Clutter Stress Depression

My post about getting things done sparked a lively interest and a bit of controversy. One of the careful readers of this site sent me a link to an article about clutter causing stress, particularly in women.

New study shows a link between depression and the amount of stuff in your home.


I was curious that I didn’t know anything about these research findings. And besides, the first patient I shared this with expressed considerable skepticism.

So I went off in search of the science.

The article is based on research conducted at the UCLA Center on Lives of Everyday Families, and it references a book that describes a multidisciplinary study of the homes of a number of families.

Life at Home in The Twenty-First Century is the book, although I have to admit I have not read it. 

However I did find on the Center website a reference to the article which appeared to be the basis of this statement.

No Place Like Home: Home Tours Correlate With Daily Patterns of Mood and Cortisol” describes the study and the finding. The researchers asked men and women to describe their homes and then did a linguistic analysis to see how often people talked about their home in terms of “clutter” and “things left undone” as opposed to descriptors that focused on feeling relaxed and serene at home. They found that women, but not men, who talked about their homes in terms of clutter or projects left undone, had a pattern of cortisol variation (a loss of the normal peak of cortisol in the morning and then the trough late at night, in other words a loss of the normal daily cycle of cortisol and perhaps a a relatively constant somewhat high level) that was compatible with stress and that predicted an increased risk of depression.

If you believe, as I tend to, that clutter is stressful then this supports the notion. However, the skeptic in me, instantly thought of an entirely reasonable alternative hypothesis.

The problem with this study is that it didn’t actually rate whether the homes were objectively cluttered.

So what it says is that if you think your home is cluttered and filled with things that need to be done then you’re likely to be more distressed.

The source of the stress, in other words, may be the gap between your hopes and expectations and your perception of your home. If you don’t care whether things are clutter, or if you tend not to see clutter, then perhaps you don’t feel distressed in the midst of clutter.

One could just as easily argue that the implication of this is that you should give up the struggle to make your home neat. “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Which, I believe, is exactly what my patient would say.

Read more:

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