Cleaning Surface

Can Tidying Up Be Therapeutic?

Have you ever walked into your home and felt your stomach drop at the sight of an untidy living room or unclean kitchen? Have you felt inexplicably lower whilst watching TV or trying to relax whilst the house around you is cluttered or unclean? Or else, have you felt that warm happiness glow through you when your house is organized and sparkling? Me too. There are several theories from psychologists and experts pointing to how clutter can negatively affect your mental health.

That keeping your home clean and tidy can have a positive impact on both your mental and physical wellbeing – so no, it was not just in your imagination. 

For many, a messy home can lead to higher stress levels, adding to the feeling of an overwhelming number of tasks to get through. A heightened amount of stress has been linked to many different physical and mental health concerns. Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant, told the Huffington Post, that clutter can impact mental health in a number of ways, including anxiety, sleep quality and attention, stating that:

“It can also impact our productivity levels, trigger avoidance strategy and impact what we consume. Clutter has a cumulative effect on our minds, increasing the potential of cognitive overload and reducing our resources, and causes elevated cortisol levels. This increases the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed, having a lower mood, and worried.”

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Mess has been linked to a lower mood, stress and lack of focus in various scientific studies. The Cleaning Collective writes that ‘a 2010 study by researchers at the University of California used software to analyze how 30 cohabiting couples talked about their homes. Those describing their living spaces as “cluttered” or complained of “unfinished projects” were more likely to be suffering from depression and fatigue than those who described their homes as “restful” and “restorative”. It was also found that those living in cluttered environments displayed higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that’s released into a person’s blood from their adrenal gland, often in response to stress.’

Another study in 2011 by Princeton researchers on the human visual cortex, found a link between lack of focus and clutter – as the visual cortex was overwhelmed by the other objects in the room.

It is evident that a tidier home can be mentally ‘healthier’ for many. However, can the actual act of tidying your home be therapeutic? In terms of a transformative experience, Marie Kondo, the celebrated cleaning consultant that became immensely popular worldwide, centers her ‘KonMari’ method around the notion that decluttering helps one ‘find joy’ in their home and possessions and supports the life they want to lead.

Essentially, the aim is that cleaning and organizing your home, can improve your outlook and create a happier environment for you to live in. If you live with a family, sharing responsibility for the housework or decluttering together can also establish a level of teamwork, achievement, and usher in group positivity. 

The act of cleaning has also been studied as a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness practices often involve taking up a task ‘mindfully’, whether eating slowly and letting your mind focus on all the sensations involved with eating, or even washing the dishes – feeling the temperature of the water, smelling the scent of the dish soap, noticing the textures of the crockery.

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A 2014 study, entitled ‘Washing Dishes to Wash the Dishes: Brief Instruction in an Informal Mindfulness Practice’, ‘ought to investigate whether washing dishes could be used as an informal contemplative practice, promoting the state of mindfulness along with attendant emotional and attentional phenomena.’

It found that those who mindfully washed the dishes reported a 27% reduction in nervousness, 25% improvement in mental inspiration and a greater state of mindfulness. 

The Cleaning Collective actually points out how the simple physical act of cleaning can release endorphins, like any other form of exercise: ‘We’ll talk about the physical benefits of an energetic cleaning blitz later, but any form of exercise will result in the release of endorphins.

These endorphins go on to interact with the receptors in your brain, altering your perception of pain and triggering a positive feeling in your body. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress, lessen anxiety and ward off depression.’

Further, the simple act of decluttering and cleaning your home, can be mentally cleansing for your mindset. As you clean you may want to visualize that you are clearing out any negative feelings and making space for a new positive energy. Even lighting a candle when you are done can really lift your mood – aromatherapy has been linked with reducing anxiety and depression. 

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