Could Clutter Be Harming Your Self Esteem?

The old wives’ tales say that a tidy house points to a tidy mind, but where does that leave those of us who live in the middle of a mess? With hectic schedules and ridiculously busy lifestyles, it’s not always easy to keep the spaces we occupy spick and span, whether that’s our homes or our places of work.

Open virtually any lifestyle or interior design magazine and you’ll find articles on cutting down on clutter and embracing a tidier life, just like this helpful piece from OKA. But why is clamping down on clutter so important, and what effect does all this junk have on our states of mind?

Stress & mess

A recent study conducted by researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF), and now published in the fascinating book Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, sheds some eye-opening light on the true impact of clutter on our everyday lives and our mental well-being. The research highlighted a particular link between cluttered spaces (with a high density of objects) and the stress hormone Cortisol in women. When spaces are cluttered, levels of the stress hormone rose in female participants, while male participants appeared to be largely unaffected.


Success & mess

The same study also revealed that women regularly linked tidiness and cleanliness with success and happiness. The more orderly the home, the more happy and successful the women felt families would be. A failure to maintain or achieve the requisite levels of cleanliness could lead to anxiety in some women and even contribute to lower self-esteem and depression.

Focus & mess

It’s not just our homes which can become negative spaces when affected by clutter, our places of work can also become sources of stress when we can’t control the mess. Focusing in a cluttered environment is markedly more difficult than focussing on a task in a tidy environment. That’s because there are more visual stimuli to sidetrack us from the task at hand.


Equally, worrying about when a mess will be tidied away can distract us from our current undertaking, leading us to feel stressed and anxious while we try to perform the original task. Working in a clean, clear space ensures we endure far fewer distractions and focus more effectively. The better we focus, the faster we can complete tasks and the less stressed and frustrated we feel overall.

On a very basic level, clutter presents an actual obstacle which both physically and psychologically stands between us an a more relaxed lifestyle. We all know how stressful it can be to lose something important – especially when time is of the essence. This effect is magnified when our everyday spaces become cluttered, as items become more difficult to find and more regularly go AWOL.


If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, low or unproductive, your environment could be the problem. To start 2017 with a more positive outlook, why not take some time out to organise your space and get rid of the clutter? You might be surprised by how much better you feel.

Does a cluttered space affect your mood or behaviour? Share your stories with other readers below.