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How Household Clutter Can Negatively Impact Your Physical, Emotional and Mental Health

This week I’m doing a presentation via Zoom for a Rotary Club up in Seattle. I thought I’d put my thoughts together here in preparation for the talk. If you would like my literature review on this subject (including a section on compulsive hoarding and complete with research and references) please send me an email at northwesthomecoach@gmail.com.

Clutter. We all have it to one degree or another. I’m a home coach and I have plenty of it, from the mail that continues to stack up day to day or the clothes that fill my closet! I work hard to keep it all somewhat organized from day to day, but I am well aware of the many ways It can impact my life. How bad is clutter, really?

I’ve already shared how clutter can cause you to make poor eating choices, and of course how clutter impacts your sleep. Additionally, household clutter collects dust and can be difficult to clean which can cause asthma to flare. Indeed, a 2009 study showed that dark, cluttered, crowded or noisy indoor housing conditions are associated with increased early childhood asthma. Further, clutter increases stress which contributes to asthma risk, and other conditions including eczema.

Further, the interior condition of a home is a strong indicator of physical activity. Those with neater homes tend to be more physically active and therefore at a lower risk of heart disease. Of those who suffer from hoarding disorder (which ranks on the scale of mental health conditions), 78% are either overweight or obese and 64% suffer from a severe medical condition such as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Research has shown the ways visible household clutter is strongly associated with stress. Women particularly are vulnerable as they tend to bear the greater burden of housecleaning and child rearing. You might be aware that the stress hormone, cortisol, peaks first thing in the morning. In healthy individuals with balanced lives, this cortisol level decreases over the course of the day. Elevated cortisol at the end of the day is connected to depression, higher stress and early mortality. Because women tend to work about a half-hour longer on chores than their male counterparts and because they spend more time tending children, they have less time for leisure and sleep. Because they don’t recover from their daily dose of cortisol, they have an unhealthy level of cortisol at the end of the day. Further, an unbalanced division of labor appears to compromise women’s well-being, contributing to depression and marital dissatisfaction.

Children too are impacted by household clutter. Home chaos has been linked to family income; parental stress and emotional distress; parenting difficulties, especially inappropriate discipline and a lack of sensitivity and responsiveness; and child behavior problems such as impulsivity, conduct problems and delinquency. Caregivers who report elevated levels of chaos in the home had children described by teachers as having elevated levels of behavioral problems.

Household clutter and excess visual stimuli causes negative reactivity in children which further impacts the way a mother responds to her children. Mothers who feel frazzled become more authoritarian and harsher in their parenting style.

Overall well-being can be improved by decreasing clutter and aiming for a simpler lifestyle. Many people who accumulate material goods do so to increase their happiness and satisfaction, though the opposite may be true. Those who are heavily materialistic tend to be less satisfied with their possessions than those who prefer a simple lifestyle. Clutter tends to decrease relaxation as it gives an individual too much to think about.

If you have a high volume of clutter, it’s likely a subconscious distraction tactic to cover up resentment, regret or remorse. The clutter contributes to keeping these heavy, dense emotions anchored in and covered up. The negative energy is simply projected back onto yourself and is in essence a form of self-betrayal. This is a toxic pattern that can lead to physical disease.

If you’re tired of living with clutter, please know it doesn’t have to be this way, and believe me, you’re not alone. As a home coach, I can help you approach your clutter in a balanced, non-judgmental way and together we can work through those things which are impacting your physical, mental and emotional health.

If you would like a more complete report about the negative impact of clutter, I can send you a PDF of a literature review I wrote for my masters program. Just email your request to northwesthomecoach@gmail.com and I’ll send it your way.