Does a Clean House = Clear Mind?

Shmuel Fischler, LCSW-C · April 12, 2018

clean houseThe trend of spring cleaning and decluttering is hotter than ever thanks to the Kon Mari Method and a renewed cultural interest in minimalism. While regular decluttering can be perfectly healthy, an obsession with shedding possessions can quickly spiral out of control. How can you tell if your spring cleaning routine (or lifestyle) is taking a toll on your mental health?

The Benefits of Removing Clutter

Having clutter in your personal space can quickly lead to distraction and excess stress. The pile of pizza boxes in your recycling bin and stacks of paper surrounding your workspace aren’t just bad for your Tinder date; they can also harm your mental state. In fact, most Americans count organization and cleanliness among the top 5 stressors that they face. In another study, women were found to have chronic levels of cortisol, a damaging stress hormone, if they thought of their home as cluttered.

In that regard, spring cleaning can be wonderful for your mental health. Removing the visual clutter from your space will, if nothing else, remove one obstacle to living a life with less stress. Putting effort into deep cleaning your apartment or home and then investing a few hours a day into maintaining it can do wonders.

Your Relationship with Clutter and Organization

Many people assume that decluttering and spring cleaning are positive since they are the opposite of hoarding, but that is not always the case. If you cannot tolerate having a mess in your living space or cannot rest without throwing things away or cleaning, it’s a sign that your relationship with clutter is less than healthy. Spring cleaning is a problem when the motivation behind it is obsessive thoughts and not a simple desire to be tidier. While hoarding is considered a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (DSM), obsessive decluttering is instead considered a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Signs Your Relationship with Clutter is Unhealthy

While diagnosis is not possible without talking to a qualified therapist and psychology professional, ask yourself the following questions to determine if your relationship with spring cleaning might be unhealthy:

  • Do you have high levels of fear or guilt when you think about how many items you own?
  • Does throwing away an item give you a rush of relief?
  • If you receive a gift that is multiple items, do you feel extreme anxiety?
  • Do you have financial difficulties as a result of your cycle of purging items and/or purchasing the right items?
  • Do you declutter categories of objects because they do not fit in with your idea of what is positive or safe (the wrong color, dirty, the wrong shape, etc.)?
  • Do you feel that you could finally relax if you reach the “perfect” number and selection of items in your living space, but never seem to be closer to getting there?
  • When you are experiencing anxiety, do you throw things away to soothe your emotions?
  • Do you habitually discard items and then regret your actions later, leading you to re-purchase the item?

Get Help for Your Spring Cleaning Difficulties 

If you are struggling with obsessive thoughts or concerned that your spring cleaning urges might be a symptom of a bigger problem, you might need some professional help. Reach out to CBT Baltimore at 443-470-9815. We would love to help.