5 Ways Clutter Can Mess With Your Brain

5 ways clutter can mess with your brain
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Have you ever been in a cluttered space and found yourself feeling as if you couldn’t think straight?
Here’s the thing. You probably weren’t imagining it.


When I suffered a major concussion in 2018, I was so thankful to have an organized home. My brain was so out of whack that it couldn’t make sense of up or down, and I felt like I was living in constant overwhelm. The smallest amount of stimuli made me feel like I was going to spin out of control.
It’s my opinion that clutter can make us feel that same way, and at times, just as intensely.

From the research I have done, clutter clearly can have a negative impact on our brains. Especially chronic clutter. This will affect the way we feel, the way we react, and the way we cope. Here are 5 ways clutter may be messing with your brain. They are in no particular order.

1. It’s distracting

Clutter is distracting.
Messy surroundings compete for our attention while distracting us from the things we need to do. Just seeing clutter distracts our brain enough to potentially reduce our working memory.
When our brain is constantly registering disorganization and clutter, it can drain our brain and make it harder for us to focus.
Lack of focus kills productivity.
As a matter of fact, a Princeton University study found clutter to decrease the participant’s productivity.

 2. It causes sensory overload

Our brain is wired to be able to keep track of only a few details at once, and for only a short period of time.
Clutter around us can cause an overload of stimuli. The overload causes our brain to shift into multitasking mode. A study at the University of California found that multitasking impedes the brain’s ability to absorb information.

3. It causes stress

Clutter has negative effects on our mental and physical health, too.
It can leave us feeling anxious, stressed, or even depressed. Studies have shown that cortisol (the stress hormone) levels are higher in people who have a cluttered home. Chronic clutter can put our body in a constant low-grade fight-or-flight mode, which is taxing on our body and mind.

4. It can cause poor judgment

Clutter causes us to be less productive, which can trigger us to use unhealthy coping skills.
Coping skills like snacking on junk food and watching excessive TV shows, including ones about other people decluttering their lives.
Eating these unhealthy foods has a negative impact on brain health and overall health.
In addition, a study in 2006 found that when we try to make judgments in cluttered environments, our brains operate differently: not only do we tend to make the wrong call, but we’re often far more confident in that call than we should be.
The study says all the visual stimuli and confusion make us less capable of thinking clearly, even if we’re absolutely sure we’re making the right decision. It’s not clear why clutter spikes our confidence erroneously, but if you’re making life decisions it’s probably best to do it in a clean room.

5. It can cause procrastination

A couple of reasons we procrastinate are stress and distraction. Both of these can be caused by clutter. If you find yourself procrastinating, you might take a look around to see if clutter may be a contributing factor.

There is good news in all of this.

Researchers have looked closely at the effects of clutter. They found that clearing away clutter at work and at home improved focus. It also increased productivity and made it easier for the brain to process information.

Decluttering and organization can be learned. Learning these skills is detrimental to our health, productivity, and peace of mind.

If you need help with learning how to declutter and organize, I can help. I have many how-to blog posts and I do work with a small number of in-person clients.
Here are a couple of articles that might be of interest…

If you are looking for a Professional Organizer in your area, check out the NAPO website.

Take Action –

Have you possibly become clutter blind?
Take a look around your space. Are there things surrounding you that have no purpose and have not been placed where they are with a purpose? Are there things you no longer need, use or love?
Here are a couple of solutions for what to do with things that no longer fit the bill…

  • find a space for them that makes sense 
  • remove them from your space altogether
  • recycle, reuse, donate or sell

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