By Lauren Silva, Contributor
“Cleaning your room is good for your health,” might sound like something your parents may have told you to get you to tidy up your toys as a kid, but turns out, there’s some truth to it. Our environment plays an important role in our mental wellness, and keeping a clean home, whether that’s your bedroom, apartment or house, has a variety of benefits you won’t want to ignore.
Learn about these benefits below, along with expert tips for cleaning your home and keeping it tidy.
Keeping Clean for Your Mental Health
“Our outer worlds invariably affect our inner worlds and vice versa,” says Danielle Roeske, Psy.D., vice president of residential services at Newport Healthcare.
Essentially, when our minds feel overwhelmed, our living spaces can also end up cluttered. In turn, a messy space can lead to stress, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and relationship strain, says Peggy Loo, Ph.D., licensed psychologist and director at Manhattan Therapy Collective.
Studies over the years have linked mental health to environmental exposure. A 1997 study indicates that childhood living conditions significantly impact health in adulthood, and a 2000 comparative study linked improvements in housing quality to residents’ improved mental health. More recently, a 2020 study in Korea associated substandard housing conditions, especially paired with housing unaffordability, with depressive symptoms in residents. Residents in a 2021 study in China were more likely to report good health when living in tidy homes.
5 Mental Health Benefits of Cleaning
While a messy space can put you in a mental bind, this also means that tidying up your home can help you feel better. The following are a handful of ways cleaning can benefit your mental health, according to experts.
Sense of order and control. A 2017 study on young adults found that clutter was linked to procrastination, feeling overwhelmed and lower quality of life. Our outer environments can act as a container for our emotional and psychic states, Dr. Roeske explains. “When there is order and structure to our outer environment, it can help us feel more able to manage some of the internal feeling states and worlds,” she adds.
Familiarity and consistency. Human beings prefer similar routines that offer us stability, even amid otherwise chaotic circumstances, Dr. Roeske notes. Keeping your household items in order can provide that familiarity. However, she adds that “order” doesn’t necessarily mean everything is lined up perfectly and color coordinated, and that another person’s sense of order may differ from yours.
Released endorphins. The physical act of cleaning can also release endorphins, which Dr. Roeske states,“is hugely beneficial as a pain reliever, stress reliever and overall enhancement of our well-being.”
Improved focus. Having too many items in our field of vision distracts the brain’s processing capacity, according to a 2011 Princeton Neuroscience Institute study. Clearing away clutter allows the brain to focus on items and tasks one at a time.
Regulated emotions. The act of cleaning also requires us to slow down, which can offer a calming effect during overwhelming situations and help us explore and manage our emotions. “Deep cleaning can be a great constructive physical outlet for frustration,” says Dr. Loo.
Dr. Loo notes that while cleaning can help support better mental health, mustering up extra energy to tidy can be difficult for folks with anxiety, depression or burnout. In this case, it may help to see a mental health professional as well to learn other evidence-based coping strategies.
7 Tips for Cleaning Your Home
First, know that you can take the cleaning process slow and figure out an approach that works for you, while progressing towards a cleaner home and improved mental health. Below, organizing and cleaning experts provide their tips for decluttering your space and keeping it tidy for the long haul.
Pick your favorite or most important room first. “Different rooms or parts of a home will have a different charge for a person,” says Dr. Roeske. For example, the kitchen can be a place of great importance for some as that’s where meals are prepared and the family gathers. Keeping the kitchen clean and organized may offer a stronger sense of order to those folks. For others, a clean bedroom can be a sanctuary, and can contribute to healthier sleeping habits, which is also linked to better mental health.
Start small. “It’s amazing how much you can organize and tidy up in just 15 minutes a day,” says Lauren Saltman, professional organizer and owner of Living Simplified, a professional organizing company based in New Hampshire. She offers examples of minor changes you can make to decrease the pile-up of daily clutter, such as clearing off the kitchen table and washing the dishes immediately after dinner, and removing the junk mail first after visiting the mailbox and sorting the rest once you get inside.
Give everything a “home.” It can help to tackle certain small tasks by assigning objects to a home, or a location within your space where an item lives when it’s not in use, but still near where it is used the most, suggests Brenda Scott, owner of Tidy my Space, a professional organizing company in Ontario, Canada.
Use a goal to motivate you. “Think of your big picture vision,” suggests Lesley Spellman, founder of The Clutter Fairy and co-founder of The Declutter Hub, an organizing resource company in the U.K. For example, envision yourself having friends over for the dinner party you’ve been wanting to throw, but your cluttered dining room has kept you from following through. Visualizing a goal can give you something to work for while you clean.
Set non-negotiable tasks. These are the daily tidying and cleaning tasks that you cannot skimp on. These will vary between homes, families and day-to-day lives, says Spellman, but can include wiping down the kitchen counter, unloading the dishwasher and sweeping the floor, for example. “Once your non-negotiables become habit, chores become part of your day and not an additional stress,” she adds.
Take it slow. Be realistic about your energy levels and time constraints while working toward your goal, Spellman urges, but don’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone. Take the cleaning process one drawer or one cupboard at a time, for example, to avoid exhaustion and decreased motivation.
For many, cleaning is a chore they’d gladly avoid, but a bit of tidying up each day is a small price to pay for a mental health boost. Not only does cleaning provide a time of focus and mindfulness, but at the end, we’re left with a clean area with room to think and enjoy that space.
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- Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency – How Sleep Affects Your Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health. Accessed 11/14/2022.
Originally published on Forbes Health.