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Are Disorganization and Clutter Making You Anxious?

Clutter and disorganization in your personal space can be worse than annoying: they can make you anxious. While clutter doesn't directly cause anxiety to begin, a messy area can cause your sense of anxiety to flare whether you live with an anxiety disorder or experience anxiety but not a disorder. Here's a look at how clutter can affect anxiety and anxiety-friendly ways to fix it.

Clutter Creates Anxiety Symptoms

While I prefer my work and living spaces to be organized and neat, sometimes they become messy, little by little, until I'm surrounded by veritable chaos. Sometimes, by the time it reaches a state of disorder, I've become blind to it. It's my brain that alerts me but not through my senses as it should. It lets me know that I'm living in disorganization and clutter by revving up my anxiety symptoms

Initially, clutter can cause people to feel vaguely unsettled. Then, anxiety can become a bit stronger and difficult to ignore. It can seem as though anxiety has struck out of nowhere. In reality, it has arisen from the depths of the mess. 

Thoughts might become anxious, with undefined worries running through the mind. Often, the worries are stress-related and center on things like to-do lists, schedules, feeling overwhelmed. Even when you know you're on track, anxious thoughts tell you you're not. Clutter and disorganization negatively affect your perception and thoughts. 

When you're surrounded by a mess, you might also have anxious emotions. Again, they're often vague but they relate directly to anxiety. Overwhelmed thoughts are related to overwhelmed feelings. You feel upset and emotional but again, you can't quite pinpoint why. 

Through anxious thoughts and emotions, the brain prompts us to pause, look around us, notice what's wrong, and do something about it. 

Ways to Clear the Clutter and Reduce Anxiety

By the time your anxiety spikes and you realize that the disarray around you is bothering you, another type of anxiety often settles in. Ironically, thoughts of straightening and sorting can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. When you feel stuck at an impasse, feeling anxious because of a mess that's keeping you from doing what you need to do and also feeling anxious because the task ahead of you is daunting, try these strategies to clear clutter and reduce your vague, anxious thoughts and feelings. 

  • Sit down and create a plan (lists are handy for this) for tackling your organization project.
  • Decide what is agitating you the most and start there.
  • If you haven't used it, touched it, or dusted it in over six months, pitch it. 
  • Don't try to tackle it all at once.
  • Chunk it up. Break up your tasks into small, manageable bits. 
  • Set a timer for breaks. Taking self-care breaks to step away, breathe, drink water, and get fresh air is important to keep anxiety down and motivation up.
  • Commit to a stopping point. Anxiety can cause people to hyperfocus, feeling driven to complete a task to get anxiety to stop.

When you begin to notice yourself feeling vaguely anxious and unsettled, look around you. If you see a mess, your anxiety could be telling you it's time to declutter. 

Tune into the video for one more tip for dealing with anxiety and clutter. 

APA Reference
NCC, T. (2019, May 30). Are Disorganization and Clutter Making You Anxious?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2019/5/are-disorganization-and-clutter-making-you-anxious



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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