Depression and Your Messy House

In a few-ish days, I’m going to be announcing all the details for the 5th Annual Declutter Challenge. As I prepare the materials for the challenge, I’ve got clutter and mess on my brain.

I’m not a psychologist or a trained counselor, but I’ve had a lot of hands-on experience working with my organizing clients. I’ve noticed a real connection between how my clients feel about life in general and the state of their home. In my experience, there is a relationship between Depression and Your Messy House.

I know there is more going on with your mess than meets the eye. Maybe it is as simple as you’re too busy to keep your house clean. Though, maybe you have the time, but mental obstacles are blocking you.

Years before I worked with her, one client lost a child and began to keep everything (developed to a Level 3 Hoard). Unresolved trauma usually shows up somewhere, and it often shows up in how we maintain our homes. It doesn’t have to be as severe as hoarding tendencies for symptoms of depression to show up all over our homes, though sometimes the more extreme examples help illustrate the point. I’ve seen cases where moms have given their everything to family and/or work, and have stopped taking proper care of themselves and their personal spaces.

The most heart-wrenching thing for me to see is when people convince themselves they aren’t worth it – that they don’t deserve to live in a nice environment.

If you think about cleaning and organizing all the time, but have a hard time finding the energy to make any progress, depression might be getting in your way.

I’ve told my friends and family before, if you come to my home and it is a mess: I’m most likely in a funk.

This whole thing can be a really vicious cycle. When our homes are messy and cluttered, it is hard to feel good enough to change anything. When our homes are clean and decluttered, it is easier to feel better and then continue to care for our homes.

But, what if we feel STUCK with a messy home? How do we break the cycle? How do we get our fresh start??

(Step 1) If our depression is severe, we should talk to a licensed therapist. They can customize treatment to fit our circumstances.

(Next) Develop positive mantras that remind us that we are worth the effort to get things cleaned up. We deserve to feel good. We deserve a home that feels good. We are worth the effort. 

(Then) Think of something WE CAN DO, no matter how small or inconsequential it may feel. Pick a task that you can achieve successfully from start to finish without stopping.

  • Gather dirty dishes and bring to the sink.
  • Make the bed.
  • Pick up the trash in the room we’re in.
  • Do a load of laundry (or put a clean one away).
  • Pick up one piece of clutter and toss it or put it away.

As you begin to do a few small things, you’ll notice a miracle within yourself starts to happen. You feel better, and feeling better gives you a little more energy to pick another small thing. That momentum is a powerful force for good in your life!

{Once you’ve achieved a few small things, see if you can set a timer for 10 minutes and do more small things until it goes off. }

The biggest point I want to make is: if your house is messy, you may be depressed. And if you are dealing with depression, you are not alone. Do what you need to do to feel better, and your home will follow along.

When the declutter challenge comes up next month, modify the daily tasks to an amount you can successfully achieve, but continue to move on with the group. It is better to see continued success instead of perfection. Waiting for perfection will just get you stuck, and feeling stuck is not good for your depression!

We decide when to break the cycle – we take the action to fix things. Make a call to get professional help or start somewhere small, but start today to create the home you deserve. You deserve to live somewhere clean and uncluttered.

***Edited to Add***

The Next Declutter Challenge is Starting!!

So many people have changed their lives with our Annual Declutter Challenge. I think it can help you get un-stuck! Our Facebook group is a force in positive encouragement …

Find out more!

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Happy Decluttering and Happy You,

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65 thoughts on “Depression and Your Messy House

  1. Thanks, Mary
    Almost no one gets the depression – messy home connection. For me it’s the exhaustion that comes along with the depression. I can make any number of lists and have nothing but the best intentions but nothing gets done. I think that I’m too tired and I’ll do it tomorrow. Unfortunately, tomorrow never seems to arrive but the feeling of being overwhelmed does. It really is one day at a time. Perhaps the help of a professional organizer knowledgeable in depression would be the help I need? Another challenge and again I will try to get the job done.

    1. Yes, the right professional organizer could absolutely help you get jump-started. Don’t be afraid to interview people for the job. Have some questions ready when you call to see if they’re going to be a good fit. I’m glad you’ll do the challenge again. I’ve been getting the material ready and I think it is going to be a good one!

    2. Catherine, I feel the same way. Every day all day all I think about the dirt in my house but I feel like physically can’t do it. I’m always tired. I feel like it’s to much for me. I feel like I’m wasting the little energy that I do have on cleaning. But it bothers me so much at the same time. I wish I could afford a person to clean my house.

    3. Hi Catherine – I go through the same thing. I have all these projects to make my home better and to get it cleaned but I stay tired all the time. My family says just get up and do it. They don’t understand how hard that is to do with depression.

      Mary – awesome article! It have Mr some ideas and I will try the challenge!

      Robin

  2. This certainly is something I have experienced in my life. Before my son passed, everything had its place. After his passing (1997), nothing was ever in its place, however was always in the right room. Your de-cluttering for 2016 was what has put me on the right track again. Thank you for that. I also have started a list of small things to do, ex. clean out one junk draw. (sorry I do have more than one). After making this list, I go though and accomplish at least one thing on the list and mark it off. This has made me feel like I have started making some headway to organization again.

    1. A list with small items maybe the answer to get me going again…I am willing to try! My depression set in long and hard after losing several loved ones in a short 3 year period all in the two short months coming into the Christmas seaons. I have lost several more in the almost 5 years since. In fact, I seem to have lost my Christmas spirit for a holiday I love the most.
      Please be extra kind to friends and strangers you interact with this holiday season. We all have stories!

      1. Hi Catherine – I am sorry for this pain of losing your son – I have struggled now for ten years after my son’s passing in 2006. I have reached the levels of hoarding – it’s a vicious roller coaster ride – I get things organized and cleaned up and in a matter of weeks its like a hurricane has hit my house again – I don’t know how to stop this. I did put up a tree but only because I know my husband needs it. But I’m glad it’s over.

    2. You are well on your way, give yourself all the credit you deserve. I’m so impressed by all you’ve overcome! Keep on going, keep on going. :)

  3. Mary, this is a very sweet way for you to reach out to those of us in need. Like Catherine said, tomorrow doesn’t come, but the feeling of being overwhelmed does. Tomorrow my husband and I will celebrate our 20th anniversary. If I had not sought counseling (with his help) and kept up with my supplements (again with his sweet, patient help), tomorrow would not be such a joyous occasion! My house is a mess right now, mostly because of all the Christmas gifts I have been MAKING this year! In the last 10 years, it has been a mess because I was depressed and didn’t know it. I have not made Christmas gifts in many years, and my husband is very happy to see me doing something that makes me happy. A clutter-free home certainly helps, and it is also part of the therapy of getting better!

    1. Yay!!! Making again!!! I’m so happy for you. Thanks for your comment, I hope it helps someone else wondering if there is a light at the other end. :)

  4. Thank you for understanding and writing about the connection between depression and clutter. I have always been overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” in my house and never knew what to do with it. I just kept stacking and walking away. I have been able to contain my depression for the most part but still get a bit lost in all the clutter. I become very indecisive about “saving it” or “getting rid of it.”

    1. At this point, I think getting rid of 99% of the clutter would be so freeing that you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself. Clutter has a physical weight, but also a mental one too. And whether you are conscious of it, your clutter is weighing you down. Free yourself!!

  5. Depression and feeling overwhelmed are familiar feelings fot me, too. I stay at home and am supposed to have time to do all the chores, but somehow it doesn’t happen. Then my husband gets angry with me because of the mess and it turns into a viscious circle… Thanks for highlighting the connection, Mary

    1. Sounds like you may need to have a good conversation with your husband. You are not alone, though, most stay at home moms don’t have the time to do all we think we should! And Depression just slows us down, but beating ourselves up doesn’t help anything.

  6. So true Mary! I’m a new mom who has been following you and your recommendations and my house and outlook on life has completely changed! Right now we are all sick and my house is starting to get out of order but I’m not stressing because I have a plan in place thanks to your weekly schedule. Thank you!

    1. I’m so happy for you! It is amazing how our environment truly reflects how we feel … but if we can do somethings to control our environment when our emotions are hard to control, it does help the emotions. When we understand the connection, we can use it to our advantage!

      I hope you feel better soon! I was nursing a child all through last night and am exhausted. Sickness is for the birds! Luckily, she seems well enough to return to school. phew.

  7. Very well written. Describes me to a T. My world fell apart after the loss of my son. Kept telling myself to not sweat the small stuff. Well the small stuff turned into a home full of unmade decisions that kept piling up. I started your challenge last year just to let perfectionism get in my way. I have not given up!! I will continue again in 2017. Thank you!!

    1. I’m glad you’re going to join us again. Just keep trying and you will get there!!! And tell perfectionism to come back later, you’re not available. :)

  8. Mary, wow. I never connected the two as a symptom or sign, but I think that it is true with me. My home is generally clean, because I like cleanliness. As my life gets more hectic and my time is limited; I see the difference in my house. I love working outside of the home and love coming home to a clean one. When I am depressed, it goes downhill. Clutter. Junk builds. Thankyou for this clear insight into my own psyche. I’m cleaning up a little bit at a time.

  9. I am afraid this vicious cycle is well known to me. Add in physical limitations, and it snowballs. I can know something in my head, but getting motivated to change things is difficult when you feel overwhelmed and useless. Negative self-image doesn’t help. You feel you aren’t worth doing the work to make things better. Yes, it helps to know you are not alone. Hearing others tell their stories does give one hope, but the first steps are the hardest. Belonging to a couple of Facebook groups (your group included) has helped a lot. Being understood and encouraged means a great deal to me. For now, I will rejoice in the good days, and get through the bad ones. Keep up the good work and know it is appreciated by many of us.

    1. The first steps are often the hardest, but sometimes knowing that it will get easier after we start makes it easier to start (if that makes sense). :)

  10. This is extremely true, as other comments have said. And you’re right, it definitely helps to do even a small task. The trick for me is not to let myself overdo it, otherwise I burn out and stress myself out more. But if I pick a single task and then complete it, no matter how small, I feel much better. Then I give myself a break and if I feel up to it later I do another task.

    Something else that helps me is to ask a family member if they can do a specific task to help you out. Sometimes just admitting “Hey I’m in a funk tonight, would you mind helping with the dishes? It would help me de-stress” makes all the difference. And while I haven’t tried it myself yet, I think if you have a little extra cash it wouldn’t hurt to hire a cleaner from time to time if your really struggling. Having them tidy up or even deep clean the house might help improve your mood some.

  11. Thank you. You just helped me to realize why I woke up feeling better this morning. I eased into straightening yesterday, and actually got motivated. Got a lot done and it shows. Normally, my tiredness and depressed feelings would keep me in bed all day on my day off. Do ANYTHING to take the first step and usually it snowballs. Just hope I can keep this up!

    1. Learning how we works helps us find ways of improving our situation. We can’t change how we’re wired, but we can learn to work things out a little better to help ourselves.

  12. After losing our home and everything we had in the 2011 tornado in Joplin, I’m worse than ever. I struggled with the need to satisfy my children’s every whim. I thought I needed to replace everything! 5 years later, my home and my mind are cluttered. My children and my husband think nothing of stepping over things. And I either am not at all motivated because I know it will be a mess again in a day, or I’m so motivated that I fill the trash bin in 30 minutes. Thank you for this blog. It means a lot to read that I am not alone.

    1. I was an hour away from Joplin in 2011 – that was some scary stuff happening then! I wouldn’t be surprised if you have unresolved trauma. If you haven’t tried counseling yet, I would vouch for it. Best of luck. :)

  13. Clutter certainly does make depression worse! I remember that feeling of being so overwhelmed and tired I couldn’t even start. I could not organize my thoughts then either. felt like my brain was cluttered as well. While I am much better now, I did your challenge last year and the benefits were amazing! I am so grateful for this and have recommended this challenge to many! Sometimes things still “get away from me” but just getting a pile of dishes done changes the energy in the kitchen and I feel better! Obtaining clear surfaces last year in this small home of mine was amazing! I am looking forward to going farther this time!

    1. I’m so glad you’re in for a second round. It is always better than the first, because you start wanting to let go of so much more because you’ve already learned how good it feels all year long!! Yay!

  14. Thank you Mary. I was finally diagnosed with depression because I couldn’t get on top of the mess I had at my home (I was usually a very organized and neat person). My brother recognized the symptom and suggested I get help. Thanks for helping people realize what may be going on with their lives.

  15. So true. I have experienced the correlation. Years ago I read something similiar that the Chinese culture relates peace of mind with surroundings. Thank you. Looking forward to your challenge.

  16. I never connected the dots myself. I suffer with major depressive disorder, and severe anxiety. My house is currently in a turmoil of clutter and mess. I’ve started taking the appropriate steps to help myself and my home. But reading this today really made me feel less alone in what I’m going through.

  17. Mary,
    I recently lost 5 of my children and was myself hurt very badly in a car accident. Its been a year and a half and my physical injuries have healed as much as they will, I got lucky they weren’t permanent. I’ve moved to a smaller place however haven’t been able to get rid of even the smallest of papers so my home has been a wreck ever since. I am now 5 months pregnant with another child and it is time to move forward and organize things again. I’m not sure yet what I will be actually able to part with but one day at a time little by little I am determined to get it done. This little Angel coming deserves a happy healthy mommy and home to be born to. Thanks for posting this.

    1. I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through, but I love your attitude and determination. Babies deserve all the best, but even more, YOU deserve to feel happy and healthy. Many blessings to you. :)

  18. I really enjoyed your article. It never occurred to me that my messy house had anything to do with depression. I have been off medication for many years and I now realize I’m in a funk. I have a great support group of friends,but I see that I need to make some changes. Thank you.

  19. My problem is I think every one of my family members should help out with the chores… not just me! So it just sits until GUESS WHO DOES IT! … ME! So now what? That’s why I’m depressed!

    1. I agree! Your family members probably should help. Maybe the next step would be to find more strategies to get them involved. I know many homemakers feel alone in all the work sometimes. I encourage you to just keep doing what you can. :)

  20. Hi Mary! How are you doing? How is the unpacking and moving in progressing? Well I have a dilemma and need some advice. I did the declutter challenge two times. Now my kids do jobs around the house every day. I also have the habit of making my bed. ( I know that may sound silly but I never had it before your challenges). However the other things like doing a daily cleaning routine and keeping up with daily laundry I lost the habit :( I stopped doing that every day from the incredible sheer exhaustion of taking care of my four little kids and my husband working so many hours and school starting and my husband being sick and unable to help with anything. I am a little discouraged. I really want to keep up with everything but i am wiped. On top of that the kids completely trash the house and leave everything everywhere. They don’t have the habit of picking up after them self. I was thinking about doing a pick up challenge and rewarding them with pretend fake coins every time they pick up their stuff to get them into a better habit of cleaning up and whoever fills their jar first gets a prize. I don’t know. Do you have any suggestions? I think i might buy paper plates and cups and use hardly any dishes because i have no energy at night to clean up after dishes after the kids are in bed. I do homework dinner bath books bed for all 4 little children while my husband works late so i just crash after i get them to bed. But what would you recommend. I really need to improve my house keeping habits and want to form more without totally wiping myself out. :( Help!

    1. I’m so sorry you are feeling overwhelmed. Attack one problem at a time. Children can’t really get on board when they’re feeling chaos from us. Simplify what you expect of yourself. Split chores up into every 2 weeks instead of every week. Take shortcuts when it makes sense. Mothering small children is hard and exhausting! You are not alone!

  21. Thank you Mary! I like the idea of splitting the chores up into every two weeks. I think I still have too much clutter and I already did 2 challenges! I will do it for a third time I guess. Thanks again for your advice. You are always so helpful and I really appreciate it!

  22. What do you do when you can’t afford help. I can see my doc about antidepressants ,but there is absolutely no way I csn hire an organizer…unless they wsnted to barter hair services. I own a salon and could do that??? Not to sound too extreme, but this make me feel desperste

    1. You do the little things you can control, and then you consider asking someone in your life to help you … which can be humbling. But, it could also be a great start. :)

  23. Thanks for this article. Unfortunately, I was depressed before I lost my son, and my house was a mess. I think there have only ever been brief periods of time when my house was not a disaster area. It’s certainly not been as bad at times, but never really clean and completely organized. I am ALMOST caught up on my paperwork for work, and since I’m down to 5 days (after being almost 3 months behind), I plan to be caught up with work today, so that I can start your challenge tomorrow. There were also computer problems that helped me fall so far behind at work, but depression certainly played a part. It will be a big relief to be caught up, but I will have to stay caught up while I do the challenge. In catching the work up the past week or two, my house has certainly been let go. It will need cleaned before I can declutter and organize. I did do the living room and kitchen floors about a week ago and have kept up with touch ups on them this past week. Little accomplishments are better than none. I may not be able to do a lot with work, but I intend to do what I can, when I can. Thanks for the help and support!

    1. I think you’ve got the right idea – do what you can, when you can – and celebrate that instead of beating yourself up about anything else. You can do this!

  24. I suffer from depression and realize there is a connection with my messy house. I have several items that I purchased at garage sales that I wanted to upcycle…..which have been at least two years ago. The thought of listing them for sale on a site of having a garage sale overwhelms me (although selling the items would be great for my wallet). What do you suggest I do to break free/get rid of these items?

  25. I’m so grateful for this discussion. We had family over for Christmas and I was giddy as I crammed “stuff” in piles (thankfully like with like knowing I’d need to deal with it eventually) into corners here and there and I was so elated with all the empty space! Then the guests came, and all of their gifts and the empty spaces got filled up and I still had to deal with the piles that had once been there. Enter hyperventilating and major anxiety attacks. I do recognize that decluttering helps so today I spent the day quietly in my room and got rid of a lot of clothes I don’t wear. It’s helping and then I stumbled upon this challenge – the required reading is lifting my spirits and energy so much so I know this is the ticket and I’m feeling hopeful. Thanks for the challenge and I cannot WAIT to get my house back one room, one day at a time!

  26. I became sick and lost my job a few years ago. I’ve never been a good housekeeper and always had lots of clutter. Lately, the depression had been overwhelming and I just kinda gave up on my house. I don’t think people understand. Including not feeling well, the depression us just a double whammy. Thanks for posting.

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