What is clutter blindness and how do you overcome it?

Woman in a cluttered home. (Getty Images)
There are several signs you could be suffering from clutter blindness. (Getty Images)

All of us are guilty of occasionally ignoring the piles of clutter gathering dust in our homes - the worn clothes collecting on the chair, the paperwork building up on the kitchen island.

But if you've stopped being bothered by it, or you've given up noticing the toys or stray socks strewn over your child's room you may well be suffering from clutter blindness.

Clutter blindness is when individuals become indifferent to clutter in their environment, failing to see its negative impact.

"Clutter blindness occurs when someone regularly fails to notice the accumulation of items in their surroundings," explains Dr Lisa Turner, emotional resilience and trauma expert, and founder of CETfreedom.

"Over time, their mind, seeking to reduce sensory overload, starts to filter out the familiar mess as 'background noise'.

"This phenomenon isn't just about avoidance but often an unconscious adaptation, where the clutter becomes a normalised part of the environment," she adds.

Woman working in a cluttered room. (Getty Images)
Clutter blindness is when individuals become indifferent to clutter in their environment. (Getty Images)

Dr Tom MacLaren, consultant Psychiatrist at Re:Cognition Health says there are several factors, which can contribute to clutter blindness including:

Habituation - Individuals become accustomed to the clutter and over time, cease to notice it or the potential consequences.

Psychological factors - Such as denial and avoidance may also influence clutter blindness. Individuals may rationalise it by downplaying its significance.

Chronic stress, anxiety, or overwhelm - Can impair individuals' ability to address or cope with the clutter in their environment.

Avoidance - When faced with overwhelming amounts of clutter, individuals may feel paralysed or helpless, leading them to ignore or avoid dealing with it altogether.

Dr Turner has put together some signs you may be clutter blind including:

  • Piles of stuff and areas of clutter that are regularly overlooked as if they don't exist.

  • Mastered the sense of being able to overlook this as a mess, becoming indifferent to it.

  • No systems in place to tackle it and an avoidance to try.

  • Friends or family offer to help you clean.

  • Having to carve out pathways through the piles.

  • Never feeling like your home is clean but being unsure about why.

According to Dr Turner clutter blindness and hoarding share underlying psychological patterns but manifest differently.

"Clutter blindness can be a precursor to hoarding if not addressed," she explains. "Hoarding is often connected to deeper emotional issues such as anxiety, trauma, or depression.

"Individuals might feel that objects connect them to past memories or identities and discarding them feels like losing a part of themselves."

Woman decluttering her wardrobe. (Getty Images)
Addressing procrastination is one of the keys to addressing clutter blindness. (Getty Images)

Dr Maclaren says overcoming clutter blindness requires a combination of awareness, action, and consistent effort to change habits and mindset and involves several steps.

Acknowledge the problem

Dr Maclaren recommends first assessing your environment and recognising areas with clutter.

Address Procrastination

Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing tasks. "We often procrastinate because we don’t know what to do, or we don’t know how to do it," Dr Turner explains.

She suggests a two-step approach:

  1. Identification:

- List tasks delayed – Make a note of the key areas of your clutter and where you would like to focus attention

- Note reasons for procrastination (e.g., fear, perfectionism).

- identify just one single area to start tidying.

2. Action:

- Set small, achievable goals – Tackle individual areas a step at a time with a clear goal at the end to aid in clearing and organising a dedicated area.

- Use timers for work intervals (for example, 25 minutes of work and a 5-minute break).

- Put a “date” in your diary to schedule a tidy-up time.

- Invite a friend to support you if you decide to do a big tidy up. "Having someone to ask - 'shall I keep, donate, or throw this away?' can be extremely helpful as it reduces mental load and decision fatigue.

"By breaking tasks into manageable parts and understanding the underlying causes, one can take proactive steps to minimise procrastination," she adds.

Woman decluttering her home. (Getty Images)
Experts suggest getting into a regular decluttering schedule. (Getty Images)

Cultivate mindfulness during decluttering

Paying attention to thoughts and emotions. "Use visual cues like sticky notes to maintain awareness and motivation," Dr Maclaren explains.

Stick to a new decluttering routine

Dr Maclaren recommends establishing routines for regular tidying and incorporating decluttering tasks into your schedule.

Practice gratitude for items that bring joy

And let go of those that don't align with your values.

Seek support

From friends, family, or professional organisers for encouragement and assistance. "This will help make the process feel more achievable," Dr Maclaren says.