How a cluttered home will psychologically damage you (and what to do about it)

According to the book Clutter Intervention, clutter is a stagnant energy.



“Where there’s clutter in your home, there will be clutter in [you] — either physically, mentally or emotionally.”

But how does clutter enter our home unnoticed, in the first place?

Maybe you bought something during the Black Friday sale. It could be that you thought the item will be useful in the future. It could be a book you bought a year ago that you swear you’ll read or those killer pairs of shoes that you’ll bring out for just the right occasion.

But the reality is, you probably made a mistake in buying those things. The researchers from Yale University found out that it literally hurts your brain to come to terms with that fact.

According to their research, two areas in your brain associated with pain, the anterior cingulate cortex and insula, light up in response to letting go of items you own and feel a connection towards. And the more a hoarder the person is, the stronger this pattern of activation was.

To give you an idea, the anterior cingulate cortex is the same area of the brain that is activated when you feel physical pain from a paper cut or from drinking coffee that’s too hot. It is now proven that our brain views the loss of one of our valued possessions as the same as something that causes us physical pain. And the more you are committed to it emotionally or financially, the more you want to keep it around.

The science behind the difficulty of letting go with clutter

When it comes to material things, merely touching it can make you emotionally attached to the item, according to this study. Researchers gave participants coffee mugs to touch and examine before participating in an auction.



The results showed that participants who held the mugs longer were willing to pay over 60 percent more for the mugs. It concluded that the power of touch has been shown to increase the valuation of items that people currently own. This phenomenon is termed the “length-of-ownership effect” wherein the longer you touch an object, the greater the value you assign to it.

This psychological phenomenon is put into practice especially by Apple. According to author Carmine Gallo:



“The main reason notebook computers screens are slightly angled is to encourage customers to adjust the screen to their ideal viewing angle…The ownership experience is more important than a sale.”

A cluttered home’s impact on your brain

According to a study conducted by neuroscientists, a cluttered home negatively affects your ability to focus, process information.

“Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.”

In layman’s words, clutter makes you unfocused because it limits your brain’s ability to process information.

Here are other psychological effects of clutter:

1. Clutter and stress

According to this article, the link between clutter and stress is real.

Researchers at UCLA discovered observed 32 middle-class Los Angeles families. Their findings reveal that all of the mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their belongings.

This stress hormone is cortisol. According to Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, cortisol can can change our brain and causes long-term sensitivity to stress.

“Cortisol goes into the brain and stimulates the alarm center, the Amygdala. And kills neurons in the hippocampus which, besides doing visual/spatial memory, also calms down the amygdala and calms down stress altogether. So, this mental experience of stress, especially if it’s chronic and severe, gradually changes the structure of the brain. So we become aggressively more sensitive to stress. The mind can change the brain can change the mind.”

2. Clutter and depression

“A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.” – George Carlin

According to the UCLA magazine, Americans get stuff, buy stuff, keep it, get more of it, and display it all. They found that this hyper-abundance leads to a world of grief, especially for women.

Jeanne Arnold, one of the founding faculty of the same study, wrote in an email that states:



“Fathers often omitted any mention of the same messy and unfinished spaces and were unaffected physiologically. Why? Likely because mothers still take on the lion’s share of responsibility for housework and because we still place value on tidiness. Our spreading possessions take oh so much time to organize and clean.”

Tidy homes are an indication that the mother is in control and “has it together”. On the other hand, cluttered environments can result in feelings of worthlessness and depression.

3. Clutter and behavioral effects

A study shows that there is a link between chaotic homes and children’s disruptive behavior.

It states that noisy, crowded homes characterized by a lack of routines may undermine children’s ability to regulate emotions and behavior. In turn, it results in the children’s misbehavior.

A way to help you declutter your home

If you can’t bear to give away, a new study may offer you a simple solution. The study states that the cure for a cluttered home might be just a snapshot away!

In the study, researchers encouraged the participants to take a picture of a sentimental item before they donated it. Those who were encouraged to take a picture donated between 15 and 35 percent compared to the group who did not receive a prompt to take a picture. The memory preservation campaign had a slogan which read “Don’t Pack up Your Sentimental Clutter…Just Keep a Photo of It, Then Donate.”

“We found that people are more willing to give up these possessions if we offer them a way to keep the memory and the identity associated with that memory,” said Rebecca Reczek, co-author of the study and associate professor of marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

If you don’t love or use it, it’s clutter. So before clutter takes a toll on your well-being, it’s better to get rid of it.

Because scientifically speaking, you are better off without it.


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