Mental Health Benefits of Decluttering

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 25, 2024
4 min read

If you're looking for an easy way to reduce stress, decluttering your environment may be a good place to start. Getting rid of excess stuff can benefit your mental health by making you feel calmer, happier, and more in control. A tidier space can make for a more relaxed mind.

Untidy environments often increase stress for most people. In one study, women who described their homes with positive language had a lower level of the stress hormone cortisol than women who described their homes as cluttered or unfinished. 

Still, the case for decluttering isn't clear-cut. Another study found that, while orderly environments are more linked to healthy choices, disorderly environments promote creativity and fresh ideas. If you value creativity, you may want to allow yourself to be a little messy in certain areas of your life.

For most people, decluttering can promote productivity and improvements in mental and physical health. Benefits of decluttering include:

Better focus. Clutter makes it difficult to find what you need. It may also distract you. Getting rid of visual clutter can help you focus better on any task at hand. 

Higher self-esteem. When you have trouble staying organized, you may feel out of control. Improving your living space can restore feelings of competency and pride.

Better relationships. Conflict with family or roommates often occurs when one person can't control clutter. Also, you may be more comfortable inviting friends into your home when it's tidy.

Lower risk of asthma and allergies. You may think your house is messy but not dirty. But it's hard to clean around piles of belongings. Decluttering can prevent pests and reduce dust, mold, and mildew, which may trigger asthma and allergies. 

Improved lifestyle and well-being. It's easier to prepare healthy meals in an orderly kitchen. And most people sleep better in a neat room with a tidy bed. 

You'll enjoy the mental health benefits of decluttering more if you make the process low-stress. Use these tips for decluttering

Start small. If you pick one drawer or cabinet to organize, you'll be less likely to get discouraged. The pleasure of seeing and using a well-organized space will serve as positive feedback, prompting you to do more. 

‌Build in structure. If you invite friends over for dinner, you'll be motivated to declutter your kitchen. If you schedule someone to take your unneeded items, you'll have a target date for completing your decluttering. Make sure you allow some extra time, as decluttering can take longer than you expect. 

Don't strive for perfection. There's no need to hide items that you use a lot. Also, try not to judge your spaces against those of other people. 

Getting rid of possessions can be hard for anyone, especially as we get older. Here are some things to be mindful of when it comes to clutterers and decluttering:

Characteristics of clutterers

People who have trouble with clutter often:

  • Struggle with time management and stop tasks before finishing
  • Have perfectionist tendencies and trouble stopping and starting projects
  • Are easily sidetracked, such as those with attention deficits
  • Are "people persons" who spend a lot of time doing things with and for others
  • Make a habit of putting things off, also known as procrastination 

Older adults and clutter

The older we get, the more unneeded items we may have. Although we tend to gain fewer possessions after age 50, many older people are also less likely to sell things or give them away. In one study of people over 70, about one-third said they had not thrown out any possessions in the past year. 

Sometimes, older adults don't get rid of clutter because it requires a lot of physical effort. In such cases, family members can help. It's better to handle clutter before ill health or death makes it urgent. 

Hoarding disorder

Decluttering can be especially hard for people with hoarding disorder, which affects about 2.5% of Americans. Hoarding disorder was officially recognized as a psychiatric disorder in 2013. Experts first classified it as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) but now recognize it as a separate condition.

Researchers have found that those with hoarding disorder have intense brain activity when they think about letting go of possessions. They can't casually discard their belongings, even unneeded ones. 

Those with hoarding disorder can’t organize and manage their things. Still, they collect more. Hoarding disorder is treatable, though most people who have it will continue to have some struggles. Treatments include medications, therapy, and support groups.