How decluttering your space could make you healthier and happier

Extra stuff isn't just messy. It could be holding you back from living your best life. Here's what you need to know.

By Matthew Clark

Envious of those neat, tidy spaces and empty shelves that fill home decor blogs and websites? Blank space can be beautiful, and popular books promise strategies to shed extra stuff. But is minimalism livable? Some research suggests that de-cluttering can have as much of an effect on your well-being as it does on your physical space.

It's not just in your head: Extra stuff is stressful

If the constant stream of things to pick up around your home leaves you feeling anxious, you're not alone. Objects have the power to do just that. In fact, when working couples gave tours of their homes, women who used more words describing clutter and disorganization also tended to show levels of the stress hormone cortisol, suggesting chronic stress. On the flip side, those who described their homes as being restful or talked about their beautiful outdoor spaces were less stressed and reported less sad feelings as the day went on.

What you can do: Set aside 10 to 15 minutes at the end of each day to put stray items away.

Distracted much? Clutter makes it hard to focus

Got a lot of stuff on your desk? It may make it harder to do your job. That's because a cluttered environment can make your brain less effective at processing information — and more prone to frustration.

In other words, taking a timeout to organize your space may actually save you time by allowing you to work more efficiently.

What you can do: Clear your computer desktop — and your physical one — at the end of each day.

More stuff doesn't equal more fun

As much as advertisers may work to convince you otherwise, having more things doesn't necessarily make you happier. Case in point: In one experiment, when toddlers were given just four toys to play with, they played twice as long as when they had 16 toys to choose from.

Flitting from toy to toy doesn't just mean more picking up for caregivers either. It means lost opportunities to develop longer attention spans during free play that can translate to better focus and attention later in life as well.

What you can do: Box up extra items and put them out of sight, out of mind. Ready for a change? Swap boxes for a fresh mix of toys. Don't miss them? Sell or donate the extras. (No kids? Try the same technique with your clothes.)

A tendency toward hoarding can keep you up at night

Sleep problems keep as many as a third of adults up at night. And while experts have long recognized a link between insomnia and mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, another link is emerging in research: hoarding.

Hoarding disorder, which affects just 2 to 6 percent of the population, goes far beyond disorganization or a garden-variety tendency to accumulate stuff. It is diagnosed when clutter becomes so debilitating that space becomes unusable and even unsafe. One possible reason for a connection between hoarding and sleep: Lack of sleep inhibits decision-making, namely decisions about acquiring (or getting rid of) stuff.

For the other 98 percent of people who don't have hoarding disorder, but simply struggle with "too much stuff" syndrome, consider this: Having fewer things means making fewer choices throughout the day. And that may add up to less willpower spent trying to make the right ones.

What you can do: Brush up on your healthy sleep routine. Try winding down with a cup of herbal tea and a good (paper) book, rather than TV or social media.

When you think of taking care of yourself, think of your health, plan fun events with your loved ones, but also have a peaceful and organized living space.

April 05, 2018 See more In-depth

See also

  1. 3 simple strategies to help you focus and de-stress
  2. 3 ways to become more stress resilient
  3. 3 ways to learn patience and amp up your well-being
  4. 4 proven ways you can feel happier
  5. 5 ways to bring play back into your life
  6. A Very Happy Brain
  7. Adapt to put stress in its place
  8. Anger management: Your questions answered
  9. Are your holidays a dietary free-for-all?
  10. Balancing work and life responsibilities
  11. Being assertive
  12. Bridge pose
  13. Can yoga help me keep caregiver stress in check?
  14. Caregiver stress
  15. Caregiver stress
  16. Cat/cow pose
  17. Chase away the winter blues
  18. Child's pose
  19. Cobra
  20. Control email to regain control of your life
  21. Coping with excess information
  22. Coping with job stress
  23. Coronavirus grief
  24. COVID-19 and your mental health
  25. Coping with unemployment caused by COVID-19
  26. Destress with breathing
  27. Denial
  28. Does stress make rheumatoid arthritis worse?
  29. Downward-facing dog
  30. Dreading a family holiday gathering?
  31. Ease stress to reduce your psoriasis flares
  32. Feeling overwhelmed? Take a break
  33. Forgiveness
  34. Great expectations: How to keep them from creating unhappiness
  35. Have you had a good laugh today?
  36. Holidays don't have to break the bank
  37. How sharing kindness can make you healthier & happier
  38. How to focus on the present for long-term progress
  39. Job burnout
  40. Job satisfaction
  41. Laugh more, stress less
  42. Learn to reduce stress through mindful living
  43. Learn to say no and enjoy the holidays
  44. Lifestyle strategies for pain management
  45. Manage stress through problem-solving
  46. Manage stress to improve psoriatic arthritis symptoms
  47. Mountain pose
  48. Need better work-life balance?
  49. Stress-relief tips
  50. New School Anxiety
  51. Perfect holiday? Forget about it!
  52. Pet therapy
  53. Positive thinking
  54. Problem-solving
  55. Resilience
  56. Say no, to say yes to less stress
  57. Seated spinal twist
  58. Setbacks and criticism — Don't let them derail you
  59. Slide show: Yoga poses
  60. Social support: Tap this tool to beat stress
  61. Spirituality and stress relief
  62. Standing forward bend
  63. Stress and high blood pressure
  64. Stress and technology
  65. Holiday stress
  66. Prevent stress setbacks
  67. Stress relief from laughter
  68. How to say no
  69. Stress relievers
  70. Stressed out? Skip the late show
  71. Stressed? Set yourself up for success
  72. Support groups
  73. The power of positive thinking
  74. Tired of feeling hassled? Try these tips
  75. To manage anxiety, start with the way you think
  76. Use the 80/20 rule to manage time and reduce stress
  77. Warrior 1
  78. What is hot yoga?
  79. What is reflexology?
  80. Why aromatherapy is showing up in hospital surgical units
  81. Work-life balance