My Clutter-Induced Anxiety Is Out Of Control Right Now

by Christine Organ
Originally Published: 
Mother with 2 kids using a digital tablet
Scary Mommy and Thanasis Zovoilis/Getty

As if the “homeschooling” and the constant Purelling and frantic news-watching weren’t stressful enough, my home – the place that is supposed to be our safe haven right now – is a disaster zone. What used to be typical a-family-lives-here messiness has been transformed into something along the lines of elementary school classroom/library/rec center/mess hall/gymnasium/office. It’s a lot.

There are some folks who are able to just roll with this – to embrace the “messiness of life.”

RELATED: What Is Classroom Management, And How Can You Apply It At Home?

Alas, I am not one of those people.

Clutter and extra “stuff” drive me absolutely bonkers under the best of circumstances. In the midst of the current pandemic crisis? Well, let’s just say, it’s had me “on edge” lately, to put it mildly.

Anxiety is something that I deal with on a regular basis. I’m generally able to control it with therapy, self-care, and a use-as-needed Xanax prescription. But one of my major triggers for the everyday anxiety is clutter, which is at a max right now.

It’s not just me either. Clutter is known to actually exacerbate anxiety and depression.

According to psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter, clutter can trigger anxiety for several reasons. It “bombards our minds with excessive stimuli” and distracts us, making it harder to focus. Clutter makes us feel like our work is never done (OMG, I feel this on a spiritual level), and it can make it harder to do simple things, like find our keys or the past-due electricity bill.

Currently, my dining room table functions as a fourth grade classroom and a home office. The living room is filled with hoverboards, dirty socks, and empty glasses. The basement has been converted into some kind of “teen cave,” with Xbox headsets and controllers strewn about and chairs rearranged for optimal gaming. And well, the kitchen currently looks like a frat house mess hall.

It’s driving me absolutely bonkers. Between helping one kid do sentence diagrams and dealing with tech issues in the online “classroom,” I’m printing worksheets that will grow into mountains on the countertop. Instead of doing a quick kitchen clean-up after dinner each day, now I’m cleaning up after breakfast, lunch, dinner, and eleventy billion snacks each day. The dishwasher is practically screaming, “NO MORE!”

There are clothes everywhere because of multiple outfit changes each day. Gaming controllers and headsets and board games seem to be breeding. And I can’t even walk past my sons’ bedroom without getting heart palpitations from the impending borderline panic attack. (Just last week, I found a box of Uncrustables under their bed so who knows what is growing in there.)

Yes, I know all of this extra stuff is a privilege and I am grateful that we have all these things to keep us occupied while we are safe in our home. This should go without saying.

It isn’t just the messes that is triggering my anxiety either; it’s the fact that there’s no escaping it. We’ve been sheltering in place (i.e. not leaving our house) for 26 days now (but who’s counting?!), and when you’re at home for that long, you notice things that didn’t really bother you before. For instance, our basement is a cemetery for broken and forgotten toys. I’d love to do a giant purge, but there’s nowhere to donate all this stuff right now so it would just be transferred from one room to another.

I know clutter is a trigger for my anxiety so I try to stay on top of it. I ask my family to pitch in, but no one in my house seems as bothered by all of this “stuff” as much as me.

I’m trying to deal the best I can so that I don’t fall back into old patterns, which basically looks something muttering under my breath as I pick up all the dirty socks and empty glasses until the hot lava of resentment erupts in a volcano of furious rage-cleaning and me screaming, Omg, am I the only one who sees the filth we’re living in?!?! Can’t you people pick up after yourselves?!?! Seriously, family, are you trying to kill me with all your useless crap and messes?

Okay, deep breath. Sigh.

I don’t want to rage clean. I don’t want to freak the fuck out on my family over a few dirty socks. Yet we’re dangerously close, friends.

I’m definitely not a “clean freak” (though the coronavirus pandemic might make a germaphobe out of me), but the mountain of clutter is a serious anxiety trigger right now. Extreme times call for extreme measures. So if you’re like me, I hereby give you permission to take a no-holds barred approach to clutter management. Toss shit in the garbage with abandon and zero guilt. Tap into “mean mom” when necessary to get your family to clean up their shit. And for the love of god, just close the door to your kids’ bedrooms. You can deal with that disaster later.

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