Can Clutter Make You Sick?

Your messy piles and filled-to-the-brim junk drawers might seem innocent enough. But having a cluttered house can actually make you sick!

Some things are obvious health threats: Loads of knickknacks collect allergy-aggravating dust, and toys and sports equipment lying on the floor are accidents waiting to happen. But clutter can affect your well-being in other ways too -- for instance, the anxiety that arises when you can’t find the bills on your desk.

In his book Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?, author Peter Walsh says it’s simply impossible to be your healthiest self in a disorganized space. Here are four of the biggest home clutter traps. Get them in order and feel better fast!

Clutter Trap: Home Office Desk

  • Health Woes: Anxiety symptoms like sleeplessness, headaches and acid stomach
  • Culprit: Piles of unsorted papers and mail mean incurring late fees or even forgetting about your BFF’s upcoming bridal shower.
  • Mindset: Think about what’s going on in your life that’s making it hard to keep things orderly. “People think life stress is all about bad things -- death, divorce, financial ruin -- but good things can bring on just as much life stress,” says Darnita Payden, a life management specialist and consultant on the A&E show “Hoarders.” In other words, a new baby or a promotion can lead to an overflowing desk too.
  • Strategy: Start small. Your inbox doesn’t have to be empty, but you should be able to find a pen and paper if someone calls -- and you need to establish a place for important papers. Set 15 to 30 minutes to work on one corner of the desk at a time and repeat until complete. Then, set a rule to not let paper sit around for more than a couple of days: pay it, answer it, file it or toss it.

Clutter Trap: Bedroom Closet

  • Health Woes: Low self-esteem, weight gain
  • Culprit: Keeping clothes a size too small means that you’re not accepting yourself as you are. And hanging on to larger sizes sends the subconscious signal that you might gain weight in the future -- and if you can’t find your workout clothes in the mess, it just might happen!
  • Mindset: “I think there is a sense of ‘I don’t want to give it away, because if I give it away and later want it, then somehow I’m a failure’,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, a psychologist and the author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.
  • Strategy: Clean your closet in 20-minute sessions, focusing on one area (dresses, shoes, shirts) at a time. Put your favorite music on the iPod and get in the right frame of mind: “Once I get rid of the stuff I don’t need, I’ll feel like I lost weight!”

Clutter Trap: Kitchen

  • Health Woes: Weight gain, tummy troubles
  • The Culprit: If you can’t find the whole-grain products in your pantry or the crock pot in the cabinets, it’s easier to reach for the chicken nuggets than to cook something healthy. Is your fridge full of food that’s past its expiration date? Then you’re risking a nasty case of food poisoning.
  • Mindset: “If there is so much clutter you don’t want to be in your kitchen, you won’t,” says Lombardo.
  • Strategy: Enlist a supportive friend or relative to help get your kitchen in order. Take “before” and “after” pictures as a reminder of your success. Then, make it a point to clean your refrigerator weekly and toss the leftovers.

Clutter Trap: Living Room

  • Health Woes: Accidents, depression
  • The Culprit: If you can’t walk through the room without tripping over something, it’s a health hazard. And if you’ve stopped having guests over because you don’t want them seeing the mess, you’re isolating yourself.
  • Mindset: “Give yourself permission to say you don’t need all this stuff,” says Lombardo. “There’s often a sense of ‘I’ve collected it, I have to keep it.’”
  • Strategy: Box up the knickknacks, art and books you no longer love and store them in the garage for a year. (Mark the calendar!) If you don’t miss or need them after that time, donate or sell them.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Demid

by Jennifer Nelson