Messy room & depression

Depression manifests itself in many forms, and sometimes the day-to-day tasks of living and functioning become unmanageable to the point where a person simply cannot perform the normal activities that we must do on a daily basis. Often a sign of depression is clutter or the constant presence of a messy room.

It can be difficult to determine at first if the messy room came first and the person is depressed because of it, or that a messy space is a symptom of depression. However, it is an indisputable fact that these two items can be related.


Most people at some time in their lives show some symptoms of clutter, messy rooms or hoarding, which is normal; however, when a messy room gets in the way of living by causing depression or anxiety, some form of treatment is suggested.


It is believed that the causes of this disorder go back childhood poverty and is a repeat of emotions experienced during this period. This definition of poverty does not mean just physical poverty but emotional poverty as well; especially during early adolescence.

Common Distortions

There tend to be common distortions that occur in people with depression who live in squalor or messy homes. These people are inclined to have an all-or-nothing view, so when they see that their home is a mess, they then see themselves as a mess or a failure--they display a tendency to overgeneralise, rather then seeing each event as a one-time occurrence. According to a study done by a team from Boston University, Smith College and Hartford College, 57 per cent of patients who are classified as hoarders (those living in squalor or messy homes) suffer from depression. The prevalence of this is estimated to be as much as 1.2 per cent of all U.S. adults, with the onset of symptoms showing up around age 13.

Guilt and Motivation

A depressed individual sees her living situation as a direct reflection of her own worth, so if her house is a mess, she thinks that she herself is therefore a mess, rather than seeing the messy house as a separate entity. People with this disorder are also more likely to use guilt in their motivation, saying they cannot be happy if their house is not clean, and when it is not clean they believe that they in turn do not deserve to be happy.

Small Steps

Most people who suffer from depression have a strong lack of motivation, so the idea of cleaning a whole house can be overwhelming. Dr. David Burns, who has written on cognitive disorders and the effects of those who suffer from being clutters, suggests starting with small steps to change behaviour. He breaks all movement down to baby steps that can be as little as 30 seconds. If a person can clean a space for 30 seconds then they will have succeeded at a task.

Support Groups

In addition to these small techniques to improve motivation, support groups for people who suffer from depression and cluttering or messy rooms exist. These groups focus on changing behaviour. Many of the attendees are adults who suffer from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), which compounds the symptoms of this disorder. Anyone can go to these groups, and all they ask of participants is that the desire to change is there.