There Is Scientific Evidence That Clutter Causes Anxiety

by DailyHealthPost Editorial

clutter causes anxiety

Clutter, by definition is ‘a collection of things laying around in an untidy mass.’ According to psychologist Kahleen Vohs, people in messy rooms draw more creativity and are quicker at solving creative problems.

This could explain why so many great minds never bothered keeping their work desks tidy. Having a little bit of mess around reminds us that the world is not an ordered and structured thing, but something that contains chaos and unknowns. This jumpstarts our brains into creativity mode and makes us remember that it is OK to be a little bit unconventional and think creatively.

Take Einstein’s work desk for example:

einstein desk
Einstein’s work desk

What that picture shows is complete chaos. Not an inch of Einstein’s desk is free of paper. Books, manuscripts, magazines, and envelopes are everywhere (alone with what looks like a cookie jar). The same goes for the shelves. One shelf holds neatly arrayed journals, but elsewhere are piles and piles of papers.

It’s a mess, but it worked for him. It also worked for Mark Twain, Steve Jobs and many others.

clutter causes anxiety
Mark Twain
clutter causes anxiety
Steve Jobs

But the cluttered life isn’t for everyone. Some research is suggesting how clutter might have a detrimental impact on a person’s mental well-being. If the clutter effect is not boosting your creativity, then it’s probably causing you undue stress.

How Clutter Impacts Your Mind

Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute (1) found that living or working in a cluttered environment can inhibit your ability to focus and process information. This can lead to stress, feelings of being overwhelmed and more often not, anxiety.

“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 other words, being surrounded by clutter can limit your ability to focus. Whether you are aware of it or not, this sensory overload distracts you from the task at hand. As a result, you may feel as though you’re never able to finish what you set out to do. With time, the number of incomplete tasks keep on increasing and that slowly wears you down mentally.


6 Reasons Why Clutter Causes Stress

  • Clutter makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
  • Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.
  • Clutter makes us anxious because we’re never sure what it’s going to take to get through to the bottom of the pile.
  • Clutter creates feelings of guilt (“I should be more organized”) and embarrassment, especially when others unexpectedly drop by our homes or work spaces.
  • Clutter inhibits productivity by invading.
  • Clutter frustrates us by preventing us from locating what we need quickly (e.g. files and paperwork lost in the “pile” or keys swallowed up by the clutter). 

How to Declutter Without Feeling Stressed

If you the clutter effect isn’t for you, here are some things you can do at your own pace. Just make sure to remember that it’s not about decluttering everything in one go, but to focus on one thing at a time so that you can clear up your space and have some peace of mind.

Streamline/declutter using the Four-box method – Start with four boxes: trash, give away, keep, or relocate. Go through as many items as you can and filter them accordingly.

Use designated spaces – Keep things where they serve a purpose. For example, keep work supplies in the office or on your desk, hair products and beauty essentials should be in the bathroom, and so on. This will help prevent clutter from building up in the first place.

Sort out your papers –  Nothing causes more stress than piles and piles of papers. Use folders or binders to keep your papers like bills, invoices, notes, etc. organized.

Take the 12-12-12 challenge – If you have kids, you’ll want to make cleaning and decluttering fun; like a game and not something you need to worry about or dread. For this challenge, assign everyone with a simple task of locating 12 items to throw away, 12 items to donate, and 12 items to be returned to their proper place. This is a fun and exciting way to quickly organize 36 things in your house.

Clearing up the clutter around you can not only help increase your focus and help you feel secure and satisfied, but it can also calm your mind, help improve your mental and emotional health, and help to prevent anxiety.


After a long day at work, home is a place where you go back to relax. It’s ok to thrive in a cluttered environment at work, but you definitely don’t want to bring that mess home! Keep you home clutter free and it will help keep your sanity as well as prevent anxiety.