Stressed? Depressed? Perhaps it’s time to declutter!
Creating a home environment conducive to healing
If having ‘too much stuff’ around the house or your messy desk makes you feel anxious and overwhelmed, you are not alone! Clutter has been the subject of lots of research lately, impacting our overall well-being and life satisfaction. Past research has found that:
• the constant visual reminders of disorder drain our cognitive resources, reducing our ability to focus,
• environmental chaos was also related to increased parental stress, which negatively impacts parenting behaviour and children’s problem behaviours,
• people with extremely cluttered homes are more likely to be overweight, and
• household clutter triggers high levels of the stress hormone cortisol; excess cortisol is linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.
If you’re suffering from depression…
Just as clutter and messiness cause stress, mental illnesses such as depression, can also cause clutter. For those that suffer from depression, the common symptoms of depression – low emotional and/or physical energy, fatigue, lack of interest, feeling overwhelmed and, very importantly, lack of motivation – often make doing small tasks like tidying up, difficult. Understandably, some people may be more comfortable with mess and clutter, but for many, living in a mess may be completely out of character and occurs only when they’re going through a depressive episode.
Since depression and untidiness are connected, can a neater living space make you feel better?
Experts seem to think so. Talking to Psych Central Gaby Teresa, a marriage and family therapist, explained that cleaning up is a visual form of self-care, and once it’s done, it can give you a sense of accomplishment, which helps to improve your mood and ultimately, can help you progress out of an episode.
Here are a few suggestions on how to create a living space conducive to good mental health:
When decluttering, start small
A cluttered, messy environment can be overwhelming, so start small. Begin with one small area – declutter one counter, one shelf, or one drawer. Then tackle the next area. Try to maintain the cleaned areas by keeping it clutter-free. Seeing small, steady progress is encouraging.
Bring in the light
Natural light is associated with improved mood, lower fatigue, and reduced eyestrain. So open the curtains, and get light into the home.
A connection with nature – even in short bursts – can reduce stress, reduce anger and fear, and increase positive feelings. So if you have a garden or view of trees or plants, place a chair in a designated area where you can enjoy the view. You can also enhance your décor with indoor plants, an aquarium, or nature-themed art for a similar effect. If you have a garden, spend time sitting in the garden, or start gardening!
Carve out a healing space in your home
Is there a favourite activity that you love doing? If you love reading, for instance, set up a chair in a lighted-up area and make it comfortable to use. If you meditate, set up a small space using your favourite colours and objects in your meditation space. The point is to create a calm, relaxing space that comforts you.
Develop your sense of smell
We know that certain smells can evoke emotions as they are often connected to a memory from the past – either good or bad. Interestingly, the loss of a sense of smell is linked to depression. People with depression often have a decreased sense of smell and, people who have lost their sense of smell, are more likely to develop depressive symptoms. While there’s no proof for practising your sense of smell, it could be associated with better neurological well-being. Bring a scented candle, or add the smells you love to a diffuser so that it can permeate through your home.
Ask for help
If you’re suffering from mental illness and struggling to keep your home clean, ask for a hand from family members or friends, and let them tidy up with you for 10 minutes. Sometimes starting the task can be harder than doing it, and the company could be just what you need to kick start the process, progress faster, and motivate you to keep going.
Though having a comfortable, clutter-free home environment is a supportive tool in dealing with a mental illness, it needs to be part of a holistic treatment plan.
1. Delagran, L. (n.d.). How You Can Create a Healing Environment at Home. University of Minnesota Taking Charge of your Health & Wellbeing [Online]. Accessed on 26 January 2023. Available from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-you-can-create-healing-environment-home [UM]
2. Sabiniewicz, A., Hoffmann, L., Haehner, A. et al. (2022). Symptoms of depression change with olfactory function. Scientific Reports 12, 5656. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-09650 [N]
3. Sander, E. (2019). Time for a Kondo clean-out? Here’s what clutter does to your brain and body. The Conversation [Online]. Accessed on 24 January 2023. Available from https://theconversation.com/time-for-a-kondo-clean-out-heres-what-clutter-does-to-your-brain-and-body-109947 [TC]
4. Pattemore, C. & Pineda, S. (2022). The Link Between Messy Rooms and Depression. Psych Central [Online]. Accessed on 24 January 2023. Available from https://psychcentral.com/depression/messy-room-depression#does-it-exacerbate-symptoms [PC]
5. Psychology Today. (2007). The Hidden Force of Fragrance. Psychology Today [Online]. Accessed on 27 January 2023. Available from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/articles/200711/the-hidden-force-fragrance [PT]
6. Vartanian, L.R., Kernan, K.R. and Wansink, B. (2016). Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments. Environment and Behavior. Online First: https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916516628178 [EB]