Messy Room, Messy Head

Messy Room, Messy Head

by Raina Krell, PhD, PCCI

Your physical space is a reflection of your mindset. Have you noticed that once you clear the clutter off your desk, clean your kitchen or even re-organize your purse, you feel a sense of relief?  Time spent searching for misplaced or obscured items in a disordered environment reduces quality time spent engaging in constructive activities, loving relationships, or simply just having fun!  When we are distracted by the details that dangle around us, the clutter serves as a reminder that our work is never done…the result: a deflating emotional experience that negatively impacts our health and our relationships.  

Most people are unaware of how their messy practices, both small and large, are at the root of so many issues they may be experiencing.  Feeling disorganized by your space can have a negative impact on your daily mood, your productivity at work, your close relationships, and your overall physical health.  Conversely, feeling more organized can really boost your energy level and inspire prominent feelings of accomplishment, balance and wellness overall.

You may be wondering how serious of a problem being a bit messy can be?

Some may dismiss a messy room as a minor nuisance, or perhaps optimistically consider disarray as the sign of a creative spirit.  However, experts argue that clutter can have a profound impact on so many aspects of your life. Being disorganized negatively influences eating and exercise habits, as well as creating tension and conflict within your relationships.  Harvard Medical School clinical instructor, Dr. Selhub states: “Disorganization can lead to shame and embarrassment and actually create a physical and emotional boundary around you that prevents you from letting people in.”   

Research has found that being disorganized and having piles of “stuff” around us significantly disrupts our ability to focus and be effective in our day-to-day lives.  Princeton University Neuroscience Institute (2011) concluded that when our visual field is cluttered, our critical cognitive skills of attention and concentration are strained by the competing demands of environmental chaos. Outcome studies observed reduced performance and increased physical/psychological stress. According to a study published by UCLA researchers in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, women who live in cluttered homes reported feeling more depressed and fatigued, they relayed feeling less interested in inviting others into their homes, and indicated experiencing lower levels of marital satisfaction, as compared to their neat counterparts.  This research concluded that significantly higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol were assessed in those that live in disorganized environments; whereas those with uncluttered spaces viewed their homes as sanctuaries of restoration and relaxation.

So, how do we tidy our messy rooms? And thus, transform our messy heads?

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits offers many helpful suggestions~ “Don’t worry about perfection. Just get it simpler. You can always declutter it more later.”  Start simply, begin with a “10 minutes a day” rule.

  • Take just 10 minutes today to sort through a pile, or declutter a shelf or table or countertop.
  • Put everything into one pile, and start with the first thing you pick up (no putting things back in the pile).
  • Ask yourself: do you really need this? Do you use it regularly? Do you love it? If the answer to any of these is no, then recycle, donate, or give it to someone who might want it. Put it in a box for these purposes.
  • Put things back that you need/use/love, with space between things. This is their “home” and you should always put them back there.
  • Stop after 10 minutes, continue tomorrow for another 10 minutes, and so on, one small spot in your home at a time. If you want to do more than 10 minutes, go ahead, but be careful not to overdo it in the beginning or you’ll think it’s difficult and not want to continue.


Then, step back and acknowledge your efforts!  “Enjoy the space. Once you’ve decluttered an area, really focus on how much you love the simplified space. Once you’re hooked on this simplicity, you’re more likely to keep going” (Babauta, 2013).  

“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” ~Albert Einstein

Living and working in a clean, organized environment can improve your psychological health, physical well-being, constructive energy, and so many other unforeseen aspects of your life.  Westlake Village Therapists believe that you will feel renewed and restored by cleaning out your cluttered spaces.  What is the downside? What can truly be gained? Try it today and see what happens!!

Babauta, L. (2013). Declutter. Zen Habits. Retrieved from

McMains, S. & Kastner, S. (2011). Interactions of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in human visual cortex, Journal of Neuroscience, 31(2), 587-597.


Saxbe, D.E. & Repetti, R. (2009). No place like home: Home tours correlate with daily patterns of mood and cortisol. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(1), 71-81.

Selhub, E. (2015).  Your health destiny: How to unlock your natural ability to overcome illness, feel better, and live longer. New York, NY: HarperOne.


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