Why Does Organizing Help with Anxiety?


We’ve heard it before (in fact, we’ve even discussed it here): tips to help de-stress and relax often include getting organized. Whether that be through cleaning out your closet, getting a planner, or buying color-coordinated folders and binders, we feel some sort of satisfaction when things are put in their place, even if it isn’t relevant to what may be causing anxiety.

But why is that the case? Even considering organizing sends a calming rush sometimes. De-cluttering and putting things in order are popular activities in order to help with stress, and there have been several studies that have come up with possible reasons as to why this happens.

Clutter and messes can be a visual representation of the mind, which can therefore make your own disorganized thoughts that much more stressful. These visual stimuli can make it harder to focus because the business overwhelms the visual cortex. This is particularly true if the clutter has nothing to do with what’s currently stressing you out too, therefore making them task-irrelevant objects. Identifying what you need to focus on and complete becomes more difficult as a result.


There are even health benefits associated with organization, and as a result, cleanliness. A survey found that those who make their bed and/or sleep with clean sheets are much more likely to get a better night’s sleep. Other studies found that those who keep a schedule, set goals for an exercise regimen, and keep a clean home are more likely to commit to being active.

On the mental health side, studies have established that there is some sort of link between organization and depression. In one study, women who felt that their spaces were cluttered and had “unfinished projects” were more likely to be depressed compared to those who described theirs as restorative. The former also had higher levels of cortisol, or the hormone that controls stress. Clutter can also make people self-conscious and worry about how others perceive them. The fear of being judged for a messy space can contribute to a worsened mental state, particularly because of the human need to be accepted by others.

The human body itself is incredibly organized and well-functioning. Our bodies love routine and order – think of circadian rhythms (the way that our behaviors follow a daily cycle). We know to sleep when it’s dark and complete activities when it’s light, for example. Some believe that our bodies strive to be organized inside and out, so having an organized and clean environment gives our bodies some peace of mind.

So, there are several reasons that a lot of wellbeing lists include cleaning up and getting organized. There are likely a lot more contributing factors, but next time you clean out your backpack or color code your closet, you can have a better understanding as to why that’s the case.

Why do you think organizing helps with stress relief? If you’ve tried it before, do you think that it works?

Moderator ★

Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: https://sova.pitt.edu/i-need-help-now We look forward to talking to you!

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