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Dishes built up on a counter.

4 ways clutter causes anxiety

Feeling anxious? Look around your home, office or car – clutter could be the culprit. So, what is it about messes that give us anxiety?

  1. Clutter can seem never-ending. “Clutter can be overwhelming,” says Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont.  “It can seem like it would take an enormous effort to do something about it.”

  2. Clutter is a distraction and time-waster. It can prevent you from finding what you’re looking for, whether it’s an unpaid bill or a missing sock. “The mess keeps beckoning to you, causing frustration and unease to kick in every time you see it,” he says.

  3. Clutter can trigger guilty feelings. Every time you look at a pile of mail or boxes to recycle, you may silently berate yourself for not being more organized.

  4. Clutter dampers creativity and productivity. When you literally can’t see what you’re doing or you’re constantly trying to figure out if you responded to a phone message, you don’t have much room for creativity or problem-solving in your brain. “You aren’t at your creative best when you’re stressed out,” says Buttimer. “When you feel better, you’ll perform better.”

How to reduce clutter-related anxiety

  • Start small. Which cluttered area, drawer or pile causes the most stress? Start there. “Clutter affects each person differently,” he says. A pile of laundry in the corner may drive you crazy, but you don’t notice dirty dishes in the sink.  

  • Set a timer for 15 minutes and tackle the mess. Fifteen minutes is doable, keeps you focused on the task at hand and doesn’t feel overwhelming in the way an all-day decluttering session might. Even if you don’t finish cleaning up, you’ve put a dent in it and that’s a step in the right direction.

  • Relax. Even small progress can reduce stress and anxiety. “When you get an area organized, it’s almost like your body relaxes and you can exhale,” says Buttimer. “And when the body is relaxed, you’re at your best.”

Ready for a fresh start? Try these tips for decluttering your life.

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