If you’re at home right now, take a moment to look around you. What do you see? Do you see a tidy home in which everything (well, practically everything!) is in its right place, or do you see total chaos and disorganization? If it’s the latter, don’t feel bad, it happens to the best of us every once and a while–but, if this is a very common occurrence in your life, there might be something more serious going on.

A series of studies used in the writing of the book Life at Home in the 21st Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors, show that people, especially women, living in cluttered homes experience heightened levels of stress hormones, the same kind that contributes to depression.

This experience was outlined in psychiatrist Dr. Audrey Sherman’s “Dysfunction Interrupted” column on PsychCentral. In it, Dr. Sherman reveals that she finds disorganization and the chaos that comes with it to be “the biggest problems to be reported by depressed individuals.” “Emotional baggage has a way of building up then expressing itself in an outward display of turmoil,” the psychiatrist writes.

It’s true, living, working, and even driving in cluttered spaces does nothing for nurturing mental health, but sometimes the issues are so intertwined, it’s hard to figure out what came first–the depression with the clutter or vice-versa.

Recently, we shared this photo as part of an article detailing an Indiana mother’s struggle with depression. In a now-viral Facebook post, Brittany Ernsperger added the photo to accompany a story outlining the experience leading up to the massive sink-full of clean dishes.

We learn that Ernsperger didn’t just have a bustling dinner party that she had to clean up for, that sink was full of dishes that had piled up over the course of 2 weeks. The mother of four then goes on to explain that, after several tearful attempts days prior, she finally emerged from the extreme depressive fog that kept her from getting the household task done in the first place.

After sharing her story and picture, the post went viral, and she even earned a spot on Today, where she used her platform to explain that signs of mental illness aren’t always obvious–they can show themselves in more low-key ways, such as a messy home or consistent tardiness.

How to improve your headspace by decluttering

Now that you know that there’s a firm link between household mess and depression, let’s take a look at some ways we can solve the problem. Here are our favorite Feng Shui-inspired tips to check off your list as you clean:

  1. Donate or get rid of unnecessary items (that includes things that have not been used in the past 6 months)
  2. Only keep objects around you that elicit positive memories
  3. Re-organize your home so that it is a welcome place for guests
  4. Only keep the things that you currently need in your immediate space–all else belongs in storage.

See, that’s not so hard, isn’t it?

If you suffer from depression and/or you feel overwhelmed by a cluttered home, be sure to speak with your doctor. They might have some more advice on treatment options that can be added to your mental health plan.

What are your thoughts on the connection between clutter and depression? Does this ring true for you? How do you keep a consistently tidy home?