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Mental health

The psychological case for decluttering your home

Researchers say study is first to investigate the dark side of home arising from negative impacts of clutter.

29 April 2016

By Christian Jarrett

As a house evolves into a home it becomes a place of refuge and ultimately an extension of the self. Each room is a witness to your life: the arguments, the passions and the change. Your photos on the walls, your stuff on the shelves, these are more than mere objects, they tell the story of places you've been and people you've known. All of this helps create what psychologists call a sense of "psychological home". But it can go too far. There's a saturation point beyond which your possessions turn into clutter, clogging your space and undermining your wellbeing. A new study "The dark side of home" in The Journal of Environmental Psychology investigates these processes in a group of 1394 people (average age 54, mostly women in the US) who had previously sought advice from The Institute For Challenging Disorganization.

The results showed that attachment to one's home (measured by agreement with statements like "I identify strongly with this place") and identifying with one's possessions ("I consider my favorite possessions to be a part of myself") were both linked to a greater sense of psychological home ("I get a sense of security from having a place of my own"), and in turn this was associated with more psychological well-being. But, at the same time, a sense of home and wellbeing were undermined by excessive clutter, as measured by agreement with statements like: "I have to move things in order to accomplish tasks in my home" and "I feel overwhelmed by the clutter in my home".

The researchers based in New Mexico and Chicago said their study is "the first to investigate the dark side of home arising from negative impacts of clutter." They warned: "Clutter is often an insidious and seemingly harmless outgrowth of people's natural desire to appropriate their personal spaces with possessions that reflect self-identity and remind them of important people, places, and experiences in their lives. However, when clutter becomes excessive, it can threaten to physically and psychologically entrap a person in dysfunctional home environments which contribute to personal distress and feelings of displacement and alienation."

Further reading

The dark side of home: Assessing possession 'clutter' on subjective well-being