Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy 10 Therapist-Backed Tips to Take the Stress out of Mess

10 Therapist-Backed Tips to Take the Stress out of Mess

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Ever wondered if there’s any truth to the old saying “a tidy house, a tidy mind?” As part of Stress Awareness Month, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) therapists share why clutter can lead to chaos and what you can do to restore calm.

“Chaotic, overwhelmed, agitated, inadequate, and out of control – just a few of the ways a cluttered environment can make you feel,” says BACP-accredited therapist and anxiety expert Kamalyn Kaur. 

Beth Whiting, a BACP registered therapist, says that this is because our brains like to seek out order and patterns, so clutter and disorder can make it hard work for us cognitively to relax and unwind.

“Clutter can also be a constant reminder of things we haven’t done yet, and when it builds up, it can cause overwhelm,” adds Beth.

But if clutter makes us feel this way, why do we allow it in our homes or at work?

Kamalyn says that for some people, clutter is a habit that they don’t seem to be bothered by, but for others, it can be a direct reflection of what’s going on in their mind, which could have serious implications to our health.

“For some people, clutter is just a way of life; they don’t see anything wrong with it.  But if you are overwhelmed with your home or work life and have too much going on, clutter can be a direct reflection of how your mind feels.

“A cluttered environment adds to the “busy-ness” in your head. If you are a tidy and neat person who likes things in order, then a cluttered home will make you feel that things are out of order. This, in turn, will create stress and overwhelm.”

Beth also notes that we all have different tolerance levels for clutter: “It may be that you recognise your space is cluttered but feel relaxed in it. However, if you are finding yourself preoccupied, frustrated and it’s getting in the way of you doing other things, maybe it’s time for a bit of a clear-out. Avoiding it makes the problem bigger in your mind and in reality, by beginning to engage with it, you can take back control and the problem can begin to diminish.”

“Having a tidy and uncluttered environment will help you to feel organised, clearer, and more in control, therefore helping you to feel calmer,” adds Kamalyn.

So is feeling stressed about clutter really a big deal?  One study has shown that women living in cluttered and stressful homes had higher levels of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress) and heightened depression symptoms compared to men, who seemed largely unaffected by the state of their home environments.

Beth says that there are certain types of stress that are good for us and can be a source of motivation. But chronic or extreme stress can have a very destructive impact on our bodies, from metabolism, to sleep and our immune system, All parts of us can be damaged by stress.

“Stress triggers the body’s fight and flight response, which creates feelings of being tense, on edge, overwhelmed, irritation, and frustration. As time goes on, the adrenaline and cortisol released in this fight and flight response will begin to show up in our bodies,” explains Kamalyn. 

“Symptoms include increased heart rate, high blood pressure, breathlessness, digestion issues, gastrointestinal issues, and suppressed immune system. Constant, ongoing stress is the root cause of many serious conditions. This can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, respiratory issues, chronic pain, and mental health disorders such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, or insomnia to name a few.”

So how can you avoid getting stressed over clutter?

Create a safe space

Kamalyn states that your home should be your “safe space”. A place where you come to relax, recharge, and reenergise.

“I strongly believe our environment has a big bearing on how we feel. It should be a place that you feel at ease in, not be irritated with. This is important now more than ever, especially since Covid, as a lot of people are still working from home. If you are one of these people, then your home needs to be a space that promotes creativity, relaxation, and productivity.”

Ask a friend to help

Beth Whiting says that clutter is often an indicator that we have become overly attached to items, making it difficult for us to throw them away. If this is the case, Beth suggests asking a friend to help to de-clutter to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

“Have them hold up the item and ask if you still need it, rather than touching it yourself!” advises Beth.

Stay in touch with your feelings

Kamalyn says that if you feel that your environment is beginning to affect your mood, your stress levels, or your ability to relax then it is time to remove anything that doesn’t need to be in that environment.

“You don’t have to get rid of it, just put it all out of sight in a different room. Only keep things in that space that you need,” shares Kamalyn.

Share how it makes you feel with family members

If other members of the family seem to be causing the clutter, then Kamalyn says it’s time to speak up:

“Communicate to others that you live with how clutter affects your health, wellbeing, and mood. They may not quite understand why the clutter bothers you so having an open and honest conversation will help them understand your point of view.”

Tackle it in bite size chunks

Beth says that if you’ve decided to tackle the cluttered area, it’s best to look at this as a series of small tasks.

“Break up an area into sections so it feels less overwhelming, start small and achievable. Take regular breaks too – step outside, move and stretch to help regulate your nervous system.”

Buy less stuff

Beth also says that if you’re taking the steps to remove your clutter, it’s worth being mindful of what you bring into your home or work environment from now on.

“If the magazine subscription keeps piling up unopened, cancel it. We accumulate way more than we need and if you know that you have difficulty getting rid of things, try and be more conscious of what you bring into the house.”

Find a bigger purpose

Beth adds that it may also help to find a bigger purpose to help motivate your de-cluttering efforts.

“Perhaps there’s a charity shop you can donate to or a recycling drive, think of the bigger picture of what you could be contributing to by clearing out to bring the focus away from yourself.”

Practise compassionate detachment

BACP therapist Lorraine Collins says that learning to view our thoughts and feelings with compassionate detachment can be a game-changer in managing our stress levels, especially when coping with the chaos of clutter.

“Practising compassionate detachment involves observing your thoughts and emotions as if they were clouds passing in the sky—noticeable, but not defining you,” shares Lorraine.  “Start by reminding yourself: I am not my thoughts; I am the observer of my thoughts. This practice can help reduce the intensity of stressful feelings and bring a sense of calm clarity.”

Cultivate curiosity

Lorraine adds that we often experience stress when we’re resisting what is happening in our lives, and explains that cultivating a mindset of curiosity can transform our relationship with stressful situations:

“When faced with stressful situations, ask yourself: What can I learn from this? How can this situation help me grow? Approaching stress with curiosity rather than resistance can open up new pathways for coping and understanding, making us more resilient to future stressors.” 

Build a “stress-first aid” kit

Lorraine also suggests that just as we have first aid kits for physical wounds, creating a “stress-first aid” kit can be a proactive way to deal with emotional turmoil.

“Fill your kit with items that soothe and comfort you – maybe a particular scent, a comforting texture, a playlist of calming music, or photos that bring you joy,” says Lorraine. “When you feel stress levels rising, reach for your kit and allow yourself a moment of comfort and grounding.”

You can find a registered BACP-registered therapist who can help you with stress on their website. You can find a BACP-registered therapist to assist with stress on their website.

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