It’s amazing how a couple of dirty socks or too many backpacks strewn in front of the door can elicit a wild case of mom rage. Yet, here we are. Clutter and extra “stuff” drives me absolutely bonkers under the best of circumstances; when I’m stressed or busy or tired, look out.

Clutter has a way of setting off my mom rage in a way that few things do. I don’t vacuum every day and our produce drawer in the fridge often has some mystery vegetable that’s become a science experience. I can shrug it off and look the other way. But piles of baseball cards on the kitchen counter and mountains of old homework assignments on the dining room table? Set it all on fire now!

Related: It’s science: Clutter can actually give you anxiety

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to keep a “perfect” home in any sense. I live with a houseful of boys and a large dog, which means the bathroom has a faint smell of pee and there are nests of dog fur throughout the house. Meh, so what.

But when it comes to jumbles of “stuff”, I just cannot.

It’s not just me either. Psychologists say that clutter can exacerbate anxiety and depression, and make it harder to focus.  

As someone who has experienced anxiety and depression, keeping clutter to a minimum has been critical to my mental health.

Clutter is defined as “an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces,” according to Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago who studies the causes of clutter and its impact on emotional well-being. Ferrari and other researchers have found that extra stuff can have a negative impact on our wellbeing. One study, published in Current Psychology, found a substantial link between clutter and procrastination in all the age groups, with frustration increasing with age. 

Another study looked at dual-income married couples who had at least one school-aged child at home, and found that women felt like they had a cluttered home had increased levels of cortisol throughout the day. 

If clutter is your kryptonite too, you aren’t alone. And there are ways to keep the clutter monster at bay.

1. Know that it won’t last forever. 

No, this isn’t some version of “enjoy it, because it goes so fast” platitudes. Okay, maybe a little. But now that my kids are in the tween/teen age group, I can confirm that as your kids get older, they generally have much less toys and the generally hodgepodge of gadgets that babies and toddlers often have. Instead of getting toys for their birthday, they get money—which they use to buy fancy drinks at Starbucks with their friends. They can help with cleaning and organizing too. Which brings me to my second tip...

2. Get the whole family involved. 

One afternoon recently, my husband and I gathered the family downstairs. We spent an hour going through bins and boxes, deciding whether to keep, toss or donate (most of it was tossed or donated). It felt like an eternity and our kids complained for the first 10 minutes, but an hour later, the entire basement was cleared out. 

3. Put time limits on clutter piles. 

I like to put my kids’ stuff together in a box or bag and tell them that if they haven’t dealt with it by the following day, it’s going to be donated or tossed. If it’s something they care about, they’ll put it away. If they haven’t done anything with it, that means they don’t care much about it and it’s my call. And yes, sometimes this means throwing my kids' artwork and projects in the trash. Shhhhh, it'll be our little secret.

4. Prioritize decluttering as a self-care. 

Toys and stuff is just part of life with kids, you might be thinking. And I suppose that’s true in part. Kids come with chaos and a lot of stuff. But as someone who has experienced anxiety and depression, keeping messes and extra stuff to a minimum has been critical to my mental health. And as a result, it’s made me a better mom too.

Related: 20 ways you can stop chronic household clutter *right now* 

My husband recently spearheaded a major decluttering effort in our house, and when I say I can breathe easier, I am not being hyperbolic. I am calmer, more relaxed, and less likely to go into a mom rage panic over a few socks on the floor. 

Sure, this means saying goodbye to some of my kids' mementos. It means being selective about the tchotchkes that I hang on to. It means getting honest with myself about what "brings me joy," as Marie Kondo recommends. But with fewer piles of unnecessary stuff blocking the view, it’s easier to see our home for what it is—a loving, safe, and comfortable place to raise my family.