How Clutter Reflects Our Feelings

Updated on December 26, 2017
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I have a degree in counseling. I enjoy helping people and writing on a variety of topics that interest me.

Clutter is thought to be a reflection of your emotional state.
Clutter is thought to be a reflection of your emotional state.

Clutter and Your Feelings

Clutter happens. Many people don’t want it, don’t intend on it, and are not proud of it. Our home should feel like a sanctuary, but when it's cluttered, it doesn’t feel that way. The truth is that your emotional state is reflected in your surroundings. All the places where clutter exists need your attention. With uncluttering, cleaning, and organizing, you will feel an immediate shift in your feelings of being overwhelmed.

This is easier said than done. Perhaps you have read or even own books about uncluttering. You may have purchased bins and organizers hoping that this will help you put away the things laying around—so why hasn't this worked?

We Buy Things to Help Us Get Organized

The problem with dealing with clutter is that we tend to believe if we have a place to put things, it will be organized. So we buy bins, hangers, and other organizing products. The truth is, clutter is not a household problem.

Clutter is a behavioral problem. When the behavior changes, clutter will not be an unmanageable issue. Clutter has its roots in emotional or physical difficulties. Some people papers and stuff build up. Some people find it painful to part with possessions. Some people are compulsive hoarders, estimates of about 1.5 million or more Americans. Hoarders are extreme clutterers, but the range from cleanliness to messiness encompasses many people who are chronically disorganized and suffering, physically, emotionally, and socially. Cognitive behavioral therapy has shown patients have had a notable decline in clutter within 6 months of therapy.

The Mind of a Person Who Clutters

People who are disorganized or dealing with unfinished projects need to learn how to set priorities, how to sort their items, and how to throw things out. Some people may see a stack of magazines and see just magazines. Some people see each magazine serving some purpose for them. To decide not to hold onto stuff is part of a life change decision.

The clutter you have, not only is bothersome to look at, but it also brings up many different emotions. Getting control of your clutter is important for this and many reasons. The disorganization can make you feel stressed, guilty, and uncomfortable. When you can’t get to all of your belongings, and you feel overwhelmed and confused, it is natural to not even know where to start. Clutter has a profound impact on all of us in many ways. A messy environment is unsettling and holds us back from getting where we want to go.

Clutter is symbolic of the emotional baggage you have built up. The disorder and clutter become an outward display of the inner turmoil you are probably struggling to deal with. Feeling overwhelmed by the disarray in your surroundings is symbolic of what you are feeling within.

When you feel stressed and irritable, and you don't know how to deal with these feelings, your clutter may multiply. Your home, your workplace, your car become cluttered and then you become stuck and don’t know where to start to get organized. As your surroundings become unpleasant, your stress magnifies. This creates more irritability, an inability to concentrate, and an anxiety depression cycle. We may also feel angry, frustrated, and powerless. The cycle continues and the clutter never goes away, nor do the feelings that created it and are created by the clutter.

Clutter is an emotional problem. To get rid of the clutter, a change in behavior has to come about, which happens from a change in thinking within. What you feel about what you need to deal with, and your standards for what you will accept for yourself play a part in clutter control.

Get organized and feel calm.
Get organized and feel calm.

Why Do We Clutter?

Why do we clutter? It is believed, clutter for some people may serve as a crutch to fulfill various needs. Clutter saves us from needing to learn to cope with the tough things we have to deal with. We may have learned these habits in childhood, it served a purpose then, and so we still do it. Clutter plays some role in our lives. Discovering these roles will help release the grip clutter has on you.

Clutter helps people:

  • Feel secure

  • Feel excited to try some of the things we bought

  • Feel challenged to one day clean the clutter

  • Feel worthy

  • Gives us comfort

  • Symbolic of being loved

  • Look to self-improve

  • Disguise underlying mental or physical health issues

Some people may have mental health issues and not dealing with their depression, anxiety, anger, grief, ADHD, and more. Some people may have health issues from a traumatic brain injury, all types of, and other disabling physical conditions.

Clutter and the Meaning of Things

Try to create at least one clean and uncluttered place in your home. Decluttered our home is related to decluttering our lives. To people who clutter, things are not just things. Inanimate objects have a greater meaning. We attach our emotions to them and in a sense rely on these items to fulfill some need we have. Our stuff stops us from learning to cope with tough things we have had to deal with. From childhood, we learned to hold onto stuff instead of coping. Uncluttering begins with finding new ways to deal with our emotions and the way we function.

What does the bottom of your fears look like? If you feel hopeless, helpless and worthless, you are on your way to understanding yourself better and dealing with the truth of what is holding you back.

As you choose to get rid of your stuff:

  • Ask yourself what is the worst case scenario?

  • Can you do without if you throw it out or give it away?

  • Are there people in your life you can rely on?

We look at our things as a reflection of our self-worth. They are symbols of our self-image and push away feelings of inadequacy. Truly understand that you can own things that make you feel pretty or comfortable, but look at them as external objects and do not give them power.

Clutter and Comfort

Clutter provides comfort. We buy objects to fill an emotional deficit. Shopping is also a distraction. Clutter is an addiction. Like all addictions, clutter is related to our fears of feeling unfulfilled, feelings of helplessness, boredom, and isolation. Addictions provide a way for us to not have to deal with the difficult and painful feelings we are having. Clutter and its disorganization cause our environment to be out of control. Ironically and irrationally, the clutter gives us a sense of control over feeling safe. Clutter gives us temporary feelings of comfort. As with all addictions, we need more and more clutter to maintain this illusion and false belief that it is giving us safety and comfort.

Clutter symbolizes some fear of not having enough. We even hold onto papers and magazines because we hope to one day read them and perhaps gain information that will give us a sense of peace for something we are seeking. There is a feeling of safety having the magazines. We believe we have some control over our environment because the information is at our fingertips even if we never get to read it. We clutter because we don't trust that we have what we need. Clutter also gives us a way of resisting being controlled by someone who wants us to be neat.

Is Clutter a Problem for You

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Clutter and Insecurities

Clutter happens because we feel frightened, wounded, vulnerable. It gives us a false sense of having control over events, people, and outcomes.

A person who clutters really needs to heal. It is better to face the truth about your own feelings instead of hiding your wounded and painful self. The problem with cluttering is that no matter how much we falsely believe that we were gaining comfort with all the stuff around us, in reality, it is an illusion. No matter how much clutter is accumulated, our fears still reside inside us. We need to love ourselves. We need to understand that safety and self-truth are in reality providing us the comfort we need, the safety we seek, and the fulfillment we long for.

How to Deal With Clutter

Our inner safety depends on us to love ourselves and to find a sense of spirituality within ourselves. We don’t want to deal with what seems like our deep and huge inner problems. They are connected to something that happened in our childhood, a trauma, something that brings up dark and difficult feelings that seem too big for us to handle. Talking to a therapist is a good way to explore these feelings, emotions, and fears.

Clutter is symbolic of the things we are putting off. We let things pile up because that is easier than taking care of it. This is similar to the feelings we don’t want to deal with. We are overwhelmed with the stuff surrounding us. We are overwhelmed with our feelings we don’t want to touch. It is easier to avoid these feelings and easier to avoid managing the clutter. They are interrelated. Clutter steals our joy, interferes with our potential, and in reality deteriorates the quality of our lives.

The way to deal with clutter is to handle one small item at a time. Small motions add to more moving forward. More moving forward moves mountains. Moving mountains creates milestones. Milestones create miracles. That is the way to get rid of the physical clutter. Thereafter, how do you deal with the feelings?

Clutter masks feelings you don’t really want to deal with. Once you confront the feelings you will enjoy more a sense of emotional freedom and be willing to let your clutter go.

Does Clutter Interfere With Your Life

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Clutter and Your Feelings

We hold onto items from our past. Memories and symbols of better times, personal losses, past glories, and experiences. We look for fulfillment today in a past that seems more glorious than it probably was. We take on new projects we don’t finish in the hopes this too will bring us fulfillment. When we see it isn’t, we lose our incentive and we don’t finish it. More clutter with unfinished projects.

The fulfillment we seek isn’t coming from the right source. Live in the moment. The present is now. The past is long gone. Let the past go. It is time to move on. There is a saying, "You can’t step in the same river twice." A river is constantly flowing and moving, and so are we. The past holds a place that has something to do with who we are now. But who we are now, can only move forward. Objects don’t represent memories, your thoughts do. It is perfectly ok to hold onto possessions from someone you loved, but how many things are you holding onto. Love isn’t things. Love is being with people and your pets who can give you what you need now.

We hold onto things we are not using in hopes of self-improvement. We hold onto self-improvement books and tapes, exercise equipment, clothes we used to fit into, decor, gardening tools, cooking apparatuses, hoping these will bring us joy and fulfillment when we use them someday.

It is the things we do today, right now, that makes us happy. Make a pact with yourself, if these items aren’t used within the month, get rid of it. If you do it, you are on your way to emotional freedom. If you don't do it, ask yourself why. Don't let yourself be a slave to your things or your past. Your future is bright when you develop new habits and new ways to handle the clutter in your room and in your mind.

Questions & Answers

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      • Dolores Monet profile image

        Dolores Monet 

        14 months ago from East Coast, United States

        After living in our home for over 30 years, I have way too much stuff and am in the process of decluttering. I tackled one room, emptied it out, painted it etc and in the process of putting the stuff back, organized what I wanted to keep and got rid of the rest. Sometimes I just go and stand in that room to absorb the peace. I am a person who clutters the walls with pictures - you can barely see the wall in most rooms.

      • dahoglund profile image

        Don A. Hoglund 

        14 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids

        I think most of us have the idea that other peoples stuff is clutter. As writers wwe tend to collect books, notes, or notebooks etc. I've been widowed for a short time aand in the process of clearing my house to sell it and move into smaller quarters. I am going through everything with the intent of getting rid of everything I don't need, which is probably 90% of it all. I can see how we could have gotten more pleasure out of planning some trips and vacations rather than collecting a bunch of stuff we don't need and is a pain to get rid of.

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        14 months ago from Chicago Area

        As I've mentioned in other clutter post comments, I hate clutter! I have family and friends who are my polar opposite. I feel so anxious when I have too much "stuff" in my space. I'm of the philosophy, if in doubt, throw it out.

        I just don't understand cluttering motivations. But your post certainly has given some insight. I love the point you make about buying more stuff to help keep them organized.. which is doesn't.

        Thanks for exploring a topic that, sadly, too many people deal with today!

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