Can a messy house cause depression? Experts have their say and explain how to get a start on tidying

Did you know your mental health was linked to the spaces around you? Experts explain why an untidy home might be impacting your mood

a corner sofa in a living room with a TV and wall units
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Keeping a house neat and tidy is not as easy for some as it is for others, no matter how many decluttering articles they read. While each person's level of organization and tidiness changes, evidence suggests that a house in too much disarray could have a negative effect on your mental health. 

For many, decluttering tips can be overwhelming – especially if clutter and dirt have unintentionally built up over a period of time. 

When household clutter begins to interfere with day-to-day life, it may be a sign that your home needs some help. Luckily, there are a few ways to declutter your home when you feel overwhelmed, and asking for help is a great first step.   

Here, experts weigh in on whether or not a messy house can cause depression, and offer some solutions to help start getting your house, and your mind, in shape again. 

Can a dirty house cause depression?

While studies (opens in new tab)have shown that there is a direct link between a messy or dirty room and depression. This is not surprising considering that it has been proven that decluttering can change your life.

An untidy space is not a definitive symptom of ill-mental health, however, rather, it is a possible warning sign – particularly if it overwhelms you to the point of inaction and lack of motivation. 

It is important to note that only a medical professional can diagnose a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. 

An unmade bed

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'A dirty or untidy house can cause depression and/or make low moods worse,' says Phillip Hord, co-founder of Horderly Home Organizing (opens in new tab). 'We aren't saying this is the only cause of this but it can be a contributor.

'Conversely, depression can easily cause a dirty/untidy house. If you see any signs of this personally or of a friend/family member, don't be afraid to offer help or suggest hiring a professional to come in if they are overwhelmed with the thought of tackling it on their own.' 

One of the main ways to help tackle an untidy or dirty house caused by a low mood is to accept help and take some small first steps towards improvement. You never know, a clean house might make you happier, at least just a little.  

Piles of books

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Most of the time people can think about how to keep a house from getting messy and take preventative measures. If they are overwhelmed, however, it is important to recognize that this may not be as easy.  

Kim Grubbs, psychologist and founder of Downsize Matters (opens in new tab) explains that there can be a significant amount of emotional weight attached to decluttering and tidying a home. 'I think most of us will become depressed or despondent when faced with a house full of clutter because the solution to amend it seems impossible. Also, most people have emotional attachments to their stuff and anticipate the loss of treasured items before they begin the decluttering process. 

'Since an independent source does not have the same attachment to someone else’s belongings, they can make headway quickly in the clearing. I think it’s imperative, however, to have some skill at being able to discuss the issues of grief and loss before beginning the task of decluttering and downsizing. Reframing the process as the path to gaining more independence from the “prison” of too much stuff will create a shift in the level of willingness to begin the process.'

How to start getting an untidy room in shape again 

Kitchen cleaning hacks

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One of the first steps in tidying and decluttering a home when you are overwhelmed is to consider which areas of your home are most important. It may be that your kitchen is the highest priority, or even your bedroom or living room if that is where you spend most of your time. Regardless, it is a good idea to start with a smaller area and set reasonable expectations, try to do this with somebody who can lend a helping hand if you can. 

'My best suggestion for any type of “lightening the load” project is to begin by throwing away everything that is trash, in only one location, before moving on to another location,' Kim suggests. 'Closets and laundry rooms are great choices as places to begin.'

Another important step is to avoid comparing your home to other people, This is one of the biggest decluttering mistakes, especially with the rise of seemingly 'perfect' social media accounts dedicated to maintaining picture-perfect spaces. Spend time thinking about what has worked for you in the past and what is not working now. Your home does not have to be completely spotless to help you feel a little bit better. 

If you feel like you need help with your mental health, there are plenty of outlets available across the US including Mental Health America (opens in new tab), a charity that can help direct you to the best service for you, and The National Council for Mental Wellbeing (opens in new tab), which can be used to locate your local mental health centers.  

Does a clean house help mental health?

Research suggests that your physical surroundings can have a huge impact on your mental well-being, with untidy or dirty homes negatively impacting your mental well-being. One way to help combat poor mental health is to take steps to improve your surroundings, whether you do this yourself or have help to make your space the best it can be. 

Chiana Dickson
Junior Writer

Chiana is a junior writer for Homes & Gardens having joined Future plc as a new graduate in 2022 after achieving a 1st class degree in Literature at university. She first became interested in design as a child after spending her summers helping her parents redecorate her childhood home. As a long-time reader of Future’s homes titles, Chiana is constantly finding new inspiration at work as she focuses on emerging trends, how-to’s, and news pieces.