Having a messy room doesn’t mean you have depression. However, depression may increase the odds of having an untidy living space.

Ever notice how certain spaces seem to change your mood? Our physical surroundings hold powerful sway over our emotions — and, for many of us, feeling good vibes in a room comes down to its cleanliness. It begs the chicken-and-the-egg question: Does the state of your room reflect the state of your mind, or vice versa?

Turns out, both can be true. Here’s what research shows about the link between a messy room and depression.

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First things first: Just because you’re a little untidy doesn’t necessarily mean you have depression. Powering through a busy week, babysitting little kids, or throwing a party can quickly add up to a messy house. And hey, we all have different levels of what we consider cleanliness.

However, research shows that a disordered space can signify depression. A 2020 study found that the greater a household’s messiness, the higher the number of adverse outcomes among parents, children, and families. One primary negative effect? Depression.

People with depression often feel low energy. When you’re finding it tough to get out of bed, the last thing you may feel like doing is running the vacuum or scrubbing toilets.

Depression also frequently involves a lack of interest in things that may have previously seemed necessary. So even if you’re a naturally spic and span type, depression could remove your desire to clean.

Letting the dishes pile up might not cause diagnosable depression, but there’s something to the idea that a dirty room can darken your outlook on life.

Some research has looked at the effects of clutter on mental health. A 2021 study, for example, revealed that the amount of clutter in people’s homes strongly predicted their psychological well-being. In another older study, women whose homes were messier had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which led to more excellent rates of depression.

Again, it’s hard to say which comes first: depression or a tendency toward clutter. But if you’re already living with depression, seeing a messy room could cause a sense of overwhelm or, worse, self-blame for not keeping clean. Ultimately, this could kick off a vicious cycle of low mood and low motivation to pursue tidiness.

So… if not cleaning can leave you feeling down in the dumps, could clearing the clutter make you feel better? The bright (and shiny) upside is that decluttering can boost mood. According to 2015 research, ritualistic behaviors like cleaning can provide a sense of regained control, pulling us out of negativity.

Don’t forget that cleaning can be a physical activity, too! Tasks like mopping floors, washing windows, and wiping baseboards can all get your blood pumping and your mood rising (especially if you rock out to your favorite tunes while you work). Aerobic exercise is strongly linked to lower rates of depression.

If you’re living with depression, giving yourself some grace about the state of your home is essential. Try not to put undue pressure on yourself to do something you can’t muster energy for. Specific tactics can boost your motivation when you’re not feeling the cleaning bug. Try the following:

  • Set a timer for a short period (like 5–10 minutes) and clean as much as you can
  • Put on some upbeat music or a motivating podcast to listen to as you clean
  • Make it a family affair! Gather up the kids and your spouse or partner and go at it as a team
  • Build a habit! When you build in cleaning at a consistent time of day (or day of the week), it becomes second nature
  • Give yourself a reward. Perhaps when you’ve finished a room, you can sit down and enjoy watching a favorite show or take a nap

You’re not alone

If you’re feeling depressed or overwhelmed, please know you are not alone. Call SAMHSA’s 24/7/365 helpline at 1-800-662-HELP or visit their online treatment locator.

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