The Psychology Behind Cleaning

And how it can improve your mental health

Photo: The Creative Exchange / Unsplash

I’m a messy person. I don’t put things away when I’m done using them, I have junk laying all over my bedroom floor and I rarely put aside the time to clean, even for just fifteen minutes. I want to change this. I want a tidier environment to work in so that I can get things done more efficiently. But I’m not sure where to start, and it seems like such a daunting task. Will I even get anything out of it, will I feel better after things around me are more in order? That’s what I’m here to try and uncover.

Going in with the right mindset

Like I previously mentioned, cleaning can seem like a daunting task. It’s something you dread doing, and if you’re like me, procrastinate doing. But you have to change that. You have to think about the positives of cleaning. You’ll be able to walk in your room without tripping over stuff, you’ll finally be able to know where everything is, and whoever you live with, a roommate or parents will be proud of you no longer being a slob.

If you go into cleaning dreading the task it won’t be an enjoyable time. I like putting on a podcast when I’m cleaning, it’s my time to unwind while still getting stuff done. Find something that can help make cleaning more enjoyable for you. If you’re not into podcasts, turn on some music or even have a TV show playing as background noise. Set aside a snack for yourself to eat once you’re finished cleaning. These little things can help you not dread cleaning as much, and simply make it more enjoyable.

Focusing on something else

Cleaning allows you to focus on something other than you. According to goodhousekeeping.com,

“Participants who engaged in mindfully washing the dishes reported a 27% reduction in nervousness, along with a 25% improvement in ‘mental inspiration.’”

This makes sense to me. We’re so caught up in our own problems and situations that may not matter as much as we think. We spend way too much time worrying about the unexpected. But cleaning, whether it be the dishes or organizing your room, at that moment we have one main focus, something to give all of our attention to. It’s nice because cleaning has the potential to be enjoyable, relaxing even, but you’re still getting stuff done. It’s one more thing off the to-do list.

A sense of being in control

If you feel out of control in other aspects of your life cleaning may be just the thing for you. According to a psychologist who spoke with vice.com,

“[Cleaning] gives people a sense of mastery and control over their environment.”

Again, this makes a lot of sense. A lot of anxiety is rooted in the unpredictable and the unexpected. I think the one aspect of our lives we fully have control over is our living space. It can be as messy or tidy as you please. Especially with the state of the world right now, cleaning may help a lot of us feel at ease. It’s something we are doing when we want to.

There are too many things in life that don’t go our way, so it wouldn’t hurt if there’s one thing that does. If you’ve been dealing with anxiety lately, and understandably so, take fifteen minutes out of your day to clean. Pick one room in your house you would like to work on, and just chip away a little bit each day. I guarantee you will feel in a better state of mind.

Our living space represents us

Where we live and how we treat the space we live in, sort of represents who we are in a way. I’m not saying how expensive or fancy your house is, but I mean what it looks like. If our environment is a little messy, a bit unorganized, I’m wondering if that can make us feel subconsciously bad about ourselves. I know whenever I walk into my room and trip over laptop cords and see scrunched up receipts over the place I don’t feel too great about myself.

I’m wondering if our self-esteem can somehow be connected to our environment at home. I think it makes sense. If you have a well-kept room and things are organized, it’s the first thing you see in the morning. It’s what you wake up to essentially. But if your room is messy and disorganized, it’s almost as if you’re waking up disheveled and maybe even stressed. Just some food for thought.

Staying organized is hard, I get that more than anyone. But there are some serious long term benefits to tidying up even in just the slightest. Now I’m not saying every little thing must be in perfect condition, and I’m not even saying you have to clean every day. Maybe aim for one day out of the week to do some cleaning, if you really can’t find the time to clean every day. But if you’ve been dealing with anxiety or stress, maybe give cleaning a try. Maybe it’ll help. And if it doesn’t, well, at least your space will look nice for guests?

creative writing major at emerson college, based in boston & philly, they/them

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Annalisa Hansford

Annalisa Hansford

creative writing major at emerson college, based in boston & philly, they/them

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