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How Mess Affects Your Stress Level

How Mess Affects Your Stress Level


I don't know many people who don't have some degree of stress in their life. After all, there are good and bad stressors. But when we're talking about clutter and disorganization, these seem to fall under the negative stress category. When I think of managing stress, I think of remaining calm, cool and collected. Here's a look at how disorganization robs us of effectively managing our stress and what to do about it.  


It's hard to remain calm when your physical environment is in an upheaval. In a sense, it's as if the mess is causing conflict. You think, I know I should tidy up, but I don't have time. Where would I begin? I can't decide what to do. In the end, nothing gets done and you end up feeling worse about your predicament. And if you live with someone who is on the tidy side, conflict is bound to rear its ugly head. Ultimately what has to happen is that there needs to be a spark of motivation; you have to want to get organized. Becoming aware that clutter is often just a manifestation of your stress level can lead to a light bulb going on that something needs to change. 



Clutter attracts clutter.  Calm attracts calm.

Courtney Carver



It's hard to remain cool when the clutter is causing your brain to meltdown. When you are trying to remember details of your next appointment, where your pocketbook is, what time you have to pick up the kids and the item you need to get at the grocery store, your stress level automatically rises. There's nothing left in your brain reserve to think about happy, enjoyable things. To overcome this, you need to start making small changes.Some folks call this the Swiss cheese effect; poking small holes in a too large project.  Start with something small like organizing a drawer or a cabinet or trimming your to-do list to only 3 items. The saying goes, little by little, a little can become a lot.  



Clear up the clutter.  It diverts your attention, hampers your thinking, dilutes your efforts and hinders your progress.

Merrill Douglass



It's hard to remain collected when you're drained of energy. Disorganization robs you of precious motivation, instead breeding procrastination both in decisions and actions. How to combat this is by visualizing the big picture. Ask yourself if your surroundings are helping you succeed or bringing you down. Attempt to make decisions in the moment, rather than putting them off. Start asking yourself: Do I use this? Do I love it? Do I have space for it? Does it support my future self?



Clutter is not just physical stuff.  It's old ideas, toxic relationships, and bad habits.  Clutter is anything that does not support your better self.  

Eleanor Brown



Getting organized will not only reduce your stress, it can improve your physical surroundings, strengthen relationships, make you more efficient in your day to day functioning, save you time and improve your quality of life in general. And who doesn't want all that?! How do you think you could stay calm, cool and collected the next time you feel your stress level rising? 



Categories: Productivity, Mental Health / Hoarding


  • The quote "Clutter is anything that does not support your better self." resonates with me. It's a statement to be remembered while clearing the clutter. I asked clients does this item create negative (upset, angry, etc...) emotions inside of them? If it does, they should consider letting it go. I personally only want happy memories in my home.
    9/24/2018 10:54:46 AM Reply
    • @Sabrina Quairoli: That one resonated with me too, because I tend not to have a lot of physical clutter, but that doesn't mean other things in my life don't cause stress.
      9/25/2018 5:54:56 AM Reply
    • @Sabrina Quairoli: I agree with you that it's important to explore what emotions our items create in us. I, personally, am okay with keeping things that don't always bring me happy memories. Sometimes things like a job rejection letter that helps propel you towards a better career path can be worth saving. The lows in life help make the highs that much higher, right?
      9/24/2018 12:53:46 PM Reply
  • Kim
    Yes I so agree and my partner is a tad messier than me haha. Breaking things down so that they are not so overwhelming can be the key for most of us. And taking the time to breathe. It is so easy to look at what didn’t get done though. It’s good to remember Small is huge!
    9/24/2018 8:42:04 AM Reply
    • @Kim: Small is huge! I frequently ask my clients, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!" Although I mistakenly used it with a client who informed me she was vegetarian so the image didn't resonate with her. I should have used the Swiss cheese approach! LOL
      9/24/2018 12:49:23 PM Reply
  • I've never heard of the Swiss Cheese approach to organizing. I love that image and process of poking at a bit of organizing here and there and then build upon that progress. Similar to Seana, I too, use breathing as a way to reduce stress. I take a pause and try to connect with the feelings and sensations that I'm experiencing. I stop and breath, remain still and listen to what's happening around and within me. And OK, I'll fess up with this, but sometimes I'll eat a piece of chocolate...not always, but there are times when chocolate helps. Something else that helps me is to change my environment. So if I'm inside, I'll get some fresh air. If I'm out, I might head home. It can sometimes break the stress cycle. On a daily basis, I practice mindfulness meditation. I find that the practice doesn't eliminate stress, but it helps me to manage it better.
    9/24/2018 8:36:29 AM Reply
    • @Linda Samuels: Thanks for commenting, Linda. I remember when you presented at NERCPO 2 years ago you talked a lot about making sure we get our outdoor time, or as I think you called it "green breaks!" I typically like to exercise in the morning and when my husband is home I can go for a run instead of exercising in the basement and it makes such a difference on my mood by being in the fresh air. And I completely second the chocolate theory. #darkchocolatehasmagicalpowers
      9/24/2018 12:47:54 PM Reply
  • When I feel the stress rising, the first thing I do is breathe. A slow exhale definitely makes me feel a measure of control. When I'm going through long-standing stressful times, I organize. My family knows that the mess stresses me out, and when life is feeling out of control, I reflexively want to control what I can, which is my surroundings. I know I am the one in the family who is most troubled by a cluttered environment, but I am thankful that the family accepts this in me, and will often try to keep at least my spaces clutter free.
    9/21/2018 3:37:25 PM Reply
    • @Seana Turner: I'm getting a bit better about breathing as my son has been using it in his own therapy. We call it belly breathing. And I completely agree that when I'm stressed I declutter! Not so much organize but actually purge stuff. I need it to be cleared out to get my clear head back!
      9/24/2018 12:45:37 PM Reply

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