found that “voluntary simplifiers” (minimalists) exhibited more positive emotion and well-being than non-simplifiers. 

Another small study of self-identified minimalists found that minimalism has numerous well-being benefits related to autonomy, competence, mental space, awareness, and positive emotions . 

Participants also noted that minimalism gave them a sense of control and made it easy to maintain order in their environment, a key factor in their well-being .

“So what are you doing this weekend?”

In case you are still wondering where do you start to declutter, perhaps get some ideas on how your local op shop can help you?

Happy Decluttering!