Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

7 Ways Clutter Is Ruining Your Life

Clutter overloads your senses, just like multitasking overloads your brain. Here are all the ways a messy space can affect your life.

7 Ways Clutter Is Ruining Your Life
[Photo: Flickr user Jeremy Segrott]

Take a quick glance around your workspace: Do you see piles of papers on your desk? Supplies you haven’t yet put away? An overflowing trash can? This clutter adds up and can make you stressed out and overweight.

Clutter isn’t just a housekeeping issue; it’s a health issue. "I'm a firm believer that physical clutter creates emotional clutter," Robin Zasio, author of The Hoarder In You: How To Live A Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life, said in an interview with Prevention magazine. "Every time you walk into your home, that clutter brings you down. There's this sense of not feeling comfortable and emotionally free in your own house."

While clutter can make you feel depressed, it’s doing a host of other things to your brain and your body:

1. It steals Your Focus

Clutter limits your brain’s ability to process information, and can make you feel distracted. In a study done at Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, researchers found that "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, clutter competes for your attention, and wears down your ability to focus. To do your best work, clear away the clutter before you start.

2. It Increases Stress

Overconsumption and its residual clutter make your stress hormones spike. A study from UCLA looked at Los Angeles families with homes that were filled with an abundance of toys and household items. In fact, 75% of the families couldn’t park their cars inside their garages because they were overloaded with stuff. The researchers found that the mothers’ cortisol levels spiked when they were home dealing with their belongings, but dropped when they left.

Clutter overloads your senses, just like multitasking overloads your brain, causing you to be stressed out and anxious.

3. It Contributes To Procrastination

At its core, clutter is procrastination. It’s setting something down with the idea of dealing with it later. If your office or home is cluttered, you’re most likely procrastinating with other things as well.

"People don't realize that clutter actually is delayed decisions and delayed actions," says Lorie Marrero, author of The Clutter Diet. "Think about everything you have sitting around on your counter or on your desk, that's an action you haven't taken or a decision you haven't made. If you can make better, faster decisions, you will be more organized."

4. It Costs You Time And Money

Clutter robs you of time you could spend doing something else. Think of the time you spend looking for that paper, computer file, or your keys. Americans collectively waste 9 million hours per day searching for misplaced items, and nearly a quarter of us of admit to paying late penalties because we’ve lost bills, according to the National Association of Professional Organizers.

5. It Aggravates Allergies

Clutter makes it harder to clean your environment, creating a germ haven that aggravates allergies and asthma. Things that collect dust also collect dust mites, according to the Mayo Clinic. These microscopic organisms can trigger allergy and asthma attacks.

6. It Makes You Fat

While clutter increases your stress hormone, which can cause you to gain weight, it also represents bad habits that can transfer over into eating patterns as well. After working with families who have overwhelming clutter, organizing expert Peter Walsh noticed a link between overconsumption of stuff and overconsumption of food.

"All of us deal constantly with the urge to consume more," Walsh writes in his book Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? "They’re just not very different. Clutter and fat: I see it. I want it. I’ll have it."

Weight issues are caused by lifestyle, says Walsh, and clutter, chaos, and fat are inextricably linked. "Your home is a reflection of your state of mind, as is your body," he says.

7. It Keeps You From Living In The Present

Clutter is a way of clinging to the past. According to feng shui principles, clutter represents trapped energy, and it is believed that when you clear clutter, you release negative emotions, generate positive energy, and invite opportunity into your life.

In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, author Marie Kondo says the true purpose of tidying is to live in the most natural state possible, surrounded only by things that spark joy.

"Keep only the things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle," she writes.

Related: The Life-Changing Magic Of Having Marie Kondo Organize Your Office

The Fast Company Innovation Festival