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The Link Between Disorganization and Depression and Anxiety

The Link Between Disorganization and Depression and Anxiety

The Link Between Disorganization and Depression and Anxiety

Published: October 20, 2022

Our physical environments influence our thinking, emotions, and our behaviors. It can affect our relationships with others, as well as our decision-making and our productivity.

While tidiness or organization of a person's living environment plays a crucial role in their physical and mental health, that of our working environment is equally vital for a healthy life.

The Messy Space at Home and Work

Messy rooms and cluttered spaces can have negative effects on our ability to focus. It can make us feel depressed and anxious, and influence our eating choices and our sleep. Clutter, especially in older adults, decreases our overall satisfaction with life.

Apart from a cluttered desk or a messy room in someone's house, disorganization can take the form of time management, which is related to productivity.

Being unfocused or disorganized usually means that someone is not making the best use of their time, and easily their work piles up. This, in addition to other factors, contributes to stress, which is the enemy of productivity. In a workplace context, this costs American businesses up to $190 billion every year in health care costs.

A clear home, and likewise a clear desk, usually indicates a clear mind. In the workplace, this means being more productive. Spending less time looking for notes, papers, or data and more time working helps with time management.

But a messy room is not uncommon, and neither is a messy desk. A busy schedule can result in chores or tasks piling up. While letting the dirty dishes sit for an hour while relaxing is fine, leaving them for days or weeks may lead to feeling overwhelmed, and could be indicative of mental health issues. The same goes for avoiding a workload.

Creativity is also linked to messiness. A personal space that is not perfect but slightly messy is not something to worry about, especially when it comes to creative thinking. While some people may feel restricted in an organized space, messiness can become a real issue when safety and mental or physical health are negatively affected by it.

When a messy house becomes so cluttered that it is uninhabitable or unsafe, mental health issues could be the cause.

An underlying mental illness such as Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Dementia, Schizophrenia, Major depression, or substance abuse disorders could cause an extremely messy house. Often kids with messy rooms have a hard time keeping them clean due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Effects and Causes of Disorganization

Effects and Causes of Disorganization

Some people may consider disorganization a result of being lazy. But there is underlying psychology that may keep someone from cleaning up.

Typically, when there is disorganization at a person's home, they may have the same situation at work. Half-finished tasks, unmet deadlines, or messy desks can also lead to someone experiencing more anxiety.

Too much stuff can make it harder to keep a house organized or clean, especially in a big family. People may hold on to things because it seems like a huge or demanding task to get rid of them. It may seem easier to simply leave things as they are.

Mental Health

A pile of 'to-do's, unfinished projects, and chaos undoubtedly affects our mental health. While not always the case, a messy room or a messy house could reflect an underlying mental health issue, such as depression.

Levels of the stress hormone cortisol are higher in those whose home environment is cluttered. Excess cortisol is linked to depression, being more anxious, and other mental health conditions.

The chemicals that come about from being disorganized or having a messy room swamp the chemicals needed for a stable mood. In a continuous cycle, those struggling with mental illness battle with keeping their spaces clean due to their mental illness, and the unorganized space in turn maintains or increases their mental health struggles.

Depression or Anxiety

Depression or Anxiety

Living with depression means that there is a link between a person's state of mood or being and the state of their homes, finances, and careers. Those suffering from depression may find it extremely challenging to do many things, including keeping a working or living space clean.

Symptoms of depression, such as low energy, a lack of motivation, or feelings of hopelessness can make it very hard to keep up with everyday tasks.

While a daily routine, which may include tidying or organizing, comes naturally to some, someone experiencing depression may feel it is nearly impossible.

Anxiety disorders affect 6.8 million adults in the United States. This mental illness, which is usually based on racing and illogical thoughts about the future, can make it hard for a person to concentrate on life or work in front of them.

They may make mistakes at work, forget appointments, or constantly be disorganized as their brain is consumed by 'what might happen'. They may not be able to address a messy room or workspace.

Negative experiences often lead to mental health issues that affect behavior and lessen our ability to be organized. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can hinder a person's ability to handle workloads, manage time or organize their space.



Procrastination is part of disorganization, and also causes a cycle of strain and pressure. Putting off that pile of work or a load of laundry at home can cause a decrease in a person's general level of life satisfaction.

Sometimes procrastination is due to too many tasks on a person's to-do list, and they may not be able to manage their time or prioritize.

In other cases, pressure from procrastination comes in the form of doing other things until a deadline comes up, waiting for the right mood to do the work or the dishes, or getting distracted by other things.

When objects are scattered about, a person's ability to concentrate is lessened and irritability can increase, and the chances of getting distracted are more. Mixing up personal notes or tasks with work notes or tasks can increase disorder, and make someone avoid both. Allowing interruptions during working time can also boost procrastination.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Clutter can lead to an almost constant feeling of struggle and frustration. It can prevent someone from completing daily tasks, doing self-care, or spending time with loved ones.

Instead, they may be replacing their time with looking for objects in their room, getting distracted, or becoming overwhelmed. At the same time, when they feel overwhelmed, it can keep them living with clutter as they could struggle to clean up.

Not wanting to face the day can stem from knowing the number of tasks that lay ahead, and from being overwhelmed because a person does not know where to start. When someone suffers from depression, being overwhelmed by tasks is common.

When someone knows exactly what they need to do, staying focused and engaged is easier. Tension from being disorganized comes about due to clutter, as a person's senses become overloaded and clutter distracts them from what they should or need to do.

Clutter means that a 'blank space' in the brain is filled, discouraging it from focusing or solving problems. A messy desk can also make someone feel as if they have more to do than they actually have.

Physical Health

A disorganized room, home, or workspace can impact our physical state, too. While a cluttered home carries a higher risk of fire hazards and usually means dust and mold build-up, homes that are tidy and clean usually result in better health and more activity. Clutter and disorganization can also make someone choose unhealthy foods over healthier options.

What Can Be Done?

What Can Be Done

Young adults with mental illness may hide their messy homes or living conditions due to shame or because they feel guilty.

Stigma and shame prevent many young adults from obtaining the help they need. Especially when a person is depressed, it is very hard to manage clutter on their own. It is best to seek treatment for any mental health issues.

The following tips could make a difference in being organized:

  • Whether someone suffers from depression or anxiety, maintaining a tidy home and workspace, together with time management can help. Making a morning and evening routine, with a small effort to do specific tasks, can improve symptoms.
  • It is best to start small. Instead of attempting to clean every room at once, or attempting to complete all the overdue work, dividing it up into sections for each day can help avoid being overwhelmed. By accomplishing small tasks, someone may feel a better sense of control and build up positive momentum in moving forward to cleaning more or doing more.
  • Split up cleaning tasks. Those who reach out to friends or family members could get support in cleaning up their space. Getting the kids of the family to each clean up their room could help them feel less overwhelmed.

Treatment Center

Seeking professional help could be the key to overcoming the mental strain that comes with clutter. If you or a loved one feels depressed, GIA Miami is here to help.

We offer the most advanced and up-to-date, evidence-based treatment approaches tailored to suit your needs. Get in contact today to find out how we can help you.

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