Does getting rid of possessions help with depression? That is the question of interest for this article. In this article we will explore the link between depression and clutter and how decluttering or getting rid of clutter can boost one’s mental health.
Does getting rid of possessions help with depression?
Yes, getting rid of possessions does help with depression. Depressed individuals benefit from decluttering their spaces because sometimes people’s living spaces reflect their mind and emotional state, and getting rid of clutter can begin to help brighten up their mental space as well.
It can bring about a sense of accomplishment and help get them active again. Sometimes depression causes a sense of being stuck and individuals struggle with low energy and motivation to do the most basic daily activities.
Is clutter linked to depression?
Clutter is linked to depression in some cases. As seen in the Denver Post article, where there are underlying psychological issues like depression, clutter can sometimes arise. The relationship between clutter and messy living spaces and depression can be bidirectional.
On one hand, depression can cause a messy and cluttered space.
One of the symptoms of depression is low energy and lack of enthusiasm or desire to do activities that previously brought joy or satisfaction. If an individual is already feeling drained due and is struggling with activities that once brought joy, doing minor tasks such as cleaning, decluttering, cooking, even showering can become difficult.
Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine that depressed individuals struggling with everyday functioning might struggle with minor things like making their beds and tidying up their living spaces.
While on the other hand, cluttered living spaces can cause depressive symptoms because of the strain of living in a dysfunctional and uninspiring environment. The environment in which one lives and works can greatly affect their mental health and for some, a chaotic environment can lead to issues with one’s moods.
What does clutter do to your mental health?
Clutter can negatively affect your mental health in several ways. According to a study conducted by Elizabeth Sander, which she describes in her article in The Conversation, one’s physical environment strongly affects one’s cognition, emotions, behaviors, and even the relationship he or she has with others.
Sander goes on to describe another 2009 study in her article, about stress and how mothers who described their environment as cluttered had significantly higher stress hormone levels. Furthermore, chronically cluttered environments lead to constant stress responses (fight or flight) and this causes physical and psychological changes in the individual over time.
The article by Sander also goes on to describe several different studies that show links between clutter and sleeping problems, poor eating habits, interpersonal problems, pain, and lower productivity.
Kristen Fuller’s article “How clutter affects our mental health”, states that clutter can lead to stress, difficulties concentrating, and a sense of entrapment in a dysfunctional environment which can lead to loneliness, distress, and a feeling of displacement.
Fuller also explains that clutter can be a sign of an obsession with items, and using these items to fill some sort of void within. Clutter can also develop into a hoarding disorder, especially when the individual becomes preoccupied with the items and their possible use in the future or their previous sentimental value despite their lack of importance in daily function.
How does decluttering help depression?
Decluttering helps provide a healthy distraction
The act of cleaning or decluttering helps get one’s mind away from the negative emotions, if only for a few minutes a day. The depressed individual is able to get moving and temporarily distract him or herself from the ruminating thoughts or overwhelming negative feelings that they are experiencing as a result of the depression.
Decluttering boosts one’s sense of accomplishment
For an individual struggling with depression, everything can feel overwhelming. Taking a few minutes each day to throw away a few things, tidy or organize one area helps the depressed individual feel a sense of accomplishment where they may feel unproductive on a day-to-day basis.
Things to consider when you are decluttering
Reason for the clutter
Clutter is caused by a variety of reasons. According to the Denver Post article “The psychology of clutter”, there are four categories kinds of clutter as outlined by a professional organizer in Denver, Colorado: technical issues, time management, life changes, and psychological issues.
Technical clutter is caused by technical issues in the space and these restrictions in the living space lead to cluttered items.
Time management can cause clutter because of issues with time to organize materials and lack of planning. Life changes can lead to clutter because of a sudden destabilizing event e.g. new baby or the death of a loved one which can lead to clutter in the home.
According to the Denver Post article, there is also psychological-based clutter is caused by underlying psychological or behavioral issues such as depression or anxiety and this is often the most difficult to deal with.
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Why is it so hard to get rid of clutter?
It may be difficult to get rid of personal possessions because the individual may have some sort of emotional attachment to them. Hoarding begins with minor clutter and then develops into extreme clutter and obsessions with items and the inability to get rid of personal possessions because they have some sort of emotional function for the individual.
Author of What Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, Amy Morin Writes in a psychology today article that there is a link between what you have and who you are. Morin describes a 2011 study, published in the Journal of consumer psychology that states that if an individual struggles with getting rid of items, they are likely linked to the individual’s sense of self-worth.
Morin further outlines that these individuals view the items not as mine but as an extension of themselves, as “me” and that even though self-worth can be measured in a variety of ways, items can be linked to an individual’s self-worth either through past successes, relationships, roles, and positive memories. Morin states that attempting to get rid of these possessions that are linked to one’s sense of self-worth can even lead to depression when one has to get rid of them.
Amy Morin says that It is important for individuals to examine the clutter and the items they struggle to get rid of and ask themselves what significance these items hold in their lives, and how they relate to their sense of identity and self-worth. Then they can weigh the options and consider getting rid of the items and going through the negative emotions associated with letting go versus continuing to feel the distress they feel as a result of the clutter.
It is often difficult to get rid of personal possessions for some, so it is important to take your time to examine any underlying issues related to the items as well as the difficulty parting with them.
Amy Morin, in her article, in Psychology Today suggests the following questions to consider when you decide it may be time to get rid of personal possessions that are contributing to a cluttered space.
- What is working well in your life right now and what is not working well in your life right now?
- What is causing you to feel overwhelmed?
- Is there clutter that you are managing that is not serving you a purpose?
- How is the clutter preventing you from moving forward in your life?
- Do you feel anxious in your home because you have too much stuff?
- Are there parts of your life where you are currently not in charge of making decisions?
- What are the first steps you can take to eliminate this clutter?
These questions will help the individual get some insight into his or her life as a whole, and how the possessions he or she struggles to get rid of can be linked to deeper issues. Furthermore, the above questions will enable the individual to see the importance of decluttering and have some sense of direction by breaking the action down into smaller steps.
Practical steps to help you declutter
Bring in help if it is difficult to let go
In Lucchesi’s NY Times article, one key suggestion as stated by Dr. Ferrari in getting rid of clutter is to take the hands-off approach. In cases where the clutter is a result of over-attachment to the items, bringing in a friend or loved one to help you sort through the items can be extremely helpful.
The neutral party can be the one to physically hold up items and ask you if you use this item and if it is still important, then they can throw it away if the answer is no. It may be more difficult for someone to throw away an item if they touch it themselves therefore, this outside person can be very helpful in getting him or her to actually part with the item.
Use storage jars, tins, and containers and group items based on similarities.
Using storage jars, tins and containers is a very useful way to get rid of random items scattered all over. By grouping things based on similarities, and then placing them in the right container you will get rid of scattered clutter and put them all in one place. Things like toys can be in one large container, while items like paper clips and jewelry can be smaller individual jars.
Do light cleaning every day and focus on the small steps
Doing the decluttering in small steps can make it seems less overwhelming. According to Brownn, in her article “How clutter affects our mental health”, doing light cleaning every day for ten minutes goes a long way in helping you begin to maintain your space and it helps you pick up the habit of keeping things tidy in the long run.
Doing the decluttering in phases also greatly helps in getting the job done without feeling overwhelmed by the large task. Starting by throwing away expired or broken items one day, then proceeding to useless papers and junk crowding certain areas are great ways of breaking down the task into smaller steps.
Change shopping habits
Dr. Ferrari, as written in the NY Times article by Lucchesi, states that the best way to get rid of clutter is by keeping it out of your home in the first place. If the individual struggles with clutter, it is best, that once they begin the decluttering process, they also maintain the newly decluttered space by keeping the items out. Changing their shopping habits, and avoiding impulsive buying will go a long way in only buying what is needed and keeping the space decluttered.
Make it fun
Sometimes when depressed, things lose their appeal and even normal tasks seem boring and monumental. In Liff’s article on Cleaning and mental health, one great suggestion for decluttering is, to make it enjoyable. When setting out to declutter, choose a task and set a time to do it then play your favorite song or background audio e.g. podcast, comedy special, poetry, audiobook, and get to tidying your space. Having something enjoyable in the background makes it easier and before you know it you are done and it was not as tedious as you imagined.
Brownn, E. (2021, February 21). How Clutter Affects Our Mental Health – Depression. Verywell Mind. Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/decluttering-our-house-to-cleanse-our-minds-5101511
Clutter definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary. (n.d.). Collins Dictionary. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/clutter
Liff, N. J., & Saxbe, D. (2021, November 2). Cleaning and Mental Health: Benefits and How to Get Motivated. Psycom.net. Retrieved December 23, 2021, from https://www.psycom.net/anxiety/mental-health-benefits-cleaning
Lucchesi, B. (2019, January 3). The Unbearable Heaviness of Clutter. The New York Times. Retrieved December 26, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/03/well/mind/clutter-stress-procrastination-psychology.html
Morin, A. (2016, April 27). Why It’s So Hard to Get Rid of Your Clutter. Psychology Today. Retrieved December 27, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201604/why-its-so-hard-get-rid-your-clutter
Sander, E. (2019, January 20). Time for a Kondo clean-out? Here’s what clutter does to your brain and body. The Conversation. Retrieved December 26, 2021, from https://theconversation.com/time-for-a-kondo-clean-out-heres-what-clutter-does-to-your-brain-and-body-109947
What we recommend for depression
If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling could be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.