How Decluttering Affects Your Mental Health

The Minimalist Wardrobe

3 reasons why you should let go of what’s not needed, according to research

How Decluttering Affects Your Mental Health

Illustration by Hannah Beasley

We talk a lot about the freeing feeling a closet declutter gives you, and it truly is a cathartic experience that leaves you with a clearer and calmer mind. You can picture it before getting started, but the feeling always ends up being better than expected.

This is not just some minimalist mumbo jumbo. There’s plenty of research backing up the benefits decluttering has on your mental health, which is why we’re promoting our mini course Letting Go of Unneeded Stuff so passionately. The course teaches how your brain plays tricks on you and makes decluttering so difficult, allowing you to more accurately assess what’s truly needed, and finally let go of what isn’t—in a totally stress free manner.

If you choose to go through a closet declutter—or even a complete home declutter—let’s look at all the mental health benefits that await you.

Your Home is a Vital Source of Meaning, Belonging, and Identity

Surrounding yourself with belongings that are truly important to you, helps form your self-identity. They make your home your home—a foundational source of feeling secure and safe.

So even from a minimalist point of view, not all stuff is bad. The problem is too much stuff, partly because it dilutes the positive impact from your meaningful possessions. When 80% of your stuff is something you don’t really care for, the beforementioned benefits are lost to a large extent.

Decluttering improves the ratio of important belongings to unneeded ones, which strengthens your self-identity and boosts the feelings of security and safety that a home is supposed to give you. This applies to all of your possessions, but being that clothes are something that you actually put on yourself, your wardrobe is second to none when it comes to forming your self-identity and feeling confident.

A Messy Home Simply Puts You in a Bad Mood

Research shows that those who describe their homes in stressful terms—e.g., as messy, cluttered, disarrayed, unorganized, disorganized, overflowing, chaotic, unfinished, half-finished or sloppy—experienced below-normal changes in cortisol levels, indicative of poor psychological and physical well-being.

This group also reported experiencing depressed moods as the day went on.

On the flip side, people who described their homes as restful, relaxing, calming, comforting, soothing, serene, pleasurable, quiet, or peaceful—they experienced sharper changes in cortisol levels, indicative of greater psychological and physical well-being. This group did not report depressed moods at any point.

Interestingly, this only applied to women. Men’s moods weren’t affected by the state of their homes. The optimistic way of thinking about this, if you’re a woman, is that decluttering your wardrobe and the rest of your home is an easy recipe for a happiness boost.

Remember, the trick to stay organized is to own less stuff. Otherwise it’s highly likely to just keep bouncing back to the cluttered default.

Declutter to Boost Productivity

Our brains like order, and constant visual reminders of disorganization drain our cognitive resources and reduce our ability to focus. That’s the conclusion by researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute.

Simply stated, feeling overwhelmed of stuff makes you procrastinate. A cluttered home environment may even lead to coping and avoidance strategies, such as snacking or watching TV. As if those wouldn’t be tempting enough already.

Humans don’t need to be the ultimate productivity machines day in and day out, but it’s still nice to feel constantly ready to jump on any project you choose to take on—be it reading a new book, writing one, going out for a jog, or designing your dream home.

Decluttering your home is the first step to put you in that mood.

Conclusion

The seemingly simple act of decluttering—getting rid of clothes and other stuff in your home that you don’t have use for—has quite the effect on your well being. A stronger self-identity, feelings of security and safety, a happy and clear mind, as well as more energy to make the things happen you want in life, can all be boosted by going through your possessions and letting go what isn’t needed.

The hardest part is getting started, followed by a few cognitive biases that make us hold on to our belongings. Once you get on your way, and start feeling the rewards kicking in, it usually gets easier. Good luck!