How To Know If Clutter Is A Sign Of Depression

bright color squiggly lines suggesting chaos and a graphic image of distraught lady

What is the definition of clutter

As a verb Merriam – Webster Dictionary defines clutter as ‘to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness a room’.

Symptoms of depression

Depression can manifest in various ways, and the symptoms can vary from person to person. It’s essential to remember that experiencing a few of these symptoms does not necessarily mean someone has depression, but if these symptoms persist for an extended period and interfere with daily life, it may be an indication to seek professional help.

Common symptoms of depression include:

Persistent Sadness- Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless for most of the day, nearly every day.

Loss of Interest- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including hobbies, social interactions, or sex.

Fatigue or Loss of Energy- Feeling tired, sluggish, or having a lack of energy, even with minimal physical or mental activity.

Changes in Sleep Patterns- Insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping).

Changes in Appetite or Weight- Significant weight loss or gain, or changes in appetite.

Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt- Persistent feelings of worthlessness, excessive or inappropriate guilt, or self-criticism.

Difficulty Concentrating- Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.

Irritability- Feeling easily irritated, agitated, or restless.

Physical Aches and Pains- Unexplained physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, or digestive issues.

Withdrawal and Isolation- Withdrawing from social activities, friends, or family and preferring to be alone.

Suicidal Thoughts- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts.

Depression is a serious medical condition. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression and symptoms last for an extended period, please seek professional help from a mental health provider or a healthcare professional. Depression is treatable, and early intervention can significantly improve the outcome and quality of life.

The clutter and mental health link

The clutter and mental health links
are significant, and research has shown that living in a cluttered environment can have adverse effects on a person’s mental well-being. Here are some of the key connections between clutter and mental health:

Increased Stress and Anxiety

Clutter can lead to a sense of chaos and overwhelm, causing increased stress and anxiety. The constant visual and mental reminders of unfinished tasks or disorganization can heighten these feelings.

Reduced Focus and Productivity

A cluttered environment can be distracting and make it challenging to concentrate on tasks. This lack of focus can lead to decreased productivity and efficiency in daily activities.

Feelings of Overwhelm

People surrounded by clutter often feel overwhelmed and find it challenging to determine where to start decluttering or organizing. This feeling of being stuck can exacerbate feelings of helplessness and frustration.


Clutter can contribute to decision fatigue as individuals are faced with numerous choices regarding what to keep, toss, donate or sell. This can lead to increased indecisiveness and a reluctance to make decisions in other areas of life.

Sleep Problems

A cluttered bedroom can negatively impact sleep quality. The presence of clutter can create a sense of unease and hinder relaxation, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Decline in Self-Esteem

Living in clutter can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, and inadequacy. The inability to maintain a tidy living space may result in lowered self-esteem and self-criticism.

Social Isolation

People with cluttered homes may feel embarrassed or ashamed to invite others over, leading to social withdrawal and isolation.

Impacts on Physical Health

Cluttered spaces can create physical hazards, such as tripping over objects, which can lead to accidents and injuries. Additionally, clutter may harbor dust and allergens that can worsen respiratory conditions.

Emotional Attachment to Clutter

Some individuals develop emotional attachments to their possessions, making it challenging to let go of items even if they are no longer useful. This emotional attachment can be a sign of unresolved emotional issues.

Procrastination and Avoidance

Clutter can perpetuate a cycle of procrastination and avoidance. People may avoid decluttering due to the daunting nature of the task, leading to a perpetuation of the clutter problem.

It’s important to note that the relationship between clutter and mental health can be complex, making it difficult to answer the ‘what comes first’ question. Clutter can contribute to poor mental health, but poor mental health can also lead to cluttered living spaces as individuals struggle to cope with their emotions and daily responsibilities.

Addressing clutter and seeking support for mental health concerns can be beneficial for improving overall well-being and quality of life. Taking small steps to declutter and seek professional help if needed can lead to positive changes in mental health and the living environment.

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Understanding Clutter and Its Impact on Mental Health

Living in cluttered disorganized environments can cause chronic stress leading to many negative health related consequences. Cortisol, sometimes known as the stress hormone, is a chemical that helps regulate the way our bodies react to stress. “It’s a hormone that connects the mind and the body together,” said Martin Picard, an associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University.

Definition of clutter and types of clutter

Physical clutter – Overall physical clutter is too much stuff in your home and work environments. 

Digital clutter – In addition to desktop computers today we have laptops, tablets, phones etc that all have the potential of building clutter. All of these computers hold an abundance of document files, apps, emails, texts, graphics and videos and can get easily cluttered.

Emotional clutter – The following are just a few sources of emotional clutter – unresolved conflicts, negative thought patterns, long held resentments to people, places and things and grief.

Clutter as a symptom of underlying mental health issues

Clutter is often associated with various psychological conditions. Some of the mental health issues where clutter can manifest as a symptom include the following


People experiencing depression may struggle with the motivation and energy to maintain an organized living space. Clutter can accumulate as a result of low mood, lack of interest, and feelings of hopelessness.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety can lead to excessive worry and indecisiveness, making it challenging to declutter and make decisions about possessions. Clutter may act as a coping mechanism for individuals with anxiety, providing a sense of security and control.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

In some cases, clutter can be related to OCD, a condition characterized by intrusive and distressing thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Hoarding which is a form of OCD, involves the compulsive accumulation of possessions.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

People with ADHD may struggle with organization, time management, and prioritization, leading to cluttered spaces and difficulties in decluttering.

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can result in neglecting household chores and organizing, leading to the accumulation of clutter over time.

Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Individuals who have experienced trauma may develop clutter as a way to protect themselves emotionally or to avoid triggers associated with the trauma.

Grief and Loss

Clutter can accumulate as a response to grief and loss, as individuals may find it challenging to let go of belongings associated with deceased loved ones or past experiences.

Emotional Avoidance

Some people use clutter as a way to avoid processing or confronting difficult emotions, using possessions as a distraction or buffer against emotional pain.

It’s important to note that clutter itself is not a mental health disorder, but rather a potential indicator of underlying emotional struggles or mental health issues. Addressing the clutter is essential, but it may also be necessary to address the root causes by seeking support from mental health professionals, such as therapists, counselors, or psychiatrists.

A holistic approach that combines clutter management with mental health support can lead to significant improvements in well-being and overall quality of life.

Signs That Clutter May Be a Sign of Depression

Signs that clutter may be a sign of depression may include the following.

1 Persistent disorganization and inability to declutter
2 Extreme attachment to possessions and difficulty letting go
3 Escaping or avoiding emotions through clutter
4 Neglecting personal hygiene and self-care due to clutter>
5 Isolation and withdrawal from social activities

looks like 2 brains side by side, 1 brain is blacka nd white while the other brain is colorful

Clutter vs. Hoarding – Understanding the Difference

Definition of hoarding disorder

Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. People with hoarding disorder accumulate an excessive number of items, and over time, their living spaces become cluttered to the point where it significantly impairs their ability to use their living areas for their intended purposes. The clutter can take over rooms, hallways, and even entire homes, creating unsafe and unsanitary living conditions.

Recognizing the line between clutter and hoarding behavior

Distinguishing between a hoarding disorder and an average messy cluttered home can be difficult and challenging, as both may involve clutter and disorganization. There are some key differences though that can help identify whether the situation is a hoarding disorder or a more typical cluttered living space.

Severity of Clutter

Hoarding Disorder- In hoarding disorder, the clutter is excessive, and it overwhelms the living space to the extent that rooms become unusable for their intended purposes. The accumulation of possessions is well beyond what would be expected in an average messy home.

Average Messy Cluttered Home- In a typical messy cluttered home, there may be disorganization and untidiness, but it does not reach the extreme level seen in hoarding disorder. The clutter is more manageable and does not significantly impair daily functioning.

Emotional Attachment to Possessions

Hoarding Disorder- Hoarders develop intense emotional attachments to their possessions, making it extremely challenging for them to let go of even seemingly unimportant items. They may experience significant distress or anxiety at the thought of discarding items.

Average Messy Cluttered Home- While individuals in a cluttered home may have some sentimental attachments to certain belongings, they can generally make decisions about what to keep, donate, sell or discard without experiencing extreme distress.

Impact on Functionality

Hoarding Disorder- Hoarding leads to severe functional impairment, making it difficult or impossible to use rooms for their intended purposes. The clutter can obstruct walkways and pose safety hazards.

Average Messy Cluttered Home- While a messy cluttered home may be disorganized, it does not typically cause loss of productivity and safety hazards

Insight and Awareness

Hoarding Disorder- People with hoarding disorder often lack insight into the severity of their behavior and may not recognize the negative impact it has on their lives and well-being.

Average Messy Cluttered Home- Individuals in a cluttered home may be aware of the mess and express a desire to clean up or declutter.


Hoarding Disorder- Hoarding behavior is persistent and typically spans years, with a gradual accumulation of possessions.

Average Messy Cluttered Home- Clutter in a typical messy home may result from temporary life events or periods of lack of time and can be resolved with relatively straightforward efforts.

It’s essential to approach the issue of hoarding with sensitivity and avoid judgment. If you are unsure whether someone is struggling with hoarding disorder or merely dealing with a cluttered home, seeking guidance from a mental health professional experienced in hoarding and clutter-related issues is advised. These professionals can help assess the situation and provide appropriate support and recommendations.

Seeking Professional Help and Support

A good place to start looking for help for you or a loved one may be the International OCD Foundation. OCD and related disorders affect more than 1 in 100 people around the world — but there is hope.

a pic of 2 heads - one head in white and the head behind it is in color appearing to look into the white head.

The importance of self-awareness and recognizing the signs

In some cases, a person may recognize the signs that they are heading into a hoarding situation. Early awareness of hoarding tendencies can be beneficial in seeking help and implementing strategies to prevent the behavior from escalating.

It is important to note that recognizing the signs and acknowledging the need for help can be challenging for some individuals due to the nature of hoarding disorder.

Some signs that a person may be heading into a hoarding situation include-

Excessive Difficulty Discarding Items

An increasing difficulty in letting go of possessions, even those with little practical value, and a strong emotional attachment to belongings.

Frequent Acquiring of Items

A consistent pattern of acquiring or bringing new items into the home without corresponding efforts to declutter or let go of other possessions.

Avoidance of Decluttering

Avoiding or putting off decluttering or organizing tasks due to feelings of anxiety, guilt, or overwhelm.

Increasing Clutter

A noticeable increase in the amount of clutter in living spaces, making it more challenging to maintain an organized and functional environment.

Social Isolation

Withdrawing from social activities and avoiding having visitors due to embarrassment or shame about the living conditions.

Distress and Impairment

Feeling distressed or anxious about the clutter but feeling unable to address the issue effectively, leading to functional impairment in daily life.

Impacts on Daily Functioning

Struggling to perform everyday activities or experiencing difficulty in accessing essential areas of the home due to clutter.

If someone recognizes these signs in themselves or a loved one, it’s essential to seek help and support as early as possible. Early intervention can lead to more successful outcomes in managing hoarding disorder and preventing further escalation of the behavior.

Encouraging open communication with loved ones about clutter and depression

Getting a loved one who is struggling with hoarding or clutter and depression to talk about this can be challenging. There are strategies you can use to approach the conversation with sensitivity and support.

If you have tried having an uninterrupted conversation with your loved one expressing your concern and empathy maybe it is time to consider an intervention?


There are interventions specifically designed for hoarding disorder, similar to those used for addiction. Professional interventions, facilitated by mental health specialists and professional organizers, can be valuable in providing a structured and supportive approach to addressing hoarding behavior.

These interventions aim to encourage the individual to seek help and begin the process of decluttering and organizing their living space.

No pressure, no judgement

Avoiding pressure and judgment is important. Be patient and avoid putting pressure on your loved one to change immediately. It’s crucial to respect their autonomy and decision-making process.

Setting realistic goals and taking small steps to declutter

Getting help for the hoarder or depressed individual would be the ideal first step. Again if you are at wits end trying to help there are professionals available to help. Doing a Google search reveals many mental health and specialized mental health care professionals.

Utilizing cognitive-behavioral techniques to tackle clutter and depression

Interventions for depression can include the following.


Various types of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and psychodynamic therapy, can be effective in treating depression. These therapies help individuals understand and cope with their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors related to depression.


Antidepressant medications may be prescribed by a healthcare professional to help alleviate symptoms of depression. Medication can be beneficial, particularly for individuals with moderate to severe depression.

Supportive Counseling

Providing emotional support and a non-judgmental environment can be helpful for individuals with depression. Simply being there to listen and validate their feelings can make a significant difference.

Lifestyle Changes

Encouraging healthy lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, balanced nutrition, adequate sleep, and stress management, can play a crucial role in managing depression.

The link between clutter and depression can be very real. Finding the right help can be key to a good recovery. The National Institute of Mental Health in the USA may be a good resource to start with when looking for help for yourself or a loved one. Holistic approach to addressing clutter and mental health.

Addressing clutter holistically goes beyond just tidying up physical spaces; it positively impacts various facets of your life, leading to improved mental, emotional, and physical well-being, increased productivity, and overall life satisfaction.

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Marj Bates is a life long ridiculously organized declutterer and artist. Less is more are words Marj lives by in everything she does except collecting dogs. “Dogs are like potato chips! Can’t have just one.” says Marj. Marj wonders if growing up with a fanatically clean Jewish mom means her decluttering and organizational skills are in her blood.

For more Declutter Buzz & Freebies check out our safe and private Decluttering community on our Facebook page. We are a safe and private space of like minded folks tackling this all encompassing clutter thing once and for all. No shame allowed! We will have a few laughs too!

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