Living Motherhood

Experts Say It’s True: That Mess Is Causing You Stress

Written by Carolyn Moore

I reach this point with my darling children more often than I should probably admit. Most times, it strikes out of the blue, while I’m in the middle of doing perfectly routine tasks like vacuuming up Goldfish and hair for the fourth time that day or chiseling cheese petrified to the bottom of the high chair. 

All of a sudden I’ll notice, in complete and utter horror, the general state of disarray in front of my weary eyes. All over my countertops. Strewn about the floor. Piled on that infernal catch-all chair that NO ONE EVER SITS IN.

In the same slow motion moment, I’ll notice the way the kids are absorbed in their own activities/devices/toys/books, completely oblivious to it all. 

I’ll stand there for a beat, slack-jawed and stupefied, pent-up rage bubbling up from my belly like a bad case of acid reflux in the ninth month of pregnancy. 

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And, you guessed it—I’ll snap and growl, “I am not the maid!” 

Little blonde heads will snap too from whatever they were doing, in quick succession, as they hear my voice pitching into “that” tone. They’ll scurry into action, grabbing plates that weren’t bussed, coats that weren’t hung, school papers (SO MANY SCHOOL PAPERS) that weren’t tossed. They’ll help sort laundry, wash a sink full of dishes, feed the dog. 

Once the flurry and fury have passed, I’ll sag against my bare kitchen counter and wonder: why does it always come to this? Why do I let the clutter pile up until it makes something inside of me break? And why does it make me feel crazy? 

Science says there’s a reason for that last bit—and it’s not that I’m losing my mind. According to psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter for Psychology Today, messy homes stress us out and cause overwhelming mental clutter—making it nearly impossible to relax. It can also make us feel guilty (“Why can’t I keep this place clean?”) and anxious. 

I’m no PhD, but . . . of course it does. Take the mental load of motherhood and compound it by the physical-turned-mental load of living, and any woman would start to feel the squeeze of stress. 

What’s more, I think it’s true that much of the problem starts with me . . . and maybe with you, too. 

In my self-imposed pressure to be a good mom, a supportive wife, a reasonably put-together woman, I sometimes try to do too much. I don’t let the kids help because it sounds easier to just do it myself. I must secretly enjoy being a martyr in my own messy home. 

How ridiculous is that? 

But it’s what I do when I schlep dishes to the sink with a sigh, rinse ketchup from plates, dump half-full cups of milk and load them in the dishwasher. 

It’s what I do when I pick up pants—underwear still bunched inside—from the bathroom floor and toss them in the laundry pile. I refill soap dispensers, empty wastebaskets, wipe down sinks and windows and walls. 

And gosh, it makes me tired.

I’m acting like the maid. Is it any wonder my kids think we have one living here? That all those feelings of overwhelm boil over on the regular? 

I probably don’t have to answer that one for you. We simply can’t do it all, especially when we’re living with it all. 

So yesterday in my house, we filled and tossed two garbage bags full of stuff and donated a box full of books and toys; my mind already feels lighter, and it’s just the beginning. So here’s to conquering the clutter one bag, one box at a time, friends—your sanity deserves it. 

You might also like:

Because One Day, She Will Have to Walk Away

Why Tired Mothers Stay Up So Late

A Mother’s Mind Never Rests, Because We Carry The Mental Load

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About the author

Carolyn Moore

Carolyn traded a career in local TV news for a gig as a stay-at-home mom, where the days are just as busy and the pay is only slightly worse. She lives in flyover country with her husband and four young kids, and occasionally writes about raising them at Assignment Mom