#115 6 Ways Clutter Damages Your Heart

6 Ways Clutter Damages Your Heart

“Has anyone seen my $20 bill?” my son cried out this morning.

As expected, no one had seen it.  All morning he searched frantically to find his birthday money.  He was sure someone had stolen the cash.  In the end, he found his money once he cleaned his room.

How many times have you tried to sort through your clutter as well?  In this article I discuss 6 ways clutter damages your heart and offer 8 tips on reclaiming your sanity.

Is Clutter a Problem?

If you can’t find something you probably have too much clutter.  Like most Americans, the longer we live in the same home the more “stuff” we collect

Clutter has to go somewhere.  The more of it we get the more boxes and other storage containers we need.  Over time our house became one big storage center and we spend all of our time just maintaining, organizing, and repairing our stuff.

6 Ways Clutter Damages Your Heart

1. No Garage Space

An interesting UCLA study showed that 75% of middle-class Los Angeleans could not even park their beloved cars in the garage due to too much clutter.  While we can at least get our cars into the garage it can be difficult at times.  Being forced to park your car on the street or not being able to use your garage causes unnecessary stress.

2. Late Bills

The Denver Post reported that the reason why 23% of Americans don’t pay their bills on time is because they can’t find them in the midst of all of their clutter.  We have certainly been guilty of this one in the past.  Studies show that financial stress is one of the main reasons why marriages fail.

3. Lose an Hour a Day

Julie Morgenstern, in her book Organizing from the Inside Out, reports that the average U.S. executive loses an hour a day from missing stuff.  Lost things could also be electronic files, an old email, or a report that you can’t remember where you filed.

4. More Housework

One study found that 40% of housework could be eliminated with getting rid of all the unnecessary stuff.  For many people, having housework hanging over their heads is reason enough for stress.

5. Renting Unnecessary Storage Space

Fully 1 in 11 Americans now has to rent physical self storage space because their homes are not big enough to accommodate all of their stuff. The recurring expenses of renting a unit, not to mention the thought that there is all that stuff that needs to be dealt with one day, is very stressful.

Whether it was intentional or not, my Macbook and iPhone cannot seem to keep up with my need for more electronic storage space.  Thus, like many other Americans, I have been forced to purchase additional cloud storage space for my digital life.  Indeed, one third of America’s electronic stuff is now stored in the cloud.

Now we have extra physical and digital places to look for all of our stuff.

6. Our Brains Don’t Work Properly

In a fascinating study, neuroscientists at Princeton University wanted to understand the impact of visual clutter on the brain.  Interestingly, the more visual clutter people were exposed to the less effectively their brains worked.

Stress and Heart Disease

All of this “clutter” is not benign when it comes to our health.  As reported in Psychology Today, clutter causes stress.  Even in the UCLA “clutter” study I mentioned above, trying to manage all of the clutter in the home caused mothers in this study to have high stress hormone levels.

Stress contributes to heart attacks, heart failure, and arrhythmias.  One of the best ways to lower our risk of cardiovascular disease is to create both physical and mental space in our lives through decluttering.

We Are Committed to the Decluttered Life

Jane and I have committed to take some significant steps in our journey to declutter our lives.  It is time to reclaim our space- physical, digital and mental–and here is our strategy:

1. Two-second Rule

If we see something that we can effectively get rid of in 2 seconds, we do it immediately.  Usually, this means putting it in the trash.

2. Create a Place for Everything

Long ago I created a special basket for my keys and wallet.  I now do the same for my iPhone, Macbook, and just about everything else I own.  If all of our stuff has a “home,” then you never have to look for anything.

3. Lock Down Bin

We have younger children.  As anyone with children will tell you, if left unchecked, kids will leave their stuff everywhere and I mean everywhere.

To help solve this problem, we have a lock down bin.  Here is how it works.  If we ever see a child’s item where it shouldn’t be, we simply put the item in the lock down bin.

To get the cherished possession back, our children either need to do a job or pay a dollar.  If lost items are not purchased back within a certain period of time, we donate everything left unwanted in the lock down bin.

4. Space for Something New

We are now instituting a rule that for every one thing that is added, one or more things must be removed.  This works for new clothing as well as new commitments for our calendar.  If I can’t donate a shirt I don’t buy a new one.  Likewise, if I can’t take something off of my schedule I don’t add anything new.

5. Empty Space

Empty space is the most beautiful thing in our home.  It doesn’t matter where it is — an empty shelf, an empty desk.

6. Make Everything Electronic

Several years ago I made the rule to never file or save anything “physical” again.  I can’t tell you how liberating this has become for me.  I now store all receipts on Evernote.  All of my children’s important school work is photographed and digitally filed.

7. Autopilot

Trying to remember to pay our bills on time was costing us time and money.  Now we’ve automated every bill possible and set up electronic tracking systems. I love getting the electronic “FYI” that everything has been automatically taken care of for me.

8. Three Item To-Do List

I used to have never ending to-do lists.  What didn’t get done on one day was passed on to the next day.

It was a no win battle.  Now I have electronically created  system whereby I can only put in a maximum of 3 items on my to-do list for any given day.  If something goes on then something must go off.

9. Readily Available Donate Box

To help us regularly donate old or unused items, we have a readily accessible donate box in our garage.  As soon as the box is full it is donated.

Closing Thoughts

I once asked Makun, one of our centenarian friends in China’s Longevity Village over lunch, “Where did you used to keep your stuff?”

“What stuff?” she replied.

It was clear that Makun did not suffer from the burden of unnecessary clutter.  This, perhaps, was one of the many secrets to her health and longevity.

Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.

  1. I love this! Thank you, thank you for validating my suspicion that the clutter/stuff around me causes me stress.

  2. I never would have thought that clutter could be hurting me. I do realize that stress can be bad for my heart, though; I guess that I just never connected the two. I do try and keep my house pretty clean, but maybe I’ll have to show this to my wife. I think she wants me to be healthy. Thanks for the intriguing post.

    • Hi Nick,

      Thanks for the comments. Yes, decluttering is an ongoing process. I just found 10 ties yesterday that I was no longer using to donate…


  3. This article reminded me of this definition: Stuff is the junk I keep; junk is the stuff you keep.

  4. Great article Dr. Day. So, by removing the physical clutter around your environment it also remove clutter in your brain. Makes good sense. Very good suggestions. Thank you for all you do!


  5. I can confirm your article. After my husband died, I needed to downsize and move to a smaller condo. My ‘space’ was reduced by more than half. I made a stack for
    discard, pass on, and keep. My son helped and encouraged. It is such a good feeling to be liberated from all that ‘stuff’. It is like a huge load of responsibility is lifted. Caring for it, moving it, dusting it, and worrying about
    ‘stuff’ is not worth it.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  6. I sure do think that you wrote this article just for my husband and myself. We are great collectors of “STUFF”. My husband collects paper, such as notes he makes to himself and receipts he needs to keep. This builds up and then he can’t find what he needs and then stress starts. I collect anything that I made having to do with my business for the last 30 years and yup this is stored in our garage on shelves my husband built to hold all of my “Stuff”. My stress starts when he says “Why don’t we clean out some of these boxes”. Of course me being me I say, “I might want or need it”. So, to make a long story short, I am going to follow some of your good ideas. Maybe this is why I am one of your patients, too much “stuff”.

  7. It is very interesting about all what I have read. Thanks very much for everything. I will start step by step and in fact I was planning to do it today on my time off work. Thanks again, Dr. john Day!!

  8. I have lots of “stuff “! It is so much more fun to hand it over to my family than to hang onto it! My eldest daughter, Stacey, has created a small portion of her business in Payson for a collector corner! She’s finding homes for our excess (she has the same collect things gene as her mother ). Others participate too.
    Some times we “have”to get something , then it wears off. .. hallelujah! Finding other homes for stuff is rewarding and the funds, small I admit, usually less than we paid, go into a little holding bin to do something special!
    Every box of stuff I take her feels oh so good! You are right on! I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m headed in that direction,!

    • Hi Erma,

      Thank you so much for sharing! Yes, lots of people are finding work helping people with all of their stuff. We have even had professional “organizers” help us in our home. Saying goodbye to clutter is truly liberating!