More mess equals more stress

Experts finds the solutions to deal with mental stress due to cluttering


By Erin Conners

Students wanting to tackle their cluttered living spaces should forget about perfection and focus on what works for them, experts say.

Khaled Bayyari, a first-year business student diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, moved out of his tiny studio apartment in Gastown last semester because he couldn’t get anything done at home.

“The kitchen, and bedroom, my workstation were all in the same room and yeah, it wasn’t a fun time,” said Bayyari.

Rising housing costs have put pressure on the amount of space students can afford. The average rent-per-square-foot in Metro Vancouver increased 14 per cent over the past year for available rentals, according to online rental listing data compiled by Liv Strategies Inc. The average asking rent was $2,208 for an unfurnished, one-bedroom unit for March 2023, compared to $1,856 in March 2022.

Although the Hastings-Sunrise basement suite Bayyari moved into has more space, he said he still struggles to keep it tidy.

“Sometimes I fall into that trap of, like, I don’t want to do the dishes today,” Bayyari said. “If my room isn’t clean, if I have a big pile of laundry on my bed, I’m gonna think about it all day and I’m not going to be able to put my 100 per cent in.”

Dr. Sheila Woody, a psychologist and University of British Columbia professor, said although more research needs to be done, clutter is stressful and distracting when someone desires a tidy home.

Woody said conditions like depression can hinder someone’s ability to take care of their space because of “really low energy levels and low motivation.”

Sixty-eight per cent of Canadian post-secondary students who experienced depression said that it negatively impacted their academic performance, according to the 2022 National College Health Assessment survey.

Woody said the heightened stress of exam periods can create similar problems for all students because prioritizing what to do becomes more challenging.

While it is difficult to manage clutter in small spaces, Woody said different people have different ideal living environments.

“As long as the home is safe, then people should be able to kind of choose the aesthetic that works for them,” Woody said. “The idea that your home should look a certain way might create stress, or shame or embarrassment when people come over, if the reality is it’s just hard to live that way in that amount of space.”

Anna Dolgopola, a home organizer and second-year marketing management student, said that people can set themselves up for success by organizing their space in a way that is easy for them to maintain.

 “If you hate folding socks or t-shirts, just don’t do that,” Dolgopola said. “There’s no point in creating something that looks good and feels good, but then it’s going to become messy in few days just because you’re not into it.”

Dolgopola said organizing items by categories and using drawers to keep things out of sight helps prevent the distractions of visible clutter.

“Like all my shirts might not be folded. Sometimes I’m so tired I just don’t do that. But all these shirts are all in one drawer. They’re messy there, but they’re there only in this drawer, not anywhere else in my room,” Dolgopola said.

“Even if it’s cluttered inside the drawers, it’s better than when it’s cluttered outside.”

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