Clutter, Cortisol and your Wellbeing.

Sacred Space, Self Care • March 20, 2024

Modern life is so busy and fast-paced. For most of us, it feels nearly impossible to slow things down and create the sense of calm we may be craving. And the constant busyness can result in a build-up of clutter – mental as much as physical – in our lives and homes.

To make matters worse, a cluttered environment then compounds the sense of chaos many of us are desperately trying to tame.

Whether it’s stacks of papers on the desk, a wardrobe bursting with clothes, or miscellaneous items scattered around the house, clutter can easily accumulate so quickly and easily. But beyond just being a nuisance, it can have a profound impact on our wellbeing, including its effect on our cortisol levels.

Cortisol, is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress – hence it’s often referred to as “the stress hormone”. It plays a crucial role in the body’s fight/flight response, helping us react quickly in high-pressure situations.

However, although essential for survival, chronically elevated cortisol levels can lead to a range of health issues, including anxiety, depression, weight gain, and impaired cognitive function. Fight/flight is not a state we want to spend most of our days in.

The Clutter-Cortisol Connection

image of a cluttered kitchen, demonstrating effect of clutter on cortisol levels
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Research has shown a clear link between clutter and increased cortisol levels. Living in a cluttered environment can trigger a stress response in the brain, leading to elevated cortisol levels over time. The reasons for this are believed to be as follows:

  1. Overstimulation: A cluttered environment bombards the brain with excessive visual stimuli, making it difficult to focus and relax. Constant exposure to clutter can overwhelm the senses and keep the body in a state of heightened alertness, leading to increased cortisol production.
  2. Feelings of Disorganization: Clutter often reflects a sense of disorganisation and chaos, both externally and internally. When surrounded by clutter, you may experience feelings of anxiety and unease, further contributing to elevated cortisol levels.
  3. Decision Fatigue: The presence of clutter can also contribute to mental exhaustion that comes from making numerous decisions throughout the day. From choosing what to wear to navigating through a cluttered space, the constant need to make decisions can increase stress levels and cortisol production.

The Impact on Wellbeing

The consequences of elevated cortisol levels extend far beyond just feeling stressed. Chronic exposure to clutter and heightened cortisol levels can negatively impact various aspects of wellbeing, including:

  • Mental Health: Clutter has been linked to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and overall psychological distress. The constant presence of clutter can create a sense of chaos and overwhelm, exacerbating existing mental health issues.
  • Physical Health: Elevated cortisol levels have been associated with a range of physical health problems, including cardiovascular disease, compromised immune function, and weight gain. Living in a cluttered environment may contribute to these health issues over time.
  • Sleep Quality: Cortisol plays a role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, with levels typically peaking in the morning and declining throughout the day. However, chronically elevated cortisol levels can disrupt this cycle, leading to sleep disturbances and insomnia.

Creating a Calm Environment

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce clutter and lower cortisol levels, promoting a sense of calm and wellbeing:

  • Declutter Regularly: Set aside time to declutter your living space regularly, removing items that no longer serve a purpose or bring you joy. Start small, focusing on one area at a time, and gradually work your way through the entire space. If you’d like a daily nudge from me, why not sign up for my free 30 day decluttering challenge.
  • Organise Mindfully: Organise your belongings in a way that promotes a sense of order and calm. Invest in storage solutions that help keep clutter at bay. Keep as much as possible in closed storage such as cupboards, ottomans, boxes with lids etc. And when it comes to open display, contain as much as you can on attractive trays or in tidy baskets.
  • Create Zen Zones: Designate specific areas in your home as “zen zones” where you can relax and unwind free from clutter. Whether it’s a cosy reading nook or a tranquil meditation corner, having clutter-free spaces can help reduce stress and cortisol levels.


While clutter may seem like a minor inconvenience, its effects on cortisol levels and overall wellbeing should not be underestimated. By taking proactive steps to declutter and create a peaceful environment, you can lower cortisol levels, reduce stress, and improve your quality of life. Remember, a clutter-free space is not just aesthetically pleasing—it’s essential for your mental and physical health.

Thank you for reading. You may also be interested in:

Exploring the concept of Creating Sanctuary.

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