Well being

How physical clutter leads to mental clutter

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 2:30pm

Feeling disorganized?                                                  

Feeling overwhelmed?                                                                       

Feeling frustrated with your life?                        

Clutter, the collection of things lying around in disarray in our home or office could be the culprit of these thoughts and feelings. A messy environment may seem harmless but this is far from the truth. It can become the obstacle that gets in our way of moving toward our goals. The energy in a cluttered environment saps our drive and strength, leaving us feeling lost, frustrated and confused. 

“Delaying Disposing, Examining the Relationship between Procrastination and Clutter Across Generations” in the June 2018 issue of Current Psychology reported: “Clutter problems led to a significant decrease in satisfaction with life among older adults.”

Physical clutter is a visual deterrent and it can stop us in our tracks from working on a project. We have the skills to achieve what we set out to do but disorder can easily derail movement toward our chosen activity.

Hoarding is clutter that functionally interferes with the normal use of living space that obstructs the ability to cook, clean, sleep or move through a dwelling, increasing the potential for the area to become unhealthy and unsanitary. There is a psychological component to hoarding.

 In this article, I will be discussing the different categories of clutter.

Clutter comes in various forms: 

  • Physical clutter (home, office, car)
  • Digital clutter (computers, cell phones)
  • Financial clutter (credit cards, investments)

Left untended, each of these types of clutter may develop into mental and physical blocks that can prevent or delay us from achieving our goals and living a harmonious and productive life.

Physical and digital clutter creates excessive stimuli on our senses, making it hard to focus and diverts our concentration away from the job at hand.  Working in this environment decreases creativity and productivity. We are easily distracted with technology, therefore preventing us from completing tasks in a timely fashion. 

Financial clutter can create mental fatigue because it requires our vigilance in managing it and deciding what items are needed and what needs to be discarded. 

The mental overload from dealing with all types of clutter affects our decision-making skills and memory ability making us less proficient in our organization of thoughts and plans.

Clutter can lead to procrastination. We come up with excuses for not completing a chore. This thinking pattern may lead to anxiety, lack of confidence, shame or depression. These thoughts and feelings play a role in how we feel about our self, our home and our work. The inner critic inside us generates negative mental talk and this becomes our mental clutter. This way of thinking is self-sabotaging self-talk. It captures our brain in a downward spiral of negativity. 

Lynn Hasher, professor and senior scientist at Rotman Research Institute, University of Toronto, speculated years ago that “mental clutter is one of the prime suspects in the cause of age-related memory loss.” Her research today on cognitive control and memory, continues to support that application.  “With mental clutter, your brain is overwhelmed with data that is not important”. Her theory indicates that because of this, we will be slower and less efficient in processing daily information. 

Reorganizing, eliminating and recycling items from our home and workspace, benefits our physical and cognitive health.

Have I convinced you to clean up your clutter? 

Ask yourself, what are you not letting go of mentally and physically?

Here are simple steps you can take to reduce your clutter.

  1. To avoid being overwhelmed, pick a small area, like your desk. Make three piles: keep, throw away and give to charity. Begin discarding.
  2. Step back and visualize how you want this space to look.
  3. Time yourself. Set a timer for 15 minutes to work on decluttering.
  4. Don’t analyze it. Just do it.
  5. Follow Mel Robbins’s 5 Second Rule. As soon as you think of what you want to do, count backwards, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, get up and do it. After 8 seconds of a thought, our brain will start to give us reasons why not to do it. Start your project before you are derailed by your brain. Break the habit of procrastination and self-doubt by using this technique.

Decluttering will lead to great satisfaction, leaving us feeling refreshed and energized. It has made a difference in my life. Now, I can get to my task quickly whereas before I had to clean up first, then hope that I had the energy to work on my project afterward.     

Spring is here. 

Master your surroundings to create less clutter. 

Clean up your environment to keep you mentally sharp and productive.


Related articles by Roe Chiacchio


Our Decreasing Attention Span

A Healthy Mind in Turbulent Times


Roe Chiacchio is a cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation RN, CPT personal trainer and CDP certified dementia practitioner. She integrates her background into a specialized style of training for each of her clients and shares her perspective and knowledge in her articles published at PenBay Pilot. Her business, ONWARD, Cardiovascular Heath, Wellness and Dementia Management is located in Camden, Maine. Her education is based in behavioral science, psychology, neuroscience and gerontology.  Her interest is working to enhance physical performance and mental health of individuals through her training sessions and articles. Her hobbies are photography and international travel. For more information, contact Roe at 207 249-8166, or roechiacchio@ gmail.com.