Is Your House Making You Depressed?

by Cris Carl

There are an estimated 18.8 million adults in America diagnosed with some type of depressive disorder. Not only that, but pretty much everybody will experience mild depression in their lifetime. One way to support a healthier mental/emotional state is being in a house where you feel “safe, secure, and relaxed,” said Jane Williams, Coordinator of Clinical Services for ServiceNet Inc. in Massachusetts. “The impact of your space on your over-all mood is really important,” she said.

Williams, who visits most of her clients in their homes, and has worked extensively on her own house, has become very aware of how we are affected by the place we live in. She gave a personal example of being stuck in the kitchen while her family was enjoying a gathering or television show. “My solution was to cut a hole in the wall. Now I don’t have to feel left out of my family’s activities when I’m cooking,” said Williams.

What is one of the number one depressive element you might have in your house?

Clutter,” said Williams. “It’s not so much about how clean your house is. It’s more about what you face when you walk in the door every day.” Williams added that having clutter, unpaid bills, etc. face you every time you come home “can put you right over the edge. You are constantly being reminded of things that need to be done. And the people who tend to procrastinate, you’re not fooling anyone, it’s still there.”

William’s solution, and one she uses herself, is to designate a space that can be “uncontrolled,” such as a closet, or drawer, or even a room.” Essentially, if you can organize your belongings, and take unnecessary clutter out of the equation, you are likely to experience less stress, and therefore, less depression.”

Home Improvement Projects Fight Depression

“Even when you don’t think you can do something, once you have accomplished a (home) project, you get to feel so much satisfaction. Whenever you see your work, you think, ‘Hey, I did that,’” said Williams. Williams added that it isn’t even so much about saving money as the experience of satisfaction.

If you feel you aren’t up to a project or repair, hire someone, barter; ask a friend or family member to help. Williams suggested for bigger projects, such as painting, to hold a work party. “Not only do you get the work done, but you get to have healthy social interaction,” said Williams. “Expand your resources. Maybe you can get an intern or apprentice from a schooling program to help you.”

Let In the Light

Human beings are strongly affected by the amount of light they are exposed to. Light stimulates a cascade of hormones and chemicals in our bodies that affect us in a multitude of ways. Simply adding full-spectrum lighting to your home can improve your over-all mood.

“Full-spectrum lighting is huge. It’s used clinically for people who experience SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder),” said Williams. Also, go for sheers instead of heavy draperies. If you have a room that has no windows, you can either build, or buy a kit for a false window. False windows can be back-lit or have a scene behind it. Mirrors also expand the feeling of light and space, especially if the mirrors face each other.

What makes you feel good?

“It’s important to surround yourself with whatever it is that makes you feel good, such as photos, memorabilia, or art,” said Williams. “And the converse is – if it doesn’t make you feel good, get rid it!” Small touches, such as a scented candle, can have a big effect. Williams said that a recent study by researchers at MIT determined that people have a strong reaction to the scent of toast. “It reminds many people of being taken care of when they are ill,” she said. Likewise, scent has been noted to be our strongest sense, potentially inducing positive feelings and a sense of relaxation.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Williams said that some people, including her, find that their house may be too big for them. A house that is too big can be too stressful or tiresome to take care of. Williams decided to shut off part of the house when her children went off to college in order to save on energy costs and cleaning and maintenance time.

Williams suggested asking yourself what in your house makes you anxious and what relaxes you – and work from there.

10 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Clutter
12 Tips to End Clutter
17 Easy Ways to Simplify Your Life


Jessie Dijkstra
Jessie D5 years ago

Very very true article. I have health issues so I don't get to clean a lot. But the thing I constantly do is pick up clutter, and that does help anxiety/depression. We have only two windows in the apartment also, which i find so downing. Time to move. Busting at the seams.

Marcia Machado
Marcia Machado6 years ago

Great article.

Valerie L.
Valerie L6 years ago

Good article!

Lynde Toom
Lynde T6 years ago

I know I get SAD each winter. But this year has been worse than usual, because 3 months ago my husband and I moved 4 hours away from my family, our pets are still staying with my parents because we can't afford the ridiculous pet deposit yet, I've had 3 colds since we moved, our one dog had to get put down only last week and on top of it all many of our things don't have homes yet and it's cluttered and the flow doesn't feel right yet and it just doesn't feel like home yet. And the more I get done at home the better I feel, it's a slow process but it is possible!

D. J. W.
D. J. W.6 years ago

Great tips. Thanks. I leave a lot of drapes shut so letting in some light may be a good start.

Teri P.
Teri P6 years ago

Excellent article. Thank you. Am currently dealing with clutter issues in my own home, and this has given me a few other things to think about.

karin m.
Karin M6 years ago

I know the feeling

Cindy B.
Cindy Black6 years ago

Here's something the article forgot to mention: A house that you've lived in for a long time can become VERY DEPRESSING-- not because of clutter or unfinished projects but because of something I might call "habituation to stimulus." It's kinda like wearing perfume; after about 2 hours you can't smell it anymore. Same with a house, especially a smallish house. Live in it about 17 years (like I have in mine), and you find yourself waking up every day with a cold, gray sense of flatness -- even doom. This is subtle, but it's THERE... And why? because, as you gradually realize, you can no longer "sense" the house you're living in. You've spent so many years trodding the same little pathways, reaching for the same objects in their same locations, looking out the same windows at the same views, sitting in the same damn chair(s)... Well, you get the point. I've read more than once how the depression that comes with aging is really more like the depression of sameness, sameness, sameness.... you start losing the ability to see, feel or connect with your life as novelty is slowly but surely replaced by repetition in all one's waking hours. Thus it is with a house. If ya can't get out of it: CHANGE IT AROUND! Paint it purple! Build rockeries in the yard! Knock out a wall! My house is rented so I'm limited re the changes, but I'm on the verge of finally taking flight! (mold in the basement doesn't help one's depression either.) Cheers!

Mike V.
Mike V.6 years ago

interesting how it all effects the brain