Why Clutter Causes Anxiety – and How to Actually Start Decluttering Today

Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or blue?  The answer may be as simple as taking a look around your house or office.  Do you have papers piled up on your coffee table?  Expired food taking up tons of room in the fridge?  Socks, toys, bags, or any other number of items scattered all over the floor?  Often, clutter can cause anxiety in people.

Let’s break down a bit more about this clutter and health connection, and some ways that you can start to declutter, even when you’re feeling overwhelmed about it!

A woman sad about her messy house with a text overlay about clutter causing anxiety

The Clutter-Health Connection

Many people don’t think of the state of their house as being connected to their health, but it can actually contribute in a variety of ways:

  • Too many items in a room or on a counter make it difficult to clean regularly and thoroughly.  You can end up with a buildup of dust, dirt, and germs in the house – which can contribute to increased illness and exacerbate problems like asthma.
  • Disorganization makes it difficult to find items you need.  You know what I mean – when you find yourself thinking “Where did I put those vitamins?!” or “Where are my sneakers for the gym?!”  The more time you spend looking for these, the more frustrated you may get and the more likely you may be to just decide not to proceed with it (like decide to skip your supplement or decide not to go to the gym).
  • Clutter causes anxiety and sometimes even depression in certain people.  It presents excessive visual stimuli, it makes it difficult to relax (signaling just how much we have left to do), and it constantly distracts us.
  • A cluttered bedroom may affect some people’s ability to relax and fall asleep, potentially contributing to insomnia.

Why Fall Is The Perfect Time to Declutter

While most people tackle decluttering and cleaning in the spring, I’m partial to focusing on it in the fall.  Why?  Because if clutter can cause anxiety, the last thing you want is a messy, filled-to-the-brim house making you feel overwhelmed during Christmas or Hanukkah.

Instead, getting everything organized now and clearing up space for new gifts will help you have a more joyous, relaxed holiday season.

Organizing Vs. Decluttering

Many people tackle clutter by finding more bins and storage containers.  While this can be okay for certain items (for example, Christmas decorations that you use every December but need to store the rest of the year) – adding more and more bins for everyday items isn’t always a good solution.

Often we need to purge items and change our behaviors in order to truly reduce clutter and anxiety, rather than just storing it differently.  For example, tossing the stained clothes that somehow keep making their way back into the dresser, or remembering to pause before buying a new dress just because it’s on sale.

How to Start Decluttering – Even When You’re Feeling Overwhemled

Step 1:  Set Parameters.

I think one of the first ways to start decluttering is setting some questions or parameters to think about every time you pick up an item.  This will help you to quickly and easily decide what to do with it.

You can come up with your own system, but I’m partial to this set of two criteria.  If an item fits one of these two statements, it’s time for me to get rid of it.

A) It doesn’t spark joy (and you don’t absolutely need it). 

I love Marie Kondo’s book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (disclosure – affiliate link; as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases) –where she talks about how we should only keep our houses filled with items that spark joy.  That made a big impact on me and I try to practice it the best I can.  However, sometimes, there are items that don’t necessarily spark joy – like the winter jacket I currently own – but that I also don’t feel like spending money to replace just yet.  And that’s OK – I think there can be that balance.

B) You haven’t worn it or used it in a year.

Let’s be real, if it’s something that you bought and it’s been sitting in a closet for a year – odds are it’s never going to get worn or used.

There may be small exceptions to this.  For example, if it’s a beautiful, fancy dress you bought that truly sparks joy when you open the closet and see it, that could be reason for deciding to keep it despite not wearing it recently.

But everything else – the shirt you thought looked good but cringe at every time you try it on at home; the jeans that are two sizes too small but you might fit into someday; the bread maker that has never actually been used – those are things that should be donated or sold.

As you declutter and work through these two criteria (or your own that you set for yourself), you can start sorting into five categories:

  1. Keep and organize (everyday things)
  2. Keep and store (seasonal things)
  3. Donate
  4. Sell (optional category – be sure to see my thoughts on this below!)
  5. Trash

Step 2:  Create/follow a plan – like this decluttering checklist.

We tend to be an all or nothing society.  You know what I mean – someone plans to eat healthy, trips up with a donut for breakfast, and then decides the whole day is ruined.  In reality, nothing is ruined, but we develop this crazy linear thinking.

The same goes for decluttering.  We often want to get it ALL done in one day.  While that may be possible depending on your house, you may not have time to do everything in one shot.  It’s OK to break things up and tackle them in chunks.  In fact, it might make you more likely to stick with getting it all done.

To help, here’s a sample decluttering checklist for you, room by room. 

Feel free to copy and paste it and print it off for your own use as you work your way through the house using the tips and criteria from the first step.  Consider tackling one room at a time, or even just one step at a time if that makes it more manageable for you.

Bedroom(s)

  • Clean up the immediate clutter that you see – place dirty clothes in the hamper, fold any clean clothes and put them away, make the bed, etc.
  • Look at the tops of your nightstands and dressers.  Toss any trash, like receipts, tags, etc.  Place spare change in a jar somewhere which you will place all spare change from now on.  Wipe all the surfaces of the dressers and night stands down with a dust rag.
  • Go through your closet and decide what you definitely love and wear frequently.  For the rest of it, evaluate using those two criteria – does it spark joy, and have you worn it in the last year.  I encourage you to try things on that you’re unsure about.  It may have looked lovely on a hanger when you bought it, but does it make you feel good while you’re wearing it?  If not, toss it.
  • Sort your closet by type and color.  OK, this is a bit of an over the top method, but I love it.  In your closet, group your clothes by type (pants, shirts, blazers, etc) and then by color.  It will make it much easier to find an outfit in the morning.
  • Repeat the closet process with anything that’s in your dresser. Common things to toss include unmatched socks, worn out items, and anything with holes/stains.
  • You may want to take these steps for your kids rooms too.  Depending on their ages, it might be good to get them involved in the process.

Kitchen

  • Get rid of the visible clutter – do the dishes in the sink, toss the garbage, wipe down the counters, etc.
  • Go through all your appliances.  Think about what you need and use on a regular basis, and donate what you don’t.  For the appliances you do keep, see if you can store most of them in cabinets or the pantry, rather than on the counter.  A counter with a ton of appliances can just feel busy and cluttered.
  • Go through all your pots, pans, dishware, and Tupperware.  Most of us have lots of random extra glasses or coffee mugs, pans we don’t use, or Tupperware that’s been missing lids for years.
  • Clean out your pantry.  Remove the foods and check expiration dates.  Toss what’s probably not good anymore.  (Note – many expiration dates are for quality, so some dry goods may be ‘expired’ but still safe to eat.)  Organize your pantry so that you can easily find the foods you need.
  • Clean out your fridge and freezer.  Toss any expired or freezer burnt items.  Wipe down the inside of the fridge/freezer.
  • Remove any clutter – like old invitations or random magnets you got – from the front of the fridge door.
  • Tackle the kitchen junk drawer.  Dump everything out onto a table or the floor.  Toss any mismatching items that you don’t need.  For the rest, ask yourself if you will actually use this regularly or if it’s needed occasionally for important tasks.  If the answer is no, toss it.
  • Do you have a gazillion plastic bags in a drawer in your kitchen? Unless you use these regularly, toss all but a few.

Bathroom(s)

  • Clear any visible clutter – toss empty toilet paper rolls, toss empty product bottles, put dirty clothes in a hamper, etc.
  • Remove all the clutter from the sink counter and clean all the counters.  Only place back as much as you absolutely need (bottles of soap; toothbrush, etc).  Store everything else out of sight.
  • Go through the products that are stored in your bathroom.  Do you use all that makeup?  Is any of it old and should be tossed?  Are there lotions that you didn’t like the smell of?  Be discerning and get rid of what you don’t need.  For what you do need, try to store like items together in storage bins in the closet or in the same drawer.
  • Toss your bath mats in the washing machine – most of us forget to clean these regularly!
  • Do a full cleaning of the shower/tub.  (Hint – Mr. Clean Magic Bathroom Erasers — affiliate link — are the BEST tool I’ve found for the tub!).
  • Change out your shower curtain liner for a fresh one, as most of these can get a little grimy over time.
  • Do you store medicine in your bathroom?  While many people keep it in their medicine cabinet there, it’s actually a poor place to store things as the heat/humidity can break medications down quicker.  First, remove all the medications and check to see if any are expired or doses that you didn’t finish.  If you have any, follow the FDA guidelines for proper disposal.  With the medications that are left, move them to storage in a cool, dry place – like a bedroom closet or linen closet.

Living Room / Family Room

  • Clean up any visible clutter – toys on the floor go back in their spots, trash gets tossed, etc.
  • Look around at the books, magazines, and movies.  Do you need all of them?  Get rid of any that you’ll never read or watch.  From now on, consider buying digital movies rather than DVDs to keep clutter to a minimum.
  • Do you have a stack of your kiddos artwork that you don’t want to part with?  Consider saving a few of the best and framing them in the family room or kids rooms, and/or take photos of each so you can remember them later – without the clutter.
  • If your kiddos are constantly playing with a few toys in these rooms, have a decorative basket or bucket that you can corral items into.  Don’t let it overflow – other items go back to their rooms.
  • Take a look around – are there too many tchotchkes or decorative items that may be making the living room feel cluttered?  If you don’t truly love them, consider parting with them.
  • Wipe down all the coffee tables, end tables, light fixtures, and ceiling fan with a dust rag.
  • Vacuum the whole room, including under the couch cushions and using the attachment to get any spiderwebs in the corners of the walls/ceiling.

Home Office

  • Clear the visible clutter – get rid of papers you don’t need on your desk; place papers you do need in a pile to file, empty your office trash bin, etc.
  • Tackle the paper.  Consider filing necessary papers in an accordion style container that has sections for different types of documents.  This is helpful for things you might need later, like tax documents or a receipt for something you’re thinking about returning.  For other paper clutter, consider making digital copies as possible so you don’t need to hold on to the original.
  • If there are old paper files that you don’t need to refer to frequently but need to store for legal reasons – like tax returns or client files – consider storing them in a bin in the basement.
  • Think about the papers you followed in the previous step.  Is there a way to prevent so much of that clutter from coming in the house?  For example, can you switch to paperless billing for most of your bills?  Spend some time online today doing just that.
  • Clean out your desk drawers.  Do you really need 200 pens?  What about that three-hole puncher?  Is the a reason there are two calculators?  Pare down to only what you definitely need and use.
  • If your desk drawers and home office turned up a bunch of cords, go through these and see what electronic item, phone, etc that they match with.  A lot of times these get shoved in a drawer and are kept after we upgrade items – just taking up space!  Toss whatever you don’t need.  For the cords you do need but only use occasionally, consider wrapping a label around the cord and writing down what item it goes with so you don’t forget.

Step 3:  Get Rid of It – NOW.

Most of us have great motivations when we start decluttering, and start to think “Hmmm – maybe I could bring in some extra cash selling these things!”

It sounds wonderful in theory, but consider the following:

  • Is it actually worth more than a few dollars?  Most things lose a lot of value from the minute you open it up or take the tag off.  Is it worth trying to sell it?
  • Is a garage sale worth your time?  Garage sales are a lovely idea in theory, but is sitting outside for 8 hours worth making a hundred bucks?  If you love garage sales and have fun hosting them, by all means, go for it!  But if you know you’ll most likely walk away disappointed with the sales and having to haul half your stuff back inside, it might be better to skip over it.
  • Is Facebook/Craigslist worth your time?  Things like Facebook marketplace have made it easier to quickly post items for sale and reach a massive amount of people.  But again, consider if it worth the back and forth time of posting the items, negotiating prices, and arranging a pick up?  For some items it definitely could be, but for others it won’t make sense.

You can certainly walk away with some extra cash, but I’d encourage you to not get caught up storing a bunch of stuff so that you can sell it later.  If you want to sell your items and have some good value things to part with, make a plan to either have a yard sale or post them online within 3 weeks.  If it hasn’t been done by then, donate it.

And speaking of donations – set aside time to do that as well.  I know I’ve been guilty of driving around for weeks with donation bags in my trunk!  Plan to drop off those donations as soon as possible.

Goodbye Clutter!

Alright ladies, now you’ve got your strategies and plan – it’s time to take action.  Use the next few weeks to get the house decluttered and organized and you’ll be able to relax in a clean, tranquil oasis – or perhaps just a place that doesn’t look like a tornado came through 😉 – come holiday time.

PS – Don’t forget to pin this post to refer to later!

A woman in a pile of clothes with a text overlay about decluttering your house

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Meagan

    Clutter has always caused me anxiety. I think that’s why I have as little as possible in my house.

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