3 Science-Backed Reasons Clutter is Making Things Worse in 2020

This year, many of us are adapting to challenges with mental health and work/school from home. Unfortunately, clutter is making things worse.

Our levels of clutter, tidiness, and cleanliness in the home have a very real impact on our well-being, mental state, and productivity. Here are three science-backed reasons clutter is making things worse.

1. Task-Irrelevant Object Features

Our brain’s ability to encode and store visual information is, in fact, limited. Task-Irrelevant Object Features (e.g. clutter) slow down our working memory’s processing speed. Items in our visual fields that have nothing to do with our current task still require work from our visual cortex. These extraneous visual data are unnecessary competition for resources in our working memory. A 1998 National Institutes of Health study showed that sensory responses in the brain “dampen” or weaken when facing excess information. Clear the clutter and give your brain less stimuli to sort through

2. Allostatic Load

Allostatic load is the cumulation of our physiological stressors or “wear and tear.” We know that psychological stress affects our nervous and endocrine systems. Mental and emotional stressors affect the body. While the appropriate amount of temporary stress can motivate us to take necessary action for our benefit and even our survival, chronic stressors add to our allostatic load. Clutter is a chronic stressor. Clutter stresses us with negative feelings about our space, difficulty finding what we need, the nagging sense that our work is incomplete and unending, anxiety, guilt, embarrassment, distraction, and overstimulation. Declutter to lighten your allostatic load.

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3. Poor Judgement

Excess stimuli (like clutter) can not only affect our processing speed but the quality of the output. In other words, we don’t call the shots correctly. A 2006 study measured errors in judgement when participants were given tasks and questions about images that contained isolated elements versus elements amid visual clutter. This study showed that people made more perceptual errors when confronted with clutter. Not only were people’s assessments incorrect more often, but they were also more confident in their answers. That’s right, they were wrong and more confident about it! Clutter confuses the issue causing us to make more errors while it also confuses how strongly we perceive the signal that cues our answer. Clear the environment for a clear decision.

Decluttering is Hard

We all want to clear our clutter but the opportunity to do so seems to keep slipping through our fingers. We need some accountability, some support, and perhaps a professional to guide the process. Most importantly, we need to schedule a date so it finally gets done.

Join an at-home, virtual workshop hosted by Kathleen Perez on Saturday, November 7th. The Tidy Lab offers you the support you need to finally take the leap and clear your clutter. By investing in the workshop today, you will seal your motivation for following through on Saturday the 7th. Get your ticket here before they run out: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/125091900241


Kathleen Perez is a certified Health Coach though the American Council on Exercise and a Master of Public Health through the George Washington University. A black belt in Kenpo Karate and housekeeping professional, Kathleen appreciates the value of optimizing our physical realm and dedicates herself to improving quality of life.


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Baldassi, S., Megna, N., & Burr, D. C. (2006). Visual Clutter Causes High-Magnitude Errors. PLoS Biology, 4(3), e56. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0040056

McMains, S., & Kastner, S. (2011). Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(2), 587–597. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.3766-10.2011

NIH-National Institute Of Mental Health. (1998, October 5). Focusing Attention Cancels Brain-Dampening Effects Of Visual Clutter. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 16, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/10/981005073941.htm

Xu, Y. (2010). The Neural Fate of Task-Irrelevant Features in Object-Based Processing. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(42), 14020–14028. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.3011-10.2010