When some people are feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, they might try yoga, mindfulness, or even a massage, but for others giving the shelves a quick dust, wiping down the kitchen, or even organizing the closet is just as beneficial for their mental health as using a mindfulness app.
In fact, for some people the simple sight of a clean and organized home can help them unwind and de-stress even after an overwhelming day.
Here's a closer look at the impact of cleaning on your mental health, including the benefits of cleaning and how to incorporate a cleaning schedule into your life.
Press Play for Advice On Decluttering
Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring Decluttering Expert Tracy McCubbin, shares how to declutter your home to boost your mental health. Click below to listen now.
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Negative Impact of Clutter and Mess
Keeping your home clean and engaging in the cleaning process is good for you. In fact, research shows that cleaning—or the lack of cleaning—can have a direct impact on mental health.
Clutter May Contribute to Depression
For instance, a study published in "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin," found that women who described their living spaces as cluttered or full of unfinished projects were more likely to be fatigued and depressed than women who described their homes as restful and restorative. Researchers also found that the women with messy or cluttered homes had higher levels of cortisol.
Clutter May Lead to Decreased Focus, Confusion, and Tension
Meanwhile, a study by Princeton University researchers discovered that clutter can make it difficult to focus on a particular task. More specifically, they discovered that a person's visual cortex can be overwhelmed by objects not related to a particular task, making it harder to focus and complete projects efficiently.
In some ways, clutter and mess is linked to negative emotions like confusion, tension, and irritability while an organized home tends to produce more positive emotions like calmness and a sense of well-being.
To the brain, clutter represents unfinished business and this lack of completeness can be highly stressful for some people. This fact is especially true when people have significant concerns pressing in on their lives.
Clutter and mess can create more stress and anxiety, but by cleaning, organizing, and reducing the clutter, people are able to take control of their environment and create a more relaxing environment that helps them focus better on the more pressing issues in their lives.
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Benefits of Cleaning and Decluttering
Research has found that cleaning can have a number of positive effects on your mental health. For instance, it helps you gain a sense of control over your environment and engage your mind in a repetitive activity that can have a calming effect.
It also has been found to improve a person's mood as well as provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. There are a number of reasons why cleaning can help you destress. Here's an overview of some of the benefits of cleaning and decluttering your home or office.
Cleaning Can Benefit Physical Health
A clean home also impacts your physical health. According to a study by NiCole Keith, PhD, a research scientist and professor at Indiana University, people with clean houses tend to be healthier than those with messy or cluttered homes. In fact, cleanliness was even more a predictor of good health than the walkability of a neighborhood.
Gain Control of Your Environment
When people feel like their life is out of control or they are struggling with some uncertainties, cleaning can be a way to assert some control in their life. Cleaning gives people a sense of mastery and control over their environment.
In fact, a study by the University of Connecticut found that in times of high stress, people default to repetitive behaviors like cleaning because it gives them a sense of control during a chaotic time.
What's more, clutter and disorganization can be really distracting and make it hard to focus or complete other projects and you can start to feel stuck in a rut. So, if you're feeling an urge to clean and declutter when you're stressed, your mind and body is probably looking for a way to bring some order to your environment.
Improve Your Mood
Aside from the benefits of having a cleaner home, the relationship between a clean house and mental health can help you reduce your anxiety.
For instance, a study published in the journal, Mindfulness, found that people who were mindful when washing dishes—in other words they took the time to smell the soap and to take in the experience—reported a 27% reduction in nervousness, along with a 25% improvement in "mental inspiration."
What's more, studies have found that having clean sheets and making your bed are associated with a better night's rest. And, when you get more rest, that provides a whole host of mental health benefits including an improved mood.
Additionally, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America indicates that the physical activity of cleaning coupled with the end result of a cleaner home helps reduce stress, feelings of anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Cleaning can also reduce fatigue and improve concentration.
Increase Your Focus
When your home is cluttered, messy, or exceptionally dirty, the chaos that the mess creates can impact your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain's ability to process information. In fact, researchers have discovered that people are less irritable, less distracted, more productive, and better able to process information with an uncluttered and organized work area.
If you're having trouble focusing on a project, you may want to try decluttering your workspace first. You might find that devoting just a few minutes to organizing your things and clearing away any mess may make it easier for your to concentrate and get your work completed.
Limiting the number of possessions you own can have the same impact because it reduces the number of things vying for your brain's attention.
How to Incorporate Cleaning Into Your Life
Whether you are struggling with depression, have a new baby, or just have a chaotic life, the concept of cleaning and decluttering can seem like an overwhelming task that is simply outside of your reach right now. In fact, many people wrestle with whether or not cleaning should be a priority.
But, knowing that having a cleaner environment will help improve your mood and make your life more peaceful, it might be worth pursuing. Here are some ideas on how to incorporate cleaning into your life.
Most people put off cleaning because the task seems way too big to tackle. But instead of expecting to get the entire house into order in one weekend, start small and do just a little bit each day. In other words, commit to doing one thing around your house or apartment each day and before you know it, your environment will be much cleaner and less stressful in no time.
For instance, pick one thing you want to do each day and then follow through. One day you might go through all of your mail. The next day you might clean the toilet and wash the bathroom sink. The next day you might clean off the kitchen counter, and the next day you might pick up all the clothes scattered around the house and put them in a laundry basket.
The key is that you don't make your to-do list bigger than what you can mentally handle or you will just increase your stress rather than reduce it.
Set a Timer
Another option for getting a cleaning routine started is to set a timer and see how much cleaning you can get done in that time period. Or, you can use the time blocking method for scheduling to manage your cleaning.
For example, set aside 15, 20, or even 30 minutes to clean, set a timer, and then start in the primary living area of your home. Start by picking up things that are lying on the floor or on the coffee table and put them away. When the timer goes off, you are done for the day.
If you would prefer, you could start in a bedroom, instead of the living area. This way, your cleaning will help you create a more peaceful environment that will help you sleep better that night.
Even though setting a time for a few minutes may not seem like much time, you can accomplish a lot more than you might imagine. Plus, you aren't overwhelming yourself by thinking that you have to devote three hours of your Saturday to cleaning. You get what you can done and then you move on to something else.
Sometimes you are at a point in your life where cleaning is just not something you can handle on your own. Maybe you're recovering from a major illness, running your own business, raising a house full of kids, or trying to work and go to school—whatever your situation, if you know you cannot possibly accomplish everything that needs to be done without help, then you should consider involving others.
Ask Friends and Family For Help
Although asking for help may be hard, most people are willing to help you if you ask. So, talk to your partner, enlist your kids, or ask a friend or family member if they will help you get organized. Plus, it's a lot easier to tackle big projects when you have the help of others.
Get Outside Help
And, if you have room in your budget, you also could consider hiring someone to clean your house once or twice a month. To keep costs down, consider having them do the hard tasks like cleaning the bathrooms only and then clean the other areas of your home on your own.
You also could consider getting a robot vacuum so that you don't have to worry about the floors. Look for ways to simplify the cleaning that needs to be done and it will become more manageable over time.
When Cleaning Becomes a Compulsion
Although there is nothing wrong with being a neat freak and looking to cleaning as a way to calm your nerves and destress, it does become an issue when your cleanliness and need for order in your home starts to become a compulsion.
For instance, if you won't go out with your friends or you cancel plans because you haven't finished all your cleaning tasks for the day or week, then that could be a red flag that your desire for a clean home has become a compulsion.
Likewise, cleaning can become an issue if it's impacting your physical health, feels a little obsessive, or is interfering with your schedule like making you late for work or school.
If you are unsure whether or not your cleaning habits are constructive or bordering on a compulsion, you may want to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional for advice. A therapist can help you determine which behaviors are healthy and which might need to be altered. They can also provide other coping mechanisms for depression, anxiety, or stress.
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A Word From Verywell
If cleaning and decluttering helps ease your stress, reduces your anxiety, and lifts your mood, then by all means grab your cleaning tools and get started. After all, a messy or cluttered home can be distracting. Just be sure your cleaning habits aren't a crutch. You don't want to rely solely on cleaning to give your life order and predictability.
There are times when things won't go as planned and you won't be able to clean. So, you need to have other tools in your arsenal that you can go to destress and unwind.
Conversely, if you are struggling with depression or another mental health issue and long for a clean and organized home, but just don't have the energy to do it, try starting small. Even if that means just picking up all the clothes off the floor on one day and loading the dishwasher on the next day, taking little steps to clean up your environment will feel more manageable and less overwhelming.
And, more importantly, it may even lift your mood to have taken a small step toward organizing and cleaning your environment.
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