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Can a tidy living space improve mental health?

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

We’ve all heard it a thousand times, “A tidy house is a tidy mind” but what does this really


Cluttered living room with a clean version of the room underneath

For me it reminds me of my mother shouting at me when I was young to tidy my room, and as I grew older and moved into my own living space the rebellious child in me rejected this phrase, hunkering down in my room where the carpet was barely visible.

It’s not been until recently, at the ripe old age of 23 I started to wonder…maybe my mum had a point all along. It’s an awful feeling, suctioned to the sofa, eyes darting around the piles of clothes, stacks of dirty dishes from weeks prior, knowing somewhere in the back of your brain that if it was tidy, you’d probably feel better.

However, an untidy room and bad mental health seem to come hand in hand, which comes first is still up for debate; Is my room messy because I am depressed, or am I depressed because my space is a mess. After researching the topic I think perhaps it lies somewhere in the middle, to say depression is caused by our environment is too simplistic, but I do think it makes the disorder worse. ‘A 2010 study by researchers at the University of California used software to analyse how 30 cohabitating couples talked about their homes. Those who described their living space as cluttered were statistically more likely to be suffering from depression’.

Cluttered wardrobe above a well organised wardrobe

This however, still does not answer our question, is this a direct reflection of the couple’s mental health or is this a cause. Interestingly ‘Princeton University found in a 2011 study that a cluttered environment makes it more difficult to focus on a specific task due to a person’s visual cortex being overwhelmed by all the task irrelevant objects in the room’. From personal experience I would also agree with this study, trying to complete work at my kitchen table, with various other tasks floating around in my head, ‘needing to wash my clothes’, ‘this table could do with a wipe’ sooner or later I couldn’t remember why I was sat at the table in the first place.

So with all this information under our belt, why is it still so hard to actually do it? Breaking it down, it’s actually quite simple. Our brains want dopamine, and they want it now! The longer the task takes to complete, the longer it takes before we get the release of dopamine, it’s easier to go out and avoid the messy flat in favour of faster releasing dopamine triggers, like shopping, walking the dog or whatever it is that makes you happy. With this knowledge on board I personally found it easier to persevere and essentially force myself to do it, only allowing myself to have my ‘rewards’ after the job had been done. Coming in from your walk to a clean house is like a double release of dopamine, you feel pride and a sense of relaxation.

Making it easier

Creating a strategy as someone with ADHD is also something that helped me to not overwhelm myself with tasks, however, also have everything done by the end of the week. Cleaning your entire space in one day can feel overwhelming, encouraging you to quit before you have even begun. As opposed to selecting days for specific rooms or tasks, with some days also being free it starts a healthy routine and doesn’t scare you away, as the next day you know is a free day. It feels condescending to write, but I know I can’t be the only adult that has struggled with this throughout my life, so I will finish this article with some personal tips, and some researched tips to create your own tidy minimalist sanctuary, because you deserve it.

  1. Wash as you cook: once this habit is established you will love yourself, nothing feels more overwhelming after slaving over the stove for an hour, to then have to clean for another hour, also the dishes are easier while they’re still hot!

  2. Refresh you living space as soon as you get up: While the kettles boiling for your morning brew, quickly spruce up your living room, straighten your pillows and fold your throw blanket, then when you sit down and drink your coffee feel proud of yourself, your halo will be extra bright.

  3. Pair your tasks: Play your favourite podcast while you do your daily chores, or that series you just can’t stop while folding your laundry.

  4. Buy Less: One set of dishes means ultimately, less dishes to wash, is also forces you to clean them before every meal, preventing that awful pile we are all too familiar with.

  5. Break down the deep clean: As previously mentioned breaking down the harder tasks feels much less overwhelming, clears your head and establishes a consistent routine.

  6. Gadgets: If its available in your price range, invest in some minimalist time saving gadgets, the hoover robot, and a space saving dish dryer, there are an abundance of items to help you keep your life orderly and clean- just don’t get carried away!

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