One Hidden Benefit Of Tackling Your Chronic Disorganization – It Will Reduce Your Anxiety

Chronic disorganization

Chronic disorganization is real, and the relationship between disorganization and anxiety can be exacerbating.

Have you ever wondered why it feels like such a relief to clear off a cluttered countertop?

Or to empty a closet of old clothes?

Or to get your papers in order so you know, even for a few moments, where important documents are?

This relief I’m referring to comes from both the experience of getting organized and the emotional release of pent up anxiety.

When your home, office, or space in general are constantly cluttered with “stuff” such that you feel chronically disorganized, you likely feel anxiety too. There is a complex and causal relationship between disorganization and anxiety. And as disorganization builds into chronic disorganization, it’s very common for worry and anxiety to rise.

The Connection Between Chronic Disorganization and Anxiety

Chronic disorganization is more than just a messy home or a cluttered environment. It is also the sense of overwhelm and bad feelings that come with disorganization. These can include feeling shame, embarrassment, regret, sadness, anger or some combination. And often, it’s the emotions around disorganization that make it hard to manage.

Disorganization feeds a sense of overwhelm, and overwhelm feeds disorganization. Chronic disorganization is a cognitive phenomena that comes to life in the space you live in, but it amplifies within the space you live in as well. Science supports this relationship with research showing that the visual distraction of clutter increases cognitive overload and can reduce working memory. 

Working memory is something you use every day and it includes the capacity to think about things “top of mind” or in front of you. Remembering a phone number, walking into a room and remembering what you need to retrieve, remembering where you are driving to while talking, these are all complex actions that require working memory to complete. 

When your working memory is compromised, it’s hard to feel fully attuned to the world around you and in control of your emotions. Because working memory is also integrally tied into your ability to observe experiences and think critically about your emotions, people who experience challenges with their working memory have a hard time being able to use their emotions productively. 

Which means, anyone living with chronic disorganization or in a chaotic environment experiences life with considerable deficiencies in this core cognitive tool. 

Add to this experience the natural anxiety that accompanies feeling frustrated, inadequate, overwhelmed, ineffective or incapable, it’s hard to imagine chronic disorganization without anxiety. People who live alongside chaos routinely have so much angst, conflicts, and experience so much fear that it’s easy to see how anxiety and disorganization live side by side.

Why Organization Can Help Alleviate Anxiety

Just like anxiety can be driven up by disorganization and chaos, it can also be calmed by order and a sense of control. 

Of course, for many this is easier said than done. Many well-intentioned people want to support someone with chronic organization with advice around “just hire someone” or “just take care of it” but truthfully, if it was easy, the relief felt from reducing anxiety is enough to motivate anyone to take action.

The truth is, it’s not that easy especially when you feel that your abilities are compromised and your emotions are edging towards tilt.Here are 6 ways to address chronic disorganization from a loving perspective. It may not be easy for you, but if you want to work on feeling different, it’s important to begin somewhere. 

Here are 6 ways to tackle your environment so you can hack your anxiety.

  1. Pick your starting place. Start with an important area of the home, but not the MOST cluttered. Is it your office? Is it your main living space, the kitchen, a desk or countertop? Where do you spend time such that you would feel the impact of taking a step? That is an important place to start.
  2. Prioritize the most important outcome. When it comes to anxiety and working memory, visual order is the key. You want to work to remove clutter (or have less clutter) so you feel more spacious and less “full” of stuff.
  3. Don’t be afraid to take things away. Whether it’s throwing things away, putting them in a storage area, or putting them in a place where you don’t see them, the act of moving your items and visually deprioritizing them is key to clearing space and creating calmer order. Expect to fill up some trash bags, create piles of donations, or box(es) of precious mementos to “keep but not see” every day. This will be the mark of progress, and create the calm you are seeking.
  4. Resist the urge to make things perfect or buy/add more organizing tools. Instead work with what you have and put things in their place, even if that place is the recycling bin.
  5. Expect to make decisions, even if decision-making is tough. Some experts believe chronic disorganization may boil down to indecision: simply being incapable of making choices/decisions about what to keep or where to store things. And while this may be a part of it, few unilateral statements of weakness are ever helpful.

    If you struggle with making decisions, instead think of yourself as being “out of practice” making decisions and view decision-making challenges as an opportunity to practice. When in doubt, store, don’t throw it away. Your goal isn’t to open up a can of regret, but to get started.
  6. Keep the task small enough to fool your resistance. Overwhelmed where to start? Keep it simple. Set a timer for 10-minutes and tackle one thing. If you aren’t sure where to start, professional organizer Diane Quintana has a great deck of cards that give you one task per card. Each one takes 10 minutes and they take the stress out of deciding where to start. 

If you need help implementing these ideas and feeling like you need a bit more personal help, consider hiring a professional organizer who specializes in chronic disorganization and clutter. There are many great people out there and you might just be surprised how much a tidier environment can help ease your anxiety.

As an anxiety therapist, I know that making decisions, creating space, and tackling a stressor is how you work through anxiety effectively. You don’t have to do it all at once. 10 minutes at a time is all you have to do to get started. 

Want to find out how anxiety affects you? Take my survey.

Photo by Onur Bahçıvancılar on Unsplash.

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD