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Too Much Stuff

If your closets are bursting or your desk is topped with piles of disorganized papers, you may want to take some steps toward a neater home or workspace. While a bit of chaos might have some upsides -- at least one study suggests that a messy room spurs creativity -- it has many more downsides. It can even be damaging for your physical and mental health.

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Mess Equals Stress

When everything is in order, you know exactly where you put your glasses and keys so you can grab them and go on with your day. That saves time and a whole lot of hassle. In one study, women who saw their homes as cluttered had high levels of the stress hormone cortisol throughout the day, while those who described their abode as a well-organized, restful space had lower levels.

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It Doesn’t Get Easier

If you're a bit scatterbrained because your space is scattered, don't wait to neaten up. Research has shown that adults in their 50s who have too many piles of stuff are more likely than younger folks to put off making decisions about what to get rid of. The study also found that those piles can make you less satisfied with your life.

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photo of stressed woman in messy house
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Your Mind Wanders

It's hard to focus on important tasks when several things compete for your attention. Researchers have found that being around disorganization makes it harder for your brain to focus. It can be especially tough for people with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). If you have ADHD, a professional organizer or coach may be the best way to restore some order to your space.

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Pass the Tissues

There's a reason people often call knickknacks "dust collectors." Too much stuff makes it harder to keep your space clean. If you're allergic to things like dust mites or pet dander, decluttering should make it easier to dust and vacuum and get symptoms like sneezing, wheezing, and itchy eyes under control.

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Embarrassment and Isolation

A neat, tidy house feels inviting, both for the people who live there as well as guests. A cluttered home may feel the opposite. But shutting people out can take a toll on relationships and make you feel sad and lonely. That could be one reason a hoarding disorder tends to overlap with depression and anxiety disorders.

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Slips and Falls

Living with lots of clutter puts you at risk of getting injured. When your floor is covered with boxes, heaps of clothing, or even too much furniture, it's that much easier to trip. Shelves stuffed to the brim with books and knickknacks can also be a hazard if something falls off or a piece of overloaded furniture topples over.

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Neatness and Generosity

A more organized environment may make you more caring toward others. In one study, volunteers who filled out surveys in a neat room were more likely to say they wanted to donate to a charity compared with those who were questioned in a messy room.

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Memory Issues

Some people who live in cluttered homes have a poorer "working memory," according to research. Your brain is wired to be able to keep track of only a few details at once for a short period, so it can get overloaded when there’s too much going on.

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Safety First

If you've gone overboard on papers and other flammable items, your home can be a fire hazard. Even if a fire starts in the most common of ways (cooking oil goes up in flames or a burner catches the edge of your dish towel), clutter makes it harder to get help. Not only will you have more trouble getting out in time if your pathways and exits are blocked, but firefighters will also have a harder time putting out the blaze.

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Linked to Weight Gain

People who fill their homes with so much stuff that they may have a hoarding disorder also appear to be more likely to overeat and become obese. One study found that as hoarding got worse, so did body mass index (BMI) and binge-eating symptoms (eating large amounts of food in a short time).

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Up All Night

People who have a hoarding disorder also seem more likely to have insomnia. The link between the two isn’t totally clear, but sleep is important for clear thinking and decision-making. If you're sleep-deprived, you might be more likely to make questionable decisions, including ones that involve getting more stuff you really don't need.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 03/28/2019 Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on March 28, 2019

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SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: "A Messy Desk Encourages a Creative Mind, Study Finds."

BeWell Stanford (Stanford University): "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place."
CHADD.org: "Is It Clutter Or Hoarding? How to Help."

Ferrari, J. Current Psychology, June 2018.

Gaspar, J. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Feb 2016.

McMains, S. The Journal of Neuroscience, January 2011.

Mayo Clinic: "Allergy-Proof Your Home," "Hoarding Disorder," "How Decluttering Your Space Could Make You Healthier and Happier."

National Fire Protection Association: "Hoarding and Fire Safety."

Raines, AM. Comprehensive Psychiatry, February 2015.

Saxbe, DE. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2010.

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on March 28, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

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