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Out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, when it comes to clutter, the answer is... not really. In 2021, research, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that once you think of your space as messy or stressful, the idea of clutter can impact how you behave in your house, including how you cook, stay clean, and sleep.
Seeing clutter before bed — and in the middle of the night — can trigger anxiety about all the tasks that remain undone, says Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist and author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.” For people with a hoarding disorder, one study found an increased risk of disturbed sleep, depression, and daytime function.
Decluttering can have tangible results — the same 2021 research mentioned above reports that people feel uplifted, refreshed, and happier after a thorough cleaning— but the real trick is in making sure your space reflects your style and is easily maintained so that you don’t lose your progress.
Here’s how to declutter, organize, and clean your sleeping space.
How to Declutter Your Bedroom
One study looked at 1052 participants with insomnia and found that tidying improved their sleep quality as much as regular bedtime self-care, resulting in fewer sleep-related problems. The trick is the routine: Make decluttering easier by breaking it down into smaller habits and steps.
Start with getting a better view. Instead of overwhelming yourself by getting straight to work in the cluttered space, try snapping a photo of your bedroom and forming a plan off the picture. This will give you a clear look at what to toss and rework, recommends Laura Kinsella, a professional organizer and owner of Urban OrgaNYze.
Identify what doesn't belong. Your bedroom might be holding a lot of misplaced items — kids’ toys, office papers, dishware. As you move through the room, use a laundry basket to corral these items, says professional organizer Amy Trager, who has worked in the industry for over a decade. Once you’re done, she says, deliver the items to their respective homes.
Remove any clutter magnets. Chairs and chaises can become repositories for piles. “Chairs in a bedroom are magnets for clutter, typically that worn-once-but-not-really-dirty category of clothing,” says professional organizer Sarah Giller Nelson. “Keep these items on hooks behind a bedroom or closet door,” and fill the void with a large plant for a calming, purifying effect on your mood.
Contain the trinkets. Jewelry, lipstick, and loose change can make surfaces look cluttered. Put like items in beautiful trays, bowls, or small boxes on your dresser, chest, and nightstand, says Nelson.
Does tackling a room still feel like too much? Kinsella suggests the five-minutes-or-less plan:
- Keep only what’s essential for bedtime on your nightstand: water, glasses, a book or two.
- Toss dirty clothes in the hamper.
- Throw out wrappers, old receipts, and expired meds and makeup.
- Recycle empty water bottles and magazines.
- Remove décor, art, or photos that aren't relaxing.
How to Clean Your Bedroom
Dust annoyance — when dust exposure affects your mental health — is a real thing. Research shows dust annoyance is linked to fatigue and sleep disturbances that throw off your productivity. You don’t want that in your bedroom, so here are tips on how to avoid it.
Wash and protect your bed. To spring-clean your bed, professional organizer Amy Bloomer suggests:
- Washing your sheets at least once a week in hot water (and making sure you actually love sleeping with your bedding).
- Using allergy covers for your mattress, box spring, comforter, and pillows to prevent dust mites — microscopic pests that trigger allergic reactions — from slipping through.
- Replacing inexpensive polyester pillows every year and memory-foam pillows every 18 to 36 months.
- Replace your mattress, if needed. The life of a mattress is anywhere from 8 to 10 years, depending on how you care for it. You should also rotate your mattress twice a year.
Vacuum and wipe down everything. Vacuum the curtains, windowsills, walls, AC vents, and floors, including beneath the bed and inside your closet. Use a damp cloth to dust all surfaces, furniture, and frames. Wipe down baseboards with antibacterial wipes or a soapy cloth. Disinfect doorknobs and light switches.
Keep good air quality. Research published in Annals of The American Thoracic Society found a link between prolonged air pollution and sleep apnea. Keep air circulating in the room, change your AC filter regularly, and consider getting an air purifier for your bedroom. In studies by SleepScore Labs the Alen BreatheSmart FLEX HEPA Air Purifier and BreatheSmart 45i Air Purifier helped participants achieve better sleep, including falling asleep faster and waking up refreshed.
How to Separate Your Sleep Space
You’ve likely heard that your bedroom should only be used for sleep and sex. But many of us also use our bedrooms as offices or weight rooms.
If your bedroom does double-duty, you can have a sleep-safe sanctuary by creating separation with these strategies.
Use soft lighting. Lights do a lot for our mood. Use a Bluetooth bulb to help set a morning and night tone. Or go fully analog after work by turning off your lamp and lighting a candle, suggests interior designer Sarah Bowen.
Aim to please the eye. Use desk accessories and office products that are aesthetically pleasing and complement the rest of your bedroom décor, says Alpert. For loose items, like office supplies or workout gear, use decorative baskets or bins with lids, advises Nelson.
Hide the “necessary” clutter. To further conceal work-related equipment, Kinsella recommends:
- A secretary-style desk for bulky PCs (or anything else you don’t want to see at night).
- Closed cabinets beneath regular desks for a printer or CPU.
- A cable box for the power strip and cords.
Divide it. In some cases, a room divider to separate your workspace from your bed space can be helpful, says Trager. A shower curtain installed in the ceiling also works as a quick hack.
(Re) Create your own commute. If you work from your bedroom, plan an activity — something as simple as a shower or an evening stroll — between using your bedroom as an office, and your bedtime. That physical separation will help you reassociate the room with sleep, says Alpert. He also emphasizes the importance of sleep hygiene, like keeping bed strictly for sleep and sex use, and not for watching TV, doing work, or doomscrolling.
General Tips for a Calm, Clutter-Free Bedroom
Organization goes beyond optics. Color, smells, and sounds can do a lot to refresh your space and how you feel in it — especially when you wake up — so be sure that your space signals tranquility to all your senses.
And if all else fails, the good news is that clutter is often in the eye of the beholder, so if you don’t consider your room cluttered, then it’s not! A three-day study of homes found that women who described their homes as restorative saw a drop in depressed moods while women who said their homes were stressful showed higher cortisol levels and low mood.
With less literal and figurative mess in your space, you can truly savor a restful slumber.