Psychology Explains How Clutter is Secretly Sabotaging Your Success

by DailyHealthPost Editorial

Feel suffocated by the stacks of unused items in your home? You’re not alone – research from UCLA reveals a strong correlation between clutter and increased stress levels. This article goes beyond surface-level tidying tips to explore the psychological underpinnings of why we accumulate ‘stuff’ and how this habit affects our mental health. Ready for a clutter-free life? Read on!

Key Takeaways

  • Clutter is not just a messy room; it’s any disorganized stuff that causes stress and makes it hard to focus.
  • Hoarding disorder is a mental health issue where people can’t let go of things, leading to excessive clutter and negative impacts on their well-being.
  • Clutter increases stress levels, impairs focus, promotes procrastination, strains relationships, and lowers overall quality of life.

Understanding Clutter

Clutter is defined as a collection of objects that are disorganized and take up space, hindering functionality and causing distress.

Definition of Clutter

Clutter is not just a mess. It’s any stuff that fills a place in a disordered way. Imagine your room with toys, books, clothes and more all over the floor. This is what clutter looks like.


Too much of it can make you lose focus and feel stressed out. Even emotions expressed by others may be hard to tell when there’s too much clutter around!

How Clutter Accumulates

Clutter can pile up in many ways. Here are a few common ways:

  • Buying more than you need: Often, we buy items we don’t really need or use. This adds to the clutter in our homes.
  • Not throwing away old items: We may find it hard to part with items we no longer use. Over time, they pile up and add to our clutter.
  • Keeping things “just in case”: Many times, we keep unused items for future use. But most of the time, these “just in case” items become part of the clutter.
  • Lack of organization: When there is no place for each thing, it results in a mess. Items left lying around become clutter.
  • Neglecting to finish tasks: Unfinished projects add to home stress levels. They are seen as clutter and cause stress just like physical clutter.
  • Emotional attachment: We often keep things due to sentimental value or fear of loss. These attachments make it harder for us to get rid of excess stuff.

The Psychology Behind Hoarding

Hoarding comes from the mind. It is a mental health issue. People with hoarding disorder have trouble throwing things away. They feel they may need these items in the future or they are too important to lose.

Their fear of loss keeps them from letting go.

Things pile up and spaces become cluttered. This can cause stress, anxiety, and other problems. Hoarders often live alone because others find it hard to deal with the mess. Yet, they do not see their stuff as clutter but as valued possessions that give comfort and safety.

The Connection Between Clutter and Mental Health

Clutter negatively impacts mental health by increasing stress levels, impairing focus, promoting procrastination, straining relationships, and reducing overall quality of life.


Increased Stress Levels

Having too many things can make us more stressed. This is because clutter in our homes can lead to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Women with messy homes often feel very stressed.

They find it hard to handle day-to-day tasks and even moving from work to home becomes tough for them. If you have less clutter, it will help you keep your stress levels low.

Difficulty Focusing

When your environment is cluttered, it can be challenging to stay focused. Research shows that women who perceive their homes as cluttered have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can make it harder to concentrate.

This is especially true when transitioning from work to home, as a cluttered space can create mental distractions and overwhelm. Even unfinished home projects are considered as clutter and can generate the same level of stress as physical clutter, further hindering your ability to focus.

It’s important to declutter and create an organized space to promote better concentration and productivity throughout the day.


Procrastination is a common issue that arises when we have too much clutter. When our environment is messy and disorganized, it can be overwhelming and make it difficult to focus on tasks at hand.


This leads to putting things off until later, which only adds to the stress and anxiety caused by the clutter. Procrastination can negatively impact our productivity and quality of life, as well as strain relationships with others.

By decluttering our space and creating an organized environment, we can reduce procrastination tendencies and improve our overall well-being.

Impaired Relationships

Having too much clutter in your home can negatively impact your relationships. When women perceive their homes to be cluttered, they tend to be less happy with their marriages. This suggests that a messy environment can create tension and strain within a relationship.

Additionally, clutter can lead to social isolation if you feel embarrassed or overwhelmed by the state of your home and avoid inviting people over. In turn, this can hinder opportunities for connection and support from friends and loved ones.

It’s important to recognize how clutter affects our relationships and take steps to declutter our living spaces for the well-being of ourselves and those around us.

Lower Quality of Life

Living in a cluttered environment can lead to a lower quality of life. It can contribute to increased stress levels, making it difficult to relax and enjoy your surroundings. The constant visual stimulation from clutter can also make it hard to focus and be productive.


Additionally, having too much stuff can lead to procrastination and difficulty completing tasks. When our living space is disorganized and chaotic, it can strain relationships with others and create feelings of isolation.

Overall, excessive clutter negatively impacts well-being and makes it harder to live a fulfilling life.

Decreased Well-Being

Clutter doesn’t just create physical chaos; it can also have a negative impact on our well-being. When our living spaces are cluttered, it can lead to increased stress levels and feelings of overwhelm.

Research conducted by UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families found that women who perceived their homes to be cluttered reported higher levels of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their lives.

In addition, they experienced higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol throughout the day. Clutter can make it difficult for us to relax and unwind, leading to a decrease in overall well-being.

Furthermore, clutter can impede our ability to focus and be productive. When we’re surrounded by mess and disorganization, it becomes challenging to concentrate on tasks at hand. This can lead to procrastination and feelings of frustration or inadequacy.


Clearing away the clutter not only creates a more organized environment but also clears mental space, allowing us to think more clearly and feel less overwhelmed.

Psychological Concepts Related to Clutter

Loss aversion, the sunk cost fallacy, the endowment effect, self-efficacy and Bandura’s theory are just a few psychological concepts that shed light on our attachment to clutter. Discover how these concepts can illuminate your relationship with possessions in the full blog post.

Loss Aversion

Loss aversion is a psychological concept that makes it hard for us to let go of clutter. It’s the tendency to place more value on what we already have, even if it no longer serves a useful purpose.

This bias stems from our fear of loss and the belief that getting rid of something means losing out on its potential benefits. So, when faced with the decision to declutter, we may feel a sense of attachment and find it difficult to part ways with our belongings.

Understanding this cognitive bias can help us address the underlying reasons why we hold onto clutter and take steps towards creating a more organized and clutter-free environment.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy is a cognitive bias that makes it hard for people to let go of clutter. It happens when we continue investing in something, like keeping items we no longer need or use, just because we’ve already invested time, money, or emotions into them.


This bias is connected to our fear of losing what we already have and the emotional attachment we develop towards our possessions. Even if holding onto clutter no longer benefits us, the sunk cost fallacy leads us to believe that letting go would be a waste.

To address this bias and overcome clutter accumulation, it’s important to recognize cognitive distortions and understand why we’re attaching so much value to things that can actually hold us back.

The Endowment Effect

The Endowment Effect is a psychological concept that helps explain why people hold onto possessions for sentimental reasons, even if they no longer have a practical use. It occurs when individuals assign more value to something simply because they own it.

This emotional attachment can make it difficult to let go of items, leading to clutter accumulation. For example, someone may keep old clothes in their closet because those items hold memories or sentimental significance, despite not wearing them anymore.

The Endowment Effect highlights the strong bond between people and their possessions, which can contribute to the clutter that holds them back from living a simpler and more organized life.

Self-Efficacy and Bandura

Self-efficacy, which is the belief in one’s own abilities, plays a crucial role when it comes to decluttering and organizing. It refers to our confidence in being able to successfully complete tasks related to tidying up our spaces.


This concept is associated with psychologist Albert Bandura, known for his work on self-efficacy and social learning theory. According to Bandura’s theory, self-efficacy influences our motivation, behavior, and personal development.

To increase self-efficacy in decluttering and organizing, we can focus on acts of mastery, learn from others who have successfully organized their spaces, use persuasive techniques like positive affirmations or rewards for progress made, as well as create a sense of psychological arousal by imagining the benefits of having a clutter-free environment.

Rationalizations and the Unconscious Mind

When it comes to clutter, our minds can play tricks on us without even realizing it. One way this happens is through rationalizations. These are the justifications we come up with to convince ourselves that keeping clutter is necessary or beneficial.

For example, we might tell ourselves that we’ll use those old magazines for a rainy day or that holding onto clothes from years ago will motivate us to lose weight. These rationalizations are often driven by our unconscious mind, which influences our thoughts and behaviors without our conscious awareness.

Our unconscious mind has a strong influence on our decision-making processes.and can lead us to hold onto things that no longer serve us. It’s important to recognize these rationalizations and understand the underlying motivations behind them.

The Impact of Clutter on Happiness and Life Quality

Clutter can have a significant impact on your happiness and overall quality of life. It affects not only your physical environment but also your mental well-being. Discover how clutter distorts thinking patterns, increases stress levels, and hinders emotional health.

Find out the strategies to counteract these negative effects and create a clutter-free space that promotes happiness and improves your overall life quality.

How Clutter Affects Your Environment

Too much clutter in your environment can have a negative impact on your mental and emotional well-being. When your physical space is filled with excessive items, it can lead to feelings of overwhelm, stress, and anxiety.

Research from UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families shows that the amount of clutter in a home directly correlates with the level of stress experienced by individuals and their families.

Women who perceive their homes to be cluttered tend to be less satisfied with their marriages, while having clutter can make it difficult for women to manage everyday tasks and feel effective.

Clutter also affects our ability to focus and concentrate, making it harder to complete tasks efficiently. By decluttering our spaces and creating an organized environment, we can reduce stress levels, improve focus, and create a more peaceful living space.

Distorted Thinking Patterns

Distorted thinking patterns can contribute to clutter and affect our mental health. These patterns involve thoughts that are not accurate or realistic. For example, we may have emotional attachments to objects and believe they hold sentimental value, even if they don’t.

We might also engage in cognitive distortions such as catastrophizing (thinking of the worst-case scenario) or overgeneralization (making broad assumptions based on limited experiences).

Distorted thinking can lead us to hold onto items we don’t need, causing clutter to accumulate. It’s important to recognize these patterns and challenge them in order to address clutter and improve our well-being.

Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning can play a big role in why people hold onto clutter. It means that instead of using logic or practicality to decide what to keep and what to let go of, individuals rely on their emotions.

They may keep things because they have sentimental value or because they believe that getting rid of them would be like losing a part of themselves. However, it’s important to challenge these emotional attachments and consider whether the items still serve a practical purpose or bring joy into our lives.

By recognizing the underlying emotions associated with clutter and adopting more rational thinking, individuals can break free from the clutter trap and create a more organized and peaceful living space.

How to Counteract the Negative Effects of Clutter

To counteract the negative effects of clutter, dedicate specific time for decluttering, reduce unnecessary items, and create an organized and clutter-free space in your home.

Dedicating Time for Decluttering

Dedicating time for decluttering is an important step in countering the negative effects of clutter. By setting aside specific time to tackle clutter, individuals can regain a sense of control and improve their overall well-being.

Taking the time to sort through belongings and decide what to keep, donate, or discard can help reduce stress levels and make it easier to manage everyday tasks. Whether it’s dedicating a few hours each week or setting aside a whole day for decluttering, making this effort can have a positive impact on mental health and create a more organized living space.

It’s important to remember that decluttering doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Starting small with one area at a time can make the process more manageable. Breaking tasks down into smaller steps ensures progress is made without feeling discouraged or stressed.

Reducing Items

To counteract the negative effects of clutter, you can start by reducing the number of items you have. Here’s how:

  1. Take inventory: Make a list of all your belongings and assess which ones are necessary and which ones you can let go of.
  2. Donate or sell: Consider donating or selling items that you no longer need or use. This not only helps declutter your space but also benefits others who may find value in them.
  3. Set limits: Establish boundaries for the number of items you allow yourself to own in certain categories (e.g., clothing, books, kitchenware). Stick to these limits to prevent unnecessary accumulation.
  4. Simplify belongings: Opt for versatile items that serve multiple purposes rather than having separate items for every specific task or occasion.
  5. Practice gratitude: Appreciate what you already have instead of constantly seeking more possessions. Cultivating a mindset of gratitude can help reduce the desire for excessive material possessions.


Organizing is an important step in counteracting the negative effects of clutter. It helps create a sense of order and calm in your space. Here are some ways to organize:

  1. Sort your items: Start by sorting through your belongings and categorize them into groups, such as keep, donate, or discard.
  2. Create designated spaces: Assign specific areas for different items in your home. This will make it easier to find and put things away.
  3. Use storage solutions: Invest in storage containers, bins, or shelves to keep things organized and easily accessible. Labeling can also help you quickly identify what’s inside each container.
  4. Develop routines: Establish daily or weekly habits for tidying up and putting things back in their designated places. This will prevent clutter from accumulating again.
  5. Reduce visual clutter: Keep surfaces clear by organizing items out of sight. Use hooks or wall organizers to hang coats, bags, or keys instead of leaving them on tables or countertops.
  6. Digitize where possible: Scan documents, photos, or other paper-based items to reduce physical clutter. Store electronic files in a well-organized manner on your computer or cloud storage.
  7. Minimize duplicate items: Only keep one of each item unless it serves a specific purpose to have multiples.

Creating a Clutter-Free Space

Creating a clutter-free space is essential for improving mental well-being and overall quality of life. Here are some steps you can take to achieve a clutter-free environment:

  1. Start small: Begin with one area or room at a time to prevent feeling overwhelmed.
  2. Sort and categorize: Separate items into categories such as keep, donate, or discard.
  3. Let go of sentimental attachments: While it can be challenging, learn to part with items that no longer serve a purpose or bring you joy.
  4. Organize strategically: Utilize storage solutions like bins, shelves, or drawers to keep items neatly stored and easily accessible.
  5. Maintain regular decluttering sessions: Set aside dedicated time each month to ensure you stay on top of any new clutter that accumulates.
  6. Implement effective systems: Develop routines and habits that support a clutter-free lifestyle, such as putting things back in their designated place after use.

Seeking Professional Help If Needed

If you’re struggling with clutter and finding it difficult to declutter on your own, seeking professional help can be beneficial. Mental health professionals, such as therapists, can provide guidance and support in uncovering underlying thoughts and feelings that may be preventing you from decluttering.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to treat hoarding disorder and can also be effective for clearing clutter and counteracting its negative effects. Additionally, attending decluttering and organizing workshops or hiring a professional organizer can provide valuable strategies and accountability to help you create a clutter-free space.

Seeking professional help when needed can make the process of decluttering more manageable and increase your chances of success.


In conclusion, psychology shows us that too much clutter can have a negative impact on our mental health and overall well-being. It increases stress levelsmakes it hard to focus, and leads to procrastination.

By decluttering, organizing, and creating a clutter-free space, we can counteract these negative effects and improve our happiness and quality of life. Remember, taking small steps towards a clutter-free environment can have big benefits for our emotional health and self-care.