Toys, toys, and more toys. They seem to multiply and take over the house, even when buying new toys is limited to modest gifts at birthdays and Christmas. Granted, the grandparents can be just a tad generous in spoiling little people with small gifts every time they see them! Like, errrrry single visit. Sometimes the toy clutter can get kinda out of control.
Science links clutter with poor health
Multiple scientific studies have found that being surrounded by too much stuff can be bad for us. In fact disorganized environments can have a measurable negative impact on our physical and mental health.
Researchers have discovered that clutter can make us anxious, stressed, depressed, feel overwhelmed or helpless, and cause frustration. It can produce feelings of guilt and embarrassment, and lead to low self esteem.
Not only does a messy home impact our mind and mood, it can also affect the rest of our body. Various studies have uncovered links between clutter and bad sleep, unhealthy eating, being overweight, reduced memory, and higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. Untidy rooms can also impede our ability to concentrate and hinder productivity.
So why does a disorganized home have this effect?
The distraction factor
Researchers believe that too much stuff surrounding us is the source of excess stimuli that distracts us, making it harder to focus.
Neuroscientists at Princeton University found that clutter competes for our attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress. This impaired ability to concentrate makes us less productive and can even reduce our memory capacity.
“Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.” Says Dr Sherri Bourg Carter, writing for Psychology Today.
She says disorganized environments make it more difficult to relax. “Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done. Clutter makes us anxious because we’re never sure what it’s going to take to get through to the bottom of the pile.”
Not to mention the inefficiency and frustration caused by not being able to find what we want when we need it. Lost keys anyone? Or have you ever had the experience of trying to hurry a child out the door while they try to find a specific toy in a panic?
As well as causing distraction and preventing us from finding what we need quickly, Dr Bourg Carter says clutter also inhibits creativity “by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brainstorm, and problem solve.”
Clutter can cause stress and affect mental health
More seriously, chronically messy houses can lead to anxiety and depression.
This study in 2009 discovered that mothers living in cluttered homes had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to depressed mood.
Messy rooms can also cause residents to have a negative perception of their home and greater dissatisfaction with life in general.
UCLA’s Centre for Everyday Lives & Families concluded from their research that clutter has a strong effect not only on mood but also self esteem.
The physical impact of mess
Disorganisation affects our body as well as our brain.
Several studies have found a link between clutter and poor eating choices. Participants in one study were twice as likely to choose a chocolate bar than an apple when offered the choice in a chaotic room, while researchers in a 2017 joint study between Sydney’s UNSW and Cornell University, NY, observed that people in a messy room ate double the number of sweet treats than those in an organised room.
They concluded that cluttered environments like a messy kitchen affect snacking behavior by creating an out-of-control mindset. “…a chaotic environment can create a vulnerability to making unhealthy food choices, one’s mind-set in that environment can either trigger or buffer against that vulnerability.”
Extreme clutter can even affect our sleep, according to this research.
The links between clutter and anxiety can also lead to longer term health implications.
“A chronically cluttered home environment can lead to a constant low-grade fight or flight response, taxing our resources designed for survival. This response can trigger physical and psychological changes that affect how we fight bugs and digest food, as well as leaving us at greater risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.” Says Libby Sander, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Bond University.
Clutter can even affect our relationships
In 2016 researchers at Cornell University discovered that a busy background in a film scene made it harder for viewers to interpret the actor’s facial expressions and thereby the character’s emotional responses.
This impact on our ability to process visual information could have consequences for our relationships.
“If this finding holds true in daily life, it means that you’ll be less accurate in figuring out how other people are really feeling when you’re seeing them amidst a clutter-filled room.” Says Dr Susan Krauss Whitbourne in Psychology Today.
Getting organised is good for us
While some of the research on clutter focuses on extreme cases such as hoarding, and some results can only be definitively said to have links with certain behaviours rather than necessarily causing them (eg. Does disorganisation cause inactivity or is a person who takes good care of their home also the type of person who takes good care of their body?), experts agree that getting organised can be very good for us.
Tidying up will not just remove the risk of all those negative effects but can actually have a positive impact.
“Decluttering can be hugely beneficial to our mental health” according to British-based mental health advocacy group The Blurt Foundation.
“Sorting through our stuff can really boost our mood. When we’ve sorted something out we gain a sense of achievement and a feeling of control. We can also feel ‘lighter’ and more optimistic.”
They also point out that donating excess belongings to charity can give you a ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling inside, plus the bonus of some extra cash if you sell unwanted items.
Physical order can even be linked with generosity. The study mentioned above involving chocolate bars and apples, found that as well as making healthier choices about what they ate, people in an ordered environment were also more likely to donate to charity.
Psychologist Dr Brenna Renn at the University of Washington says decluttering and ordering your home can make you feel more content.
“I do think that we are hardwired as humans to look for patterns in our environment and to find comfort in predictable patterns and occurrences… If we can make our home environments these predictable environments, it might support our mental health.”
There’s a reason why decluttering queen Marie Kondo’s Netflix series was hugely popular (aside from a well-timed January release while everyone’s in “new year, new me” fresh-start mode). Followers of the KonMarie craze say that organizing and tidying their home has changed their life for the better, just as her best-selling book’s title promises.
Tidy life, happy wife
Personally, I know that disorder in my home makes me stressed, grumpy, and rather unpleasant to be around. Just ask my (very patient) husband! And nothing does my head in more than a mess of toys scattered throughout the house.
That’s why I created these toy storage labels and have plans for similar sets for other areas of the house and to organize family life. The idea is to have ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’.
Making it clear for all household members to easily see where things belong calms the chaos and makes it sooo much easier to get my little person to put their toys away.
Are toys cluttering up your home?
Do you find that toys make up much of the clutter in your home? If you’d like to create a more calm and clutter-free environment at your place, can I suggest starting by organizing your household’s toys.
I’m planning a series of articles here on the blog to help with getting toys organised, including tips from a professional organizer – look out on @littlebuttonblue social media accounts (on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest) for when those posts are published, or sign-up for the free email newsletter to be automatically notified when they’re available.
In the meantime, I can help with labels for your toy containers! Choose from the full set of 20 wooden swing tags to tie onto your toy baskets or get started with our basic set of 12. See them in more detail or order your set from our etsy shop now.
(image credit: photo courtesy of a Little Button Blue customer)