Decluttering: Does a Tidy House Equal a Tidy Mind?

During a consultation with a homeopath, Annie Ridout was given an implicit analysis of the inner workings of her mind. This morning, she questions whether a tidy house reflects inner calm or if decluttering is futile

I once went to see a homeopath. I wasn’t sure I believed in it but I’d been feeling stressed and belly-achey and thought I’d give it a go. During the consultation, her questions weren’t of the ‘any major surgery/family history’ ilk, but instead probed into my psyche. For instance: are your drawers at home messy or ordered? I’d never considered the secret parts of my house to matter. I’m aware that I like tidiness and decluttering (cleanliness is secondary to this) but I thought that stuffing random objects into random cupboards was irrelevant as they were out of eyeshot.

My answer? I told her that you’d be forgiven for thinking that an energetic, hairless kitten inhabits every single one of my drawers. In other words: they are a complete mess. Every so often I fold my clothes really neatly but within a few days, I’m back to cramming t-shirts into a corner, with no regard for their until-then wrinkle-free appearance. She noted this down.

To give you some idea of the lack of ‘order’ in my kitchen: potatoes currently live under the hob with saucepans, onions, garlic – scattered about – and a colander. Above the oven decaf teabags, the occasional loaf of bread, empty jam jars, ketchup and honey reside. In the pull out ‘larder’, you’ll find anything – or nothing – needed to cook a meal. There are spices, herbs, sauces, oils, noodles, flour. Makes sense, I suppose – except it is not separated onto separate shelves: the bay leaves are nestled in amongst Caribbean chilli sauce, hot chocolate and oatcakes. Herbs squeeze their way into any tight spot they can find. Opened packets spray spaghetti through the slats in each shelf.

Does a tidy house equal a tidy mind?

Not long after seeing the homeopath, I relayed the conversation we’d had to my sister. Lauren is opposite to me in many ways and the drawer/cupboard thing is no exception. As an artist, she relishes order – so pull open her desk drawers and you’ll find neatly labelled compartments; nothing will be in the wrong slot. Her books are ordered meticulously, her spray paint is even displayed like a work of art. The rest of the room might have clothes scattered about, or books piled up – with a light layer of dust – but behind closed doors there is immaculate order.

So we started delving into the psychology behind belongings, drawers, tidiness, order. Lauren suggested that drawers represent the inner working of your mind – meaning that psychologically she is calm, ordered, neat. Unlike me: I’m scattered, messy, messed-up – you could say – and full of crap. I couldn’t really argue with her; it made sense. Come to my home, and you’ll have an impression of me from the general tidiness – you might think I’m organised, on top of things. But open any cupboard in the house and it will tell a different story.

And so, with this in mind, I’ve set about trying to implement – and maintain – some order behind closed doors. Starting with a pre-spring spring clearout. I took bag upon bag to the charity shop and neatly stuffed my vintage dresses into the already over-crammed ‘dressing up box’ that I started for Joni. It contains every item of clothing I can’t bare to get rid of. She will inevitably loathe theatre and dressing up. I’ve also been sorting through the kitchen cupboards, slowly trying to find a home for stray items – like the flower bulbs I found plonked in with the stationary. (No idea why stationary lives in the kitchen).

Having a clearout is famously therapeutic and I’m a total sucker for therapy so it gets me every time. As I frantically separate my belongings into different piles: bin, recycling, charity shop, to burden someone else, find new home within my home – I feel a weight lifting. When the clear-up is complete I feel lighter, energised and somewhat calmer in my mind.

That homeopath spouted some absolute crap but she was on to something with the drawer/cupboard thing. She didn’t explain why she’d asked about the state of my house but I’d say my sister’s assumption was accurate. Perhaps I didn’t clock why she was asking, or manage to come up with my own explanation, because – at that time – my mind was simply too cluttered. But try me now and with my newly ordered home; I’ll be primed to answer swiftly and concisely. Well, for the next few days that is – until I mindlessly stuff an onion in with the mugs and it all begins again.

Decluttering doesn’t always help

On the flip side, it could be argued that it is only the truly collected people who can put up with having cupboards that resemble the inside of a dustbin. You open the door, note the mess, calmly decide to leave it just as it is and get on with your day. There is also the clichéd image of a manic 50s housewife who spends her whole day cleaning, has immaculate drawers but is drugged up to the eyeballs on Prozac. So a clean house doesn’t necessarily equal sanity and messy drawers might not result in a mental breakdown.

But I can see that decluttering your home regularly, ordering your belongings and making sure that you only have things that are – to quote William Morris – useful or beautiful, is beneficial. Someone who hoards is likely doing so because of underlying psychological issues. Though someone who obsessively reduces their belongings and lives in a minimal setting might also be using their environment to counter something that is disrupting their psyche.

What do you think – do tidy cupboards mean a mentally calm mind? Or do messy cupboards signify inner calm? And what about obsessively cleaning – where does that fit in?

Photo credit: Juhan Sonin