I have one confession Sometimes when I’m alone and feeling stressed, I’ll take a break from what I’m doing, grab my iPhone, and watch a certain type of video to de-stress: home de-cluttering videos.
My guilty pleasure is watching a stranger masterfully fold a bunch of t-shirts into neat, upright packages or transfer snacks from store-bought containers into clear acrylic containers with cute labels. Frivolous as they may seem, these curated moments offer an oasis of order in a world that feels increasingly chaotic. After 10 minutes of seeing makeup drawers reorganized, fridge shelves restocked, and laundry rooms decluttered, I feel calmer, clearer.
While the dangers of doomscrolling have been well documented, it is also possible to derive mental health benefits from the deliberate consumption of digital content. But what was it about these specific videos that I found so appealing?
“Our brains like order,” explains Kristi Phillips, a psychologist in Minnesota. “And we know that having less stimuli around us helps promote relaxation.” He points to the popularity of home clutter reels and TikToks, as well as the recent proliferation of TV series like Netflix’s. Get organized with the Home Edition and HGTV’s Hot Mess House.
But while we all enjoy the glow of a clean junk drawer in real life, we still lag when it comes to tackling more complex areas of clutter in our lives.
Phillips believes this influences the appeal of the videos I watch. “When we’re trying to declutter our own spaces, we have an emotional attachment to those items,” she says. Whether there are memories attached to these objects or simply the guilt of getting rid of something you spent money on, the task of mentally weighing each item can be overwhelming.
She explains that with a video, “you see the fast forward of how fast it is…so it gives us the hope and the positivity of, Oh, I can do that too“.
Mindless moments or conscious intervention?
Before and after makeover videos, whether fashion, beauty or home design, have universal appeal. But to better understand what’s going on from a neurological standpoint, I turned to psychiatrist and neuroscientist Amit Etkin, professor at Stanford University and founder and CEO of Alto Neuroscience.
Etkin explains that in the cerebral cortex, the outermost layer of the brain, there are systems responsible for a number of higher functions, including cognitive functions such as planning, attention, reasoning, memory and learning; emotional functions; sensory functions; and motor functions. Because the brain considers uncertainty aversive, the emotional realm will respond to unpredictability with a signal.
Over the past few years, many of us have experienced intense and ongoing stress, whether from climate anxiety, political discord and economic volatility, or the lingering pandemic. What they all have in common is uncertainty, which makes the brain pay more attention.
“So that uncertainty signal, which is usually a signal that drives increased cognitive control, that’s what we would speculate you’re hijacking with these videos,” says Etkin. In other words, by seeing scenes of order and predictability, I’m interrupting my brain’s uncertainty response and shifting focus away from these major stressors.
Use digital content with caution
Sasha Hamdani is a psychiatrist from Kansas who launched her own TikTok and Instagram accounts in the early days of the pandemic. He uses his platform to educate people about ADHD, a topic he speaks about both personally and as a doctor.
Hamdani says draw-me videos provide bite-sized satisfaction—quick payoffs when I’m feeling drained and looking for a sense of control. “These other things to consider are bigger things and long-term things,” he says. She describes Reels and TikToks as digestible chunks of content that are “almost immediately engaging by design.”