Tidy desk, tidy mind. A saying that pops up time and time again and a hype that everyone seems to be jumping on. Just log onto Instagram and you’ll be met with thousands of minimalist white desks, IKEA pen pots and copper lamps, as well as before and after snaps of clutter free spaces.
Clutter has a way of weaning its way into our lives, in many forms. Whether it’s our workspaces, kitchen cupboards or that one drawer that won’t quite shut anymore because of all the random crap in it.
How vital is it, however, to stay on top of your belongings? Does it affect more than just our storage space? Can it, in fact, have a negative impact on our health? We decided to investigate.
What does clutter do to the brain?
When we’re presented with a messy desk, untidy gym or a chaotic work space, our brain’s stimuli compete for neural representation, according to research conducted by the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.
During the study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging and other physiological measurement tools. This mapped the brain’s response to organized and disorganized stimuli and analyzed task performance. The conclusion? The more clutter there is in your eye line, the more easily you’ll be distracted. You also become less efficient at processing information.
With this in mind, it’s easy to assume that the solution to a lack of productivity is a quick tidy up, however, it’s more complicated than that.
Putting stuff off
Procrastination is that dark cloud that follows us around from time to time, affecting some more than others. It’s the little voice in our head that encourages us to take a break or leave our work until the last minute.
Although we like to think that we’re stronger than our urges, we might be procrastinating without thinking about it. Tidying a workspace, for example, can be seen as a form of procrastination, especially if you’re convincing yourself that you need to do it in order to be successful at the job at hand.
Take note of what you do before you start a task. Spending 20 minutes tidying your living room so you can do a workout might seem like a productive use of your time. But, could those 20 minutes have been spent on the workout itself? If the answer is yes, you may actually be delaying your goals.
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What about our health?
For some, the right amount of mess can help inspire them and put them in the mood to get to work. In fact, for many creatives, clutter is vital to creating art – in whatever medium. In general, however, clutter can have detrimental effects on our mood, productivity and overall health.
In the book, Life at Home in The Twenty-First Century, anthropologists, social scientists, and archaeologists found that there was a link between a plethora of household objects and a homeowners health. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it was the women’s long term health that was affected, whereas men weren’t affected by the messy environment.
Why? Being surrounded by mess is essentially like having a constant to do list staring you in the face. These cluttered spaces can make us perpetually on edge and stressed. When we’re stressed or anxious, our cortisol levels rise and this can have negative consequences to our immune system, blood sugar levels, weight and cardiovascular health.
Can clutter make you put on weight?
While the idea that a messy desk can cause you to put on the pounds may seem farfetched, it might not be. In his book, Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight, Peter Walsh, organizational expert, points to developing research that may conclude that weight and excess clutter are closely linked to each other.
Walsh explores the idea that anxiety and depression are both symptoms that can contribute to putting on weight and clutter which can result in heightened anxiety and depression, basically a vicious circle of mental health.
When we learn to organize our life – think meal plans and storage solutions – we create a better environment for ourselves to thrive in. For example, getting your herbs and spice rack in order is going to encourage you to cook from scratch. Whereas if you’re in a kitchen with no surface space and untidy cupboard, you’re more likely to reach for the takeaway leaflet.
According to a few studies, hoarders are more likely to be overweight and it might be your genetics to blame. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that a genetic variation in a gene sequence which substitutes valine for methionine can lead to a brain disorder responsible for hoarding and overeating.
Clearing out the clutter from your home can essentially help you declutter your mind. While a messy home may not directly impact your health, it can promote unhealthy habits and cause stress and anxiety which can result in ill health later down the line.
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