Tackle Visual Clutter: Psychology & Tips for a Clean Home

Are you tired of living in a space that seems eternally messy, with overflowing shelves, tangled cords, and kitchen counters littered with appliances? You’re not alone. This phenomenon is known as ‘visual clutter’, and it can greatly impact our well-being, even causing anxiety in some cases. We explore what visual clutter is, the psychology behind it, and effective strategies to reduce it for a more peaceful and inviting home.

I have visual clutter in my home. There I said it. I have developed the ability to skip right past it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

My husband, on the other hand, likes to “clean” the visual clutter, which basically just means he’ll take the pile of papers and mail that are sitting on the counter and stick them in a drawer somewhere so they are out of sight.

Neither of these methods of dealing with visual clutter is doing us any favors.

What is Visual Clutter?

Visual clutter refers to the abundance of items, colors, textures, and patterns in a space that can lead to sensory overload. This phenomenon is not just limited to physical spaces like a messy room or overcrowded desk, but it is increasingly prevalent in digital spaces as well – think of your crowded computer desktop or the gazillion apps on your smartphone.  

When we talk about visual clutter in the home, we refer to an overly filled bookshelf, crowded kitchen counters, too many home decor pieces, or even a chaotic color scheme.  And it’s more than just an aesthetic issue – it’s a psychological one.

A Cluttered dusty room

The Psychology Behind Visual Clutter

I don’t think there’s been a single article I’ve written here at Bogoten that didn’t involve a trip to Psychology Today. I write about keeping a lovely home, why would I possibly need to hit up the experts on Psychology Today?

Well, visual clutter can lead to increased levels of anxiety and stress. I learned some fascinating things from this article I found on the effects of Visual Clutter.

  • Visual clutter creates stress. Your eyes and therefore your brain, can’t rest. They are constantly taking in information about the junk you have lying about and the brain is like, WHAT IS ALL OF THIS? WHAT DO I NEED TO DO WITH THIS JUNK? Not good, right?
  • Visual clutter makes you less happy. You don’t feel a connection with your home and so you don’t get that amazing, cozy feeling that you should when you are in your home, your safe space.
  • Visual clutter can make you EAT more. Someone actually did a study on this and found that people ate MORE cookies in the cluttered kitchen than in the non-cluttered kitchen.
  • Visual Clutter makes it more difficult to read the people around you. This isn’t good for anyone. A cluttered environment can make it more difficult to focus on the facial reactions of the people around you which means you might miss subtle cues in conversations. This one feels the scariest to me. What am I missing when I’m staring at that pile of spice containers that I didn’t put away?
  • Visual clutter makes you work harder at thinking. Your short-term memory can be affected and also your long-term memory, too. Maybe it’s not just my “Mom Brain”. Maybe it’s the visual clutter I’ve accumulated.

Researchers argue that clutter competes for your attention in the same way a toddler might, leading to distraction and decreased performance. Furthermore, clutter can signal to our brains that our work is never done, leading to unrest and anxiety.

So First, Understand Minimalism and Negative Space

Understanding minimalism and negative space is crucial to reducing visual clutter. Minimalism, as a design principle, encourages the use of as few elements as possible. It’s about stripping things back to their fundamental qualities and doing away with anything unnecessary.

On the other hand, negative space (or white space) is the area around and between the subject(s) of an image or the spaces between different items. By focusing on these areas and using minimalism principles, you can combat visual clutter effectively.

Practical Ways to Reduce Visual Clutter

To transform your cluttered spaces into a more appealing and restful environment, here are some practical ways:

Eliminate Visual Clutter - the before picture with ALL the clutter on a kitchen countertop

Regular Decluttering

The first step in managing visual clutter is regular decluttering. Remove items that are no longer needed or don’t bring joy.

Organize and Categorize

Organize your belongings into categories. This could mean grouping books together on a shelf, storing kitchen utensils in designated drawers, or keeping similar decorative items together. I’m always a fan of labels too!

Definitely Organize Your Shelves

Whether it’s a bookshelf or a kitchen shelf, organize the items according to their sizes, color, or purpose. Remember, every item should have a home.

Manage Your Cords

With the help of cord covers or cable management boxes, cords can be kept out of sight. This way, your attention won’t be drawn to the mess of tangled wires under your living room tv.

Keep Countertops Clear

Minimize the number of items on your bathroom and kitchen countertops. Store away appliances that are not frequently used.

Take Off Refrigerator Magnets

Do you have too many magnets on your fridge holding too many papers? Maybe it’s time to reduce and organize those as well.  Or move them to only one side leaving the front of the fridge with plenty of wide open free space.  

Apply the Rule of Three

This rule suggests that items grouped in odd numbers, especially threes, are more visually appealing and less cluttered.

Embrace Minimalism

In the context of home decor, being a minimalist goes a long way. Choose a simple color palette and don’t overcrowd spaces with too many decorative pieces.

Use Space Effectively

Ensure you have ‘breathing space’ around your furniture and decor items. This space allows your eyes to rest and makes the room appear more spacious and inviting.

Prioritize Items

Identify which items are most important or frequently used and ensure they are easily accessible. Less important items can be stored out of sight.

Frequently Asked Questions About Visual Clutter

Q: How does visual clutter affect kids?

A: Cluttered spaces can have a negative effect on children. Too many toys or items can overwhelm them, leading to overstimulation and difficulty focusing. Internal stress can impact focus at school and extracurriculars too. A clutter-free home environment aids in mental clarity and improved focus. 

Q: Can throw pillows and blankets contribute to visual clutter?

A: Yes, too many throw pillows and blankets on your couch can contribute to visual clutter. Choose a select few that coordinate well with your décor.

A: Electronics, with their cords and accessories, can create a lot of visual clutter. It’s best to limit the number of devices in one area and keep cords neatly arranged or hidden.

Q: How can I reduce visual clutter in my home?

You can reduce visual clutter by regularly decluttering, organizing items into categories, embracing minimalism in home decor, using space effectively, and prioritizing items based on their importance and frequency of use.

Eliminate Visual Clutter - My coffee bar after, the after picture of visual clutter after its all cleaned up, visual clutter before and after


Visual clutter can bring more than just a disorganized environment. It can lead to stress, and anxiety, and even impact our focus and productivity outside of the home. However, with an understanding of its psychology and the application of minimalism and negative space, you can create a clutter-free, serene living space. From managing the cords to maintaining clear countertops, you can turn the tide on unsightly clutter and enhance your well-being.

Remember, achieving a clutter-free environment doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that requires patience and consistent effort. Start small, and with time, you’ll notice a big difference in your space and your peace of mind. Plus, the fewer things you have accumulating dust, means fewer things you have to clean!

Bonus: While decluttering, I found a check for 170 dollars and $6.75 in quarters.

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