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The Cost of Clutter

How Does Clutter Affect You? What Level of Clutter is Realistic?


Updated June 11, 2014

Man sitting at a cluttered desk with books piled in the hall

Decluttering your home can help you to create a peaceful environment for yourself, which brings many benefits you may not be aware of!

Bigshots/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Clutter: most of us have a little of it here or there. In fact, many of us have more than just a little: According to a poll conducted on this site, over a third of readers avoid going home because of the overwhelming mess and don’t know where to begin cleaning. (In contrast, less than 10 percent say their homes are clutter-free.) How is all this mess affecting us?

  • Time: People often think of clutter as an energy drain, but it also drains us of our time. How? People in cluttered homes spend extra time virtually every day looking for lost items such as keys, money, shoes, tools, etc. Even when we’re looking right at the lost item, it becomes difficult to see it when surrounded by clutter--and the extra time it takes to search through the mess adds up quickly.

    Money: When we don’t have bills and financial papers organized, bills can get lost, causing us to accrue late fees. Replacing lots items, and buying duplicates of those we didn’t realize we already had, can also carry a cost that adds up quickly.

    Stress: The most obvious toll that clutter takes is added stress on one's life. Here are some 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.
  • Using your home for activities like scrapbooking or yoga becomes difficult or impossible without taking significant time to clear the space.
  • According to the principles of Feng Shui, clutter drains you of your positive energy. You can actually feel it.
  • A cluttered home, rather than a haven from stress, is a big stressor in itself, and intensifies the frustration and exhaustion that an already-stressed person feels.

What’s a Realistic Level of Clutter?
For most of us, especially for parents of small children, it’s not realistic to maintain a home in perfect order every moment of each day. While it’s inspirational to thumb through catalogs that show beautifully furnished rooms or walk through a wonderfully un-cluttered model home, holding oneself to such high standards of neatness may not only be unrealistic, but can cause additional stress. For example, if you find yourself nagging or resenting other family members for the minor messes that they make to the point that it strains family harmony, you may need to relax your standards. But knowing the toll that clutter takes, how much clutter is too much?

While we know that piles of clutter can cause stress and a perfect home may be unrealistic for some people, the level of tolerable clutter may vary from person to person. Here are some guidelines to follow to help you decide where you should draw the line on clutter:

  • Company: Do you like to have your home neat enough to have drop-in company? Are you happy to be company-ready after 15 minutes of cleaning?
  • Organization: Is your home organized enough that you can generally find everything you’re looking for without having to search?
  • Stress Level: Can you truly relax in your home, or is it an energy drain?

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