Clutter_I_like_mine_shaken_not_stirred_why_clutter_can_contribute_to_anxietyClutter…I like mine shaken not stirred: Why clutter can contribute to anxiety 

Ever go to a speakeasy and watch a skilled mixologist? The cocktails they create are pieces of art. They stimulate not only our taste buds but our eyes and sense of smell. Our brains are like that perfect cocktail…an exact combination of chemicals and external stimuli that keeps us in balance…aka our happy place.

Throw too many bitters in a drink and the flavor profile is destroyed. Clutter is just like that. Too much and our happy brains depart the tracks and head into anxiety-ville.


  1. Feelings of guilt — You keep telling yourself, “I’ll get to it later,” or “Not now.” Those statements lead to guilt tripping yourself. “I should be organized,” or “Why can’t I be more like (fill in the blank)?” These statements become part of your belief system about yourself. You start believing that you aren’t living up to standards.
  2. Clutter can cause a feeling of disorganization and anxiety — Okay, some people say they don’t mind clutter. But the reality is…clutter is disorganization. When surrounded by failed organizing systems, whether in your home or at work, feelings of being overwhelmed, worry that you will never get rid of the items, and frustration by the accumulated piles of paper or stuff cause systems in our bodies to react, which in turn, creates anxiety.
  3. It’s hard to relax — Even when we metaphorically, or literally, close the door on that pile or room, it still haunts us like some pesky ghost that simply won’t disappear…and not in that fun Ghostbusters kind of way. Instead of watching a movie and eating popcorn with your friends or family, focusing on being fully in the moment with those around you, your mind keeps wandering back to what you “should” be doing. And that’s when good ole #1 (guilt) jumps into your lap to steal your popcorn.
  4. Focus — A clear space means a clear mind, and a clear mind is a more healthy mind. You can focus your attention on matters that you know deserve your efforts, more than tending to the anxiety of the clutter in your home and/or office. Like baking cookies with your kids, playing Princess Tea Party, or studying for that next exam.
  5. Sensory Overload — Sensory integration affects everything we do. Our bodies and minds tend to habituate to noises, smells, and sensations that our five senses intercept. Quite simply, our brains are stimuli junkies. This is part of our autonomic nervous system. When clutter is present, your senses are still sensing. As a result, your mind and perception can be overloaded by the presence of clutter.

The girl with the cluttered desk

As a therapist, there’s a certain level of “perfection” expected. How can I council on clutter and the associated anxiety it can cause if my own home office is a hot mess? Because I’ve been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.

It’s natural to feel anxiety. No matter how flawless someone looks, acts, or states, anxiety slaps us all across the face now and then. Once we recognize it, we can work toward releasing it.

Anxiety is a stealthy, sneaky invader. For me, the buildup toward anxiety was slow, until one day it jumped out and said, “I’m here, let’s party!” Why was I feeling this way? My work was thriving. My home life just as well. It wasn’t until I walked into my home office one morning and opened my eyes to what was around me. My office was…well, it wasn’t a war zone, but was certainly on level with a skirmish. How had I let this happen? I’m typically a rather organized person. The truth is…life happens. Happens to us all.

Recognizing the source of my anxiety created an element of instant relief. But in order to kick anxiety to the curb, I was going to need an action plan.

(click to Tweet) “The truth is…life happens.”

How I fell back in love with my office

Somehow my pretty office had become a warehouse for unfinished projects, knickknacks…and was that a banana peel? Just kidding!

  • I tackled those unfinished projects by putting up an attractive pushpin board (For ideas on pushpin boards see my Pinterest board here). Using 3×5 cards, I wrote each project down and pinned them in order to be accomplished. And if you’re like me, you have tons of empty file folders (I swear they multiply when I’m not looking.). I labeled and put one project per folder and filed them away.
  • Somehow, I had gained a tchotchke collection (aka dust collectors) without my knowing it. I set all the baubles and bits on the now cleared desk and stared at them. Then stared some more. Some had meaning, some were gifts, and some…well, I have no idea where they came from. I gave myself a limit. A brutal limit of ten. I had space for more, but clear space invites a clear mind, so ten.

When I broke it down, my cluttered office consisted of two main elements. What started out looking a bit overwhelming actually turned into a rather easy project once I was able to “see” what the main issues were.

After one craft project (the pushpin board), creating project cards and file folders, and paring down decorative items, I spent a total of four hours. Four hours that had an amazing effect on me. I now looked at my office with pride. And that pesky anxiety I was feeling? Gone. A sense of accomplishment had replaced anxiety.


  • Make a list of de-cluttering projects. Remember, don’t clutter your list. Keep it simple. Identify 5 small tasks. After you achieve those, and feel successful, move on to the bigger tasks. Let each small success build upon itself.
  • Tackle a little bit at a time — Give yourself 5-20 minutes of clean up each day. Concentrate on areas of your desk and/or home that feel the most disorderly.
  • Listen to music while organizing — Get your brain interested in the task.
  • Ask for help — Get the help of a friend or family member. Be flexible and consider options. Make it a fun event.
  • Create a list of weekly chores, post them where you can easily see them, and then do them (ex: file bills, attack the laundry pile, work one item on your to-do list, clean shoes out of hall closet—yes, I firmly believe elves put shoes in the hall closet just to taunt me, purge old bills from a file cabinet, etc.).
  • Make a designated area for to-do items.
  • Set a reminder on your phone each week with a call to action. Turn yourself into your own hero.
  • Put things back where they go. It’s easier to put one item away than twenty.
  • Let your new mantra be: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

So, what does the title of this post mean? “Clutter — I like mine shaken not stirred: Why Clutter can contribute to anxiety” It means that I’d rather tackle potential clutter elements when they’re still small, such as the pile of magazines that came in the mail, versus waiting until the piles have stirred themselves into that miasmic whirlpool otherwise known as clutter.

No one person has all the answers, but through being a community, we generate ideas and support. If you’d like to see more of my posts and Pinterest projects, I invite you to sign up to receive my monthly blog and newsletter. Click here and fill out the info pop up.

If you’re in the Denver area and need to talk, give my office a call at 720-295-9522 to set an appointment.

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