4 Ways Clutter Can Negatively Impact Your Life (According to Science)
What is Clutter?
Clutter is anything in a space that does not belong in the context of that space.
That is the simplest definition for clutter that we at Declutter have been able to come up with, and it’s the one that will be in the background of all of the articles, tips, suggestions, and top lists that we post on this site. We discuss it in more detail in How to Define Declutter.
In this article, however, in which we’ll be looking at several different ways that clutter can negatively impact your life, the definitions the scientists use will vary somewhat. We think that it’s okay to keep this simple definition in mind, since it does nicely encompass the ways they use it too, but do note that if you want to draw true conclusions about clutter from this research you need to be careful to use their specific definitions of ‘clutter’.
By no means is this intended to be a thorough overview or analysis of the relevant research. We’ll make note of the most important points for answering the questions we’re asking, but we encourage you to take a look at the original research if you want to really dig in to the significant impacts that clutter can have on our lives.
How is Clutter Used in Science?
Because clutter in home and work spaces can have obvious effects on the places in which you spend most of your time, it is of interest to many psychologists and other scientists.
The state of the spaces you find yourself in, whether of your own creation or not, can have significant impacts on your feelings of well-being, the way your perceive the world, your levels of productivity, and your physical and mental health more generally.
How Does Clutter Affect Well-Being?
In The Dark Side of Home: Assessing Possession ‘Clutter’ on Subjective Well-Being scientists from the University of New Mexico and DePaul University looked at the impact of clutter on how you feel in your home.
They defined clutter as “an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces”, and found that subjects’ sense of well-being gets worse as clutter increases.
They attribute this to a correlation between your actual home and your “psychological home”, a connection between the physical space your create for yourself and the mental/psychological space that you maintain.
How Does Clutter Affect Productivity?
Dr. Elizabeth Sander from Bond University in Time for a Kondo clean-out? Here’s what clutter does to your brain and body. draws the same conclusions as above.
In fact, her research in Psychological Perceptions Matter: Developing the Reactions to the Physical Work Environment Scale show that similar detrimental effects happen with your work environment. Workers’ senses of well-being go down, as do levels of productivity.
How Does Clutter Affect Perception?
A slightly different take on clutter that turns out to still be relevant is what is called “visual clutter”. An interesting study from Cornell University called Facial Expression, Size, and Clutter: Inferences from Movie Structure to Emotion Judgments and Back examines the effect of clutter in the background of whatever you’re looking at on your ability to interpret facial expressions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, increased visual clutter in the background makes it much more difficult to interpret, to understand, facial expressions.
While you always need to be careful with generalizing the conclusions of studies, consider what the implications of the above might be on your daily life if you have a lot of visual clutter in your commonly used spaces. While there are special areas of your brain dedicated to facial recognition–indirectly the focus of this study–no part of the brain functions completely independently from all others.
If clutter has a detrimental impact on our ability to process our perceptions in this area, it will almost certainly be detrimental in other ways too.
How Does Clutter Affect Sleep?
A recent study from St. Lawrence University showed that excessive clutter can impact sleep negatively. The study, called People at Risk of Hoarding Disorder May Have Serious Complaints About Sleep, focused on extreme cases of clutter.
As extreme cases can cause big sleep problems, it isn’t much of a stretch to wonder whether more common levels of clutter can impact sleep in at least a minor way.
As anyone who has experienced sleep problems knows, chronic losses of sleep have a quick and profound impact on both physical and metal help. Increased levels of anxiety, trouble focusing, and heightened emotional states are just the tip of the iceberg.
How Does Clutter Affect Your Body?
Clutter can affect your body by leading you to consume more food, especially unhealthy foods.
Those are the findings of a study from the University of New South Wales called Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments.
This excess consumption can cause unhealthy weight gain that can impact your physical and mental health both directly and indirectly.
Is Clutter Important to Deal With?
Clutter can directly impact your sense of well-being, your ability to perceive and focus, your level of productivity, and even your body. For these reasons it is very important to deal with clutter quickly and thoroughly.
We have only scratched the surface of the negative impacts clutter can have on your life. There is a great deal of other relevant science with similar findings.
In our Best 12 Low-Stress Tips for How to Declutter Your Home we suggest tips and strategies that can help you to build long-term habits that will enable you to keep your living spaces decluttered. If you’re looking to begin a journey to a decluttered home then that’s a good place to start.
If you’re working from home and struggling with clutter in your work space, check out our 12 Quick Easy Tips to Declutter Your Home Office. Being negatively impacted while you need to work, especially with the added stress of home-life happening around you, is something that needs to be dealt with swiftly!
After that you should check out our Best 12 Places to Start Decluttering Your Home in which we suggest some low-hanging fruit that exists in most homes that can go a long way to creating a more decluttered environment. If even that seems like too much, take a look at our Where Do I Start Decluttering My House When I Feel Overwhelmed? There we try to keep things as simple as possible.
Even better: take a look at our 30 Day Declutter Challenge and get a real jump-start on your decluttering journey!
We really hope that you’ve found this interesting and helpful. We plan to write other articles looking at relevant science, so please visit again, and subscribe to our newsletter, to keep an eye out for those!