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Why pandemic stress breeds clutter—and how to break the cycle

Clutter increases stress

Clutter increases stress

"Cleanliness is next to godliness," theologian John Wesley said in a sermon.

When we see clutter, we can't think of anything else until it is dealt with. This feeling has intensified as more people have had to live and work at home. Researchers confirmed that disorganized or cluttered workspaces seem to increase stress and anxiety.


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Why pandemic stress breeds clutter—and how to break the cycle

Why pandemic stress breeds clutter—and how to break the cycle


Key Ideas

Clutter increases stress

"Cleanliness is next to godliness," theologian John Wesley said in a sermon.

When we see clutter, we can't think of anything else until it is dealt with. This feeling has intensified as more people have had to live and work at home. Researchers confirmed that disorganized or cluttered workspaces seem to increase stress and anxiety.

A mess is a mark of creativity

  • Lawrence J. Peter famously asked, "If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?"
  • Albert Einstein had a messy desk, so did innovative thinkers, such as Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs.
  • One study confirmed that students working in disorderly spaces came up with more creative ideas than those in clean areas. Clutter then causes more stress for some people, while others can cope with it.

Your divided attention

Many people are not good at processing clutter. It can become overwhelming and make our brains do more work to complete tasks.

The more stimuli we receive, the more the brain has to filter out the necessary. When you remove the competing objects, focusing becomes much easier, and productivity increases. Clutter can cause our bodies to release cortisol, the stress hormone. Long-term exposure to clutter can result in chronic stress.

Mind over clutter

Organized, comfortable areas that feel inviting make for more productive environments than chaotic and messy ones.

If cleaning up is difficult, one can implement a strategy of mindfulness. When you notice you're having cluttered thoughts, ask if you really need to be thinking about that now? Could you write it down instead? The people working from home best might not be the neatest people, but they have trained themselves not the react to the distractions.



Worry is the cognitive part of anxiety, with it's repetitive and obsessive thought patterns in our mind. Worry is sometimes essential for us to solve problems or take action, provided we are not st...


Stress is a biological response(or a reaction) to external changes and forces beyond one's resources. Signs of stress include a rapid heart rate, shallow breath, and an adrenaline rush.

Acute stress or temporary stress is normal and even beneficial. Chronic stress is linked to health concerns like heart disease and a weakened immune system.

Ways to Handle Stress:

  • Exercise daily.
  • Focus your energy on what you can control.
  • Know that your stress response is unique to you.

Anxiety is the culmination of worry and stress. It is a state of body and mind which is stressed and worried for no apparent reason, like a response to a false alarm.

An anxiety disorder is an acute form of anxiety and a serious medical condition.

How to Handle Anxiety:

  • Curb your sugar, alcohol and caffeine consumption.
  • Calm yourself by deep breathing and refocusing on your body parts.
  • Distract yourself by listening to music or a little exercise.
Stress, worry and anxiety can be helped by regular exercise, a nutritious diet and an ample amount of sleep.
    Reduce the stress of clutter
    • Apply constraints and stick to them: to tabs open in your browser, notebooks, magazines etc.
    • Use small storage spaces: Less room means less room for c...
    Find places that inspire you

    You might not be in a position to choose your workspace, but there are quick fixes: look for a spot with natural light from a window or skylight, take a walk outside when you feel stuck, or simply explore a new location. 

    A new environment can quite literally lead to new ideas.

    Task association

    It's when your brain knows that when you’re in a certain place, you’re taking a certain action.

    Take advantage of the way different locations affect you. Our brains love habits, and if we can associate certain qualities with different places, it can help us get into a better working flow. 

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    Reducing Stress

    Many styles of meditation can help reduce stress.

    • In an eight-week study, a meditation style called "mindfulness meditation" reduced the inflammation response caused by stres...
    Controlling Anxiety

    Less stress leads to less anxiety.

    Regular meditation helps reduce anxiety and anxiety-related mental health issues like social anxiety, phobias and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

    Promoting Emotional Health

    Some types of meditation can improve depression and help you maintain these benefits.

    • Two studies of mindfulness meditation found decreased depression in over 4,600 adults.
    • One study found that participants experienced a long-term decrease in depression.

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    Stress as a personal choice
    Stress as a personal choice
    • Getting psychologically and visibly stressed out could be "manufactured stress". It is a way of showing that what we are doing is important. 
    • Sometimes we cause our own ...

    Also known as Fear of Better Options (F.O.B.O.), is the relentless researching of all possible options for fear that you’ll miss out on the “best” one.

    Though maximizers tend to make b...

    Mostly Fine Decision (MFD)

    Your M.F.D. is the minimum outcome you’re willing to accept for a decision.

    It’s the outcome you’d be fine with, even if it’s not the absolute best possibility.

    Clean up your workspaces

    End the workday by taking a minute to tidy your desk, save everything you’re working on, and close of all your tabs and windows. Make sure your work app notifications are automatically snoozed outs...

    Review your "to-done’s"

    Boost your mood and motivation by taking the time to review your completed tasks at the end of each day.
    One of the easiest and most effective ways to stay motivated and build momentum at work is to celebrate your progress.

    The procrastination “doom loop”

    Confront the things you’ve been putting off. If you keep putting things off, you'll feel guilty and that makes you want to avoid them even more. You will get stuck in the “doom loop” of anxiety and avoidance.
    Break this loop by identifying the tasks that you’ve been avoiding, break them down into smaller tasks and schedule the next step for the following day.

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    Clutter drains you of your time. If you live in a cluttered place, you will spend extra time looking for lost items: keys, money, shoes, tools, etc. 

    And even when you’r...

    • When you don’t have financial papers organized, bills can get lost, causing you to accrue fees for being late with the payments.
    • Replacing lost items and buying duplicates of those we didn’t realize we already had can carry a cost that adds up quickly.

    Examples of stress clutter can cause:

    • Having guests over becomes an embarrassment or an event that takes all-day preparation.
    • Each room carries visual reminders of all the work that needs to be done in the way of cleaning.
    • According to the principles of feng shui, clutter drains you of your positive energy.

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    Your sleep cycles aren't optimized

    Your sleep cycles are approximately 75 to 90 minutes each. Factors like stress levels and unstable blood sugar levels can throw off your sleep cycles regardless of how much time you spend i...

    You’re not moving enough

    Don't mistake the occasional workout for living an active lifestyle. 

    Standing up and doing 50 jumping jacks or bodyweight squats will instantly make you feel more energized.

    Set a timer on your phone to do two minutes of bodyweight exercises every 90 minutes.

    You're deficient in crucial nutrients

    Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzymatic processes that help keep you energized and healthy. Without magnesium, your body can't effectively do these processes and you will feel drained.

    Make sure to eat four to five servings of magnesium-rich foods like spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds and almonds every day or consider adding in a magnesium supplement.

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    Understanding Stress
    • Dealing with Stress is imperative as it is unavoidable in modern life.
    • Our work, family and our finances create daily stress and other external factors (like politics and terrorism) co...
    Your Perception About Stress

    With stress, the mind and the body are intrinsically linked. You can view stress as something that is wreaking havoc on your body (and it can) or as something that is giving you the strength and energy to overcome adversity.

    Exposure to Stress

    Regular exposure to stress in small quantities can prepare us to handle a big stressful event in our lives. Prepare yourself for stress by self-education about the stressful event, by doing some physically stressful activities like completing a marathon, or something you dread, like giving a speech.

    Repeated exposure to mildly stressful conditions can alter your body’s biological response to stress, making you manage stress in a better way.

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    Categories of Organizing
    Categories of Organizing
    1. Documents. The way you name your files can dramatically improve the organization of both your physical and your digital documents. Be consistent with file naming. 
    2. ...
    Measuring Productivity

    The best gauge of being well organized, "is just the lack of anxiety that comes from a clean comfortable workspace where you feel like things aren't piling up and overwhelming you."

    The Sources of Clutter

    Common sources of clutter for entrepreneurs include business cards, printouts from the Web, and literature from conferences and seminars.

    A good way to get rid of clutter is to turn each piece of paper that you're keeping around into an action item in your planner. 

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