|When you look at the space that you're in a the moment, would you describe it as organized? Or are articles of clothing strewn around the room, piling up on chairs or even the floor. Are there unclean dishes, books piled up in the corner, and other items laying about?
Most of the time, we don't have time to create a picture perfect space with every item in it's place, which leads us to live in a disorganized space. In addition, many people (including myself) are currently living in a small space, whether it be an apartment, townhouse, or small house, the living quarters of at least my generation seem to be getting smaller. This can make it even more difficult to keep your living space clean and organized!
In general, I would describe myself as a neat, and organized individual, and often find myself feeling my stress increase if my surroundings are disorganized. This experience peaked my curiosity.. what happens with our emotional well-being when we are living in a constant state of disarray. Or, put more directly, how can disorganization impact mental health?
Please note: The information contained in this article is not medical advice and if you are concerned about your health, please seek professional support from a doctor or hospital.
How Can Disorganization Impact Mental Health?
It can be easy to pinpoint many of the causes of stress in our lives, from being physically unwell, taking on too much of a workload in our careers or having a million-and-one tasks to do in our every day life. But have you ever considered other reasons for your mental health to not be in top-notch form, like the environment you are living and working in?
This article will be exploring the question around how disorganization can negatively impact on our mental health and well-being, and whether this is true for everyone, or if some individuals can survive or even thrive in a chaotic environment. We will take a look at some of the possible impacts of disorganization on a persons psyche, but also the causes and support that can help if this becomes a problem.
From my own experience, having a space that is cluttered and causes me to look for a particular item for 30 minutes can wreak havoc on my mind, but let's explore some of the research and lived experiences around this topic to find out more
“Clutter is stressful for the brain, so you’re more likely to resort to coping mechanisms such as choosing comfort foods or overeating than if you spend time in neater surroundings,” ~ Dr. Selhub
Impacts of Disorganization
Let's first consider some possible impacts of having a space that is disorganized and cluttered. The 'space' we are referring to can be anything that a person spends time in from their living quarters, to their vehicle, or even their work space or desk.
Examples of how a person can be impacted are experiencing feelings of increased:
There are studies that also show that spending time in a cluttered and disorganized space can increase cortisol levels, particularly for women. Cortisol is the bodies main stress hormone and works to control situations when a person may need to spring into action, like in the event of danger. The fact that this stress hormone increases when we are in a cluttered environment can cause a person to feel restless, uneasy or even tense within the body, which can all lead to a decrease in mood but also productivity as energy is focused to this increased feeling of stress.
Related: Master Your Productivity In 3 Simple Steps
Even in the case of workplace stress, studies have shown an increase in employee satisfaction when they had the ability to personalize their work space. In contrast, a desk piled high with tasks or an email inbox filled to capacity with unanswered messages to be tasked can have the opposite effect on an employees mental hygiene.
Cluttered spaces can also coexist with mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression, and can even lead to a problem known as hoarding which we will explore more later in this article. It can be important to check in with a doctor or mental health professional to learn more about the mental health concern and treatment options, rather than trying to go through these concerns alone.
Causes of Disorganization
It can be difficult to pinpoint the cause of a person living in disorganization, and can simply be caused by the fact that life seems to become busier, with many households having two heads of household working outside the home, which means there is less time for chores to get done.
Other causes may include:
When you consider your own situation, what would you say might be contributing to your own clutter? It can help to write down these reasons and identify the possible cause before trying to tackle the disorganization.
Related: Reflective Journaling
Hoarding is considered to be "the accumulation of possessions that are useless and that interfere with the ability to function" and generally stems from experiencing one or more diagnoses of mental illness. Other possible reasons for hoarding behaviours to develop for a person could be from enjoyment of collecting items, to going through experiences of trauma.
Often times, there can be a lot of shame or guilt felt by a person living in conditions that may not even pass health inspection regulations, which can cause a person to remain silent rather than reaching out for support with this very serious problem. If you are worried about your own situation of clutter or mental health concerns, or for someone in your life, there is a quick, self-administered screening tool you can use to discover more about these concerns:
Should you discover that these concerns are more serious than you realized, it's important to know that there are options of support and treatments available for you and your loved ones. Hoarding is a complex issue and a person can greatly benefit from having a support plan in place to begin to process this problem. Take a look at the comprehensive list of support, treatment options, and self-care options on the eMentalHealth.ca website.
What can help?
Depending on the severity of the disorganized space, and the state of the mental health of the person surrounded by the clutter, it can be important to have help to get started on this problem. A first step might be to reach out to a trusted friend or family member and talk through the experience of living in clutter in order to identify what could help.
For some, a space that may seem disorganized and cluttered may work just fine and not impact on a persons mental health, so it's up to an individual to identify this as a problem for themselves first. In the case of hoarding, identifying the problem may be very difficult, especially if the person has been living in an unhealthy environment for many years.
Once the problem has been identified and you're ready to start tackling the clutter, it can be crucial to put organizational strategies in place to avoid having the items pile up again over time. This doesn't mean that you need to live in an Instagram-worthy space where everything has it's place. Life can be messy, especially when things get busy, and having systems in place to quickly organize and cut through the clutter can ultimately promote positive mental hygiene and reduce the stress and overwhelm.
Need a little help getting and staying organized? Get tips to conquer your to-do list and reach your goals with The Ultimate Productivity Bundle.
Have you experienced impacts of living in a cluttered and organized environment? If so, what has helped you to ease the impact on your mental health? Share in the comments down below!