You’ve probably heard the phrase “a tidy home is a tidy mind,” but is it good advice or just a nice saying? An organized house feels great but finding the time, or desire, to clean, is often easier said than done. A little clutter never hurt anyone—right?
There might be some truth to the age-old saying after all. Too much stuff laying around is more than just an eyesore, it can change how your brain works. If you’re looking to be more productive, a little organization can go a long way.
One study found that when there are multiple things in our line of sight, say a desk covered in scattered pens, papers, cups, etc., for example, all those objects compete for your brain’s attention.1 It tries to take in all those things at once and doesn’t know what to focus on first, which makes it hard to focus on any one thing. Think of all things in your field of vision as “visual pollution,” they’re all fighting for your attention. The more things there are, the harder it is to block it all out. Too much visual pollution leads to mental overload and can even reduce working memory.2
In addition to the visual distraction, the idea of needing to clean can weigh on you mentally. It becomes something on your mental to-do list, which can stop you from relaxing. It’s hard to kick up your feet at the end of a long day if all you see is dirty dishes or all you can think about is the pile of mail. The human brain really likes order, which means for some, a disorganized space could cause tension and anxiety.
Sometimes the worst part of any mess is simply not being able to find what you’re looking for when you need it most. When you can’t find your keys, phone, wallet, bag, child’s homework assignment, etc., especially if you’re already running late, it only adds to your stress and frustration.
If clutter and disorganization can lead to mental strain, cleaning can be a way to physically take back control. Even the smallest action can make an immediate and noticeable difference. Does that mean your house always needs to be spotless for you to be happy and healthy? Not at all. Instead, think of key areas of your home where a bit more organization could help lessen your mental load. A clutter-free desk could help you be more productive and less distracted while you’re working at it. A tidy—or some days just tidy-enough—living room could help you clear your head and relax. A put-together “command center” in your kitchen, entryway, or just by the door can help avoid the last-minute scramble for those important things. Whenever you can spare a few minutes to organize, start with those important spaces.
Whether you’re busy at work, with family, or just not sure where to start, there are simple ways to add a little more organization to your life. These ten ideas can help you declutter in a way that fits your life, without making it your top priority.
Looking for more ways to build healthier habits and improve your overall well-being? A MOBE Guide can give you one-to-one support. Get started today.
1. McMains, S., and S. Kastner. “Interactions of Top-down and Bottom-up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex.” Journal of Neuroscience 31, no. 2 (2011): 587–97. https://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/2/587.
2. Gaspar, John M., Gregory J. Christie, David J. Prime, Pierre Jolicœur, and John J. McDonald. “Inability to Suppress Salient Distractors Predicts Low Visual Working Memory Capacity.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, no. 13 (2016): 3693–98.