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Cleaning and Your Mental Health: the Connection

I have always valued a clean home. To this day, my mom talks about how when I was a kid, I was always the one with the clean room, neat book shelf, and perfectly organized closet. I remember once when I around ten years old, I organized my hanging clothes in my closet by color. ROY G BIV, anyone?

Nothing changed as I grew up, moved out on my own, and grew my family. I have had more than one person tell me that my home is the cleanest house they've ever been inside. I take it as a high compliment, because I pride myself on my clean house. Most people who know me well know that I enjoy cleaning.

But when our daughter passed away in April of 2015, I stayed in a cleaning frenzy. My husband would tell me I was going to clean the finish off all of our things and that I needed to relax. But I just couldn't. Somehow, that constant cleaning helped me feel better. I didn't know it at the time, but cleaning is beneficial to our mental health.

All my crazy cleaning and attempting to remove the finish from our belongings was actually soothing me and helping me stay calm.

Feeling stressed? We all do, so is it really a big deal?

Most of us know when we're stressed out. Our bodies will tell us. What are some signs of being stressed out? There are several:

  • Headache: this is a big one for me. When I get overwhelmed or stressed out, my head starts to hurt. It usually starts at my temples and works its way around my entire head.

  • General aches and pains: many people talk about "carrying stress" in certain areas of their bodies. Often, stress can manifest as neck, shoulder, or back pain.

  • Fatigue and insomnia: feeling too stressed can cause difficulty falling asleep at night. You can't turn off your mind to rest. This leads to fatigue during the day.

  • Irritability: when you aren't sleeping like you should, you're bound to be irritable.

  • Stomach upset: some people experience things like lack of appetite, indigestion, or nausea when they're feeling stressed.

  • High blood pressure: one of the more serious symptoms, long-term, unchecked stress can lead to high blood pressure, and we all know how many problems that can cause for our health.

You might be thinking, "we all have at least some of these symptoms sometimes. Everyone gets stressed out. It really isn't a big deal." Yes, it is true that we all experience stress on some level in our lives. Possibly even every day. And we humans are pretty amazing. Our bodies are built to handle stress and we do a pretty good job most of the time.

But stress can have some serious effects on our overall health. According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress can cause all of the following:

  • Anxious mood or mood swings

  • Sadness or depression

  • Panic attacks

  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms such as excessive alcohol consumption, drug use/overuse, eating too much or too little, gambling, smoking, or other addictive behaviors.

  • Stomach ulcers

While there are many ways you can reduce and manage stress in your life, that is outside the scope of this article. We'll focus on one thing we can control that can help us reduce stress and improve our mental health- cleaning.

When there are so many things in your life that you cannot control, focus on one thing you can- keeping your home clean.

The link between clutter and our mental health.

Studies have shown that clutter in our homes negatively affects our mental health. One study asked women specifically about clutter in their homes. It found that the women who described their homes as cluttered or being full of unfinished projects had a higher rate of fatigue and/or depression. They also showed higher cortisol levels. Cortisol affects stress and weight.

Another study by Princeton University showed that clutter can adversely affect our concentration and focus. A visual mess can, quite literally, overwhelm our visual cortex thus making it more difficult for us to focus on and complete the task at hand. Our brain sees all that unrelated clutter as "unfinished business" and many people respond negatively to that.

By organizing that clutter and cleaning up our living space, we can limit those distractions to our brain and take control of our homes. This can lead to reduced levels of stress and anxiety and an increase in feelings of calm and happiness. So, a clean house and a happy me? Yes, please!

How does cleaning lessen stress and improve our mental health?

When we're feeling stressed, we tend to feel comforted by repetitive behaviors. So think of the repetition that comes along with cleaning:

  • Back and forth action of the broom when you sweep

  • Forward and backward motion of the vacuum cleaner or mop

  • Side-to-side wiping as you dust shelves and furniture

  • Folding or hanging and putting away laundry

If you stop and think about how much repetitive action occurs when we clean our homes, it isn't hard to see how cleaning plays right into reducing our stress. When you finish cleaning, have you ever sat back and admired those shiny floors, clean counters, and sparkling windows? Of course you have, we all have! You did that, you get to relish in it! That overall feeling of accomplishment and pride in our hard work does wonders for our mental health.

Cleaning can improve your mood and increase your focus. Studies have shown that making your bed every day and sleeping on clean sheets can help you get a better night's rest, leaving you feeling rested and happier the next day.The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that the physical activity of cleaning together with the mental satisfaction of the results can lead to less stress, anxiety, and depression. Are you seeing the connection? Cleaning addresses all the symptoms we talked about already.

If you need any more benefits to convince you that cleaning matters, people who live in clean homes are more healthy physically, too. When homes are cleaned regularly, things that cause illness such as germs or mold are far less likely to be lurking around. Being healthier will provide you with a higher quality of life and you will spend less money on healthcare.

How to get on a cleaning routine/schedule:

If you've never been much of a cleaner before, don't fret. Like any other habit, you can train yourself to do it. With a little work, you can make cleaning a part of your everyday life. Once you're in the habit of keeping things neat and tidy on a daily basis, deep cleaning won't seem so daunting.

Don't overdo it when you first start cleaning or you may end up aggravated and just give up. Make a plan. You'll clean one bathroom and then reward yourself by taking a walk outside. If you feel like doing more after then, go for it! You can also set a timer. Clean for 20 minutes and then take a 5- or 10-minute break.This can make you feel less "stuck" in the job.

I like to stick to a quarterly rotation for deep cleaning my home. I wrote about that previously and many people loved the idea. Breaking the entire house down into a few rooms each month seems less intimidating. You can read about my quarterly cleaning schedule here.

There are a few things you can do every day (and they'll probably take an hour or less of your time) that will help your home stay neat:

  • Wash your dishes: whether you hand wash dishes or use a dishwasher, don't let dirty dishes pile up in your sink. The sight of them can trigger massive anxiety!

  • Wipe your surfaces: A quick wipe-down of your kitchen counters, dining room table, and bathroom vanity will do wonders for the cleanliness of your home. Quick and easy homemade disinfectant wipes are great for this!

  • Vacuum the floors: at least in high-traffic areas like your living room, kitchen, and hallway, running the vacuum over the floor each afternoon can help cut down on dirt and dust significantly.

  • Put up things as you're done with them: instead of dropping your coat over a chair when you walk in the door, go ahead and hang it in the closet. When you're done reading a book, put it straight back on the shelf. Doing these seemingly small things can really reduce the number of items sitting around as clutter inside your home.

With a little time dedicated to cleaning each day and a deep cleaning schedule like my quarterly rotation above, you'll be sweeping, mopping, and dusting your way to less stress in no time! Check out more of my cleaning tips and hacks here. Cleaning has a huge impact on our mental health and the connection cannot be denied. There's no better time than now to take control of your clutter and your happiness!

Did you know cleaning played such a big role in our mental health? What's your favorite cleaning tip? Tell us in the comments!

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