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Reclaiming Your Space: The Health Benefits of Spring Cleaning

Updated: Mar 24


Illustration of a highly organized walk-in closet

Have you ever been in a room that was so cluttered or messy that you simply didn't know what to do with yourself?


When I faced more serious bouts of depression, one of the more obvious signs was the state of my bedroom. It seemed like before I could recognize what was happening, I would have clutter piled up all over the place. I wouldn't make my bed, I would leave cups on my night stand, and I had a designated chair for laundry that was clean but would never get around to actually folding and putting away (if you know you know).

It's hard to say what comes first: the cluttered mess in my living space or the cluttered mess in my mind. Either way, after some time I could immediately tell that the state of my living space and the state of my mind were directly linked. The times I feel most at ease is when I have made time to keep a clean space.

With the arrival of Spring, a lot of us tie it with a new beginning. The weather is warming up, flowers are beginning to bloom, the sun is out longer, and somehow we feel compelled to organize/clean in order to set this new mood. While cleaning and organizing may not be everyone's favorite thing to do, we can't ignore the mental and physical health benefits that come with keeping a clean space.


A black woman sits in stress surrounded by all the clutter in a bedroom

Cleaning Reduces Stress

As I stated before, when my living space is messy it has a direct impact on my mood and mental health. Sometimes when our environment doesn't feel clean or organized, it can create (or agitate) feelings of stress and overwhelm. Everyone feels stress as some point or another, and when we experience stress our bodies produce more cortisol. Cortisol is the body's main stress hormone; it helps regulate the body's metabolism and immune responses. However, when we have long-term activation of our body's stress response system, it can lead to physical health issues such as digestive problems, muscle aches, sleeping problems, and even heart disease or high blood pressure.

Imagine this: You have had a rough day at work full of multiple problems and fires that needed to be put out. You commute home but there's much more heavy traffic than usual. You finally make it home much later then expected. The minute you open the door, what do you want to see? Even just the sight of a clean space can be calming enough to help us unwind after a long and overwhelming day.

Researchers have found that less cluttered homes have an association with lower levels of cortisol (and therefore, less risk for adverse health outcomes). I'm not suggesting that cleaning your room is going to cure your hypertension. What I am saying, however, is that keeping your living space clean is a way to mitigate stress by reducing it before it become severe. When we clean our living spaces, we are keeping ourselves active and give ourselves time to clear our minds.


A black man peacefully folds laundry while listening to music on his headphones

Cleaning and Mindfulness

We've touched on mindfulness quite a bit on this blog, and I believe that the time spent cleaning is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness, in short, is just being fully aware of what we are thinking. Being intentional with how we think is huge when considering the state of our mental health. You might just view cleaning as a mundane task, but think of the time spent washing dishes or mopping floors as a time for intentional thinking. Cleaning is a 'thoughtless' enough activity that allows us to intentionally think about how we're feeling in the moment, any significant parts of the day, or even just some deep breathing (save that last one for when you're not working with a harsh chemical, by the way).

It should also be noted that when we are constantly exposed to clutter, it can lead to decreased focus and more confusion. Studies show that when we are overwhelmed by the sight of objects not related to a particular task, it makes it much harder to focus and complete that task efficiently.

I know that not everyone finds cleaning fun or therapeutic, though. What about those who would like to experience these benefits but are having trouble starting?


If You Need to, Start Small

Maybe you are someone who didn't grow up with a regular cleaning schedule, or perhaps you have trouble mustering up the motivation to clean or be consistent with your cleaning. Rather than shying away from cleaning, you can always opt to start off with small tasks. I believe, for some people, they think of cleaning as this grueling task where you're working an entire Saturday to get your house spotless.

Yes, there is a time for deep cleaning, but there's not reason that you can't just break these tasks into bite-size pieces. For example, in his book Make Your Bed, Admiral William H. McRaven, he highlights that something simple like making your bed every morning has a lasting impact. You've essentially started your day with a completed task and therefore, have set the tone for the rest of the day. It seems insignificant but I highly recommend just starting there. Challenge yourself to complete one cleaning task everyday for a week and think about what it did for your mood, as well as your attitude throughout the day. This could be making your bed, cleaning the sink after your morning routine, getting the dishes loaded into the dishwasher, etc. Whatever small task that you find yourself putting off, try it out.


Make it Entertaining

Growing up, I always knew what it meant when I heard Gospel music blaring on a Saturday morning: it's time to clean. If your upbringing is at all similar to mine, you probably still associate certain songs with vacuuming regardless of the song's context.

Cleaning and organizing can be pretty mundane, but an easy way to liven that up is to have a good playlist going. I'll admit there are times where I've been cleaning and I swear I looked like Play right before everyone arrived at his place in House Party.


Time goes by faster when you're listening to your favorite music, after all. Unless you break out into a full concert and dance party, then you're really cleaning all day but whatever works for you. If you aren't one for blasting music, it's also a good chance to just catch up on some podcast episodes or your audiobooks.


Set a Timer

Perhaps you don't have an entire day (or even half the day) to dedicate to cleaning. Maybe you'd rather try a blocking method in order to ensure you get certain things done. Think about what you can get done between 20 minutes and an hour; maybe it's just enough time to clean the kitchen and wash dishes, or enough time to clear out the living room of clutter and unwanted items.

It also helps to divvy it up by tasks or rooms. I might not have time to tackle the upstairs portion of our home but maybe I still have time to get our shared living spaces in order (especially if I'm anticipating guests).


Make it Rewarding

I don't think there's anything with having a reward system in place for tasks that we don't particularly like to do, but we know we should do. The post-cleaning reward should be something small and feasible: like picking up your favorite meal, lighting a scented candle, or getting a chance to do an activity you've been wanting to do (for me, it would be laying down in a blanket and doing nothing. But may you want to go to an event or something, I don't know). It might just be my obsession with candles, but there are times where I've mustered up the motivation to clean our living/dining area solely because I wanted to light a brand new candle.


Reader, I hope that this week/weekend you're able to find time for some Spring Cleaning. Allow yourself the chance to get both your physical clutter and mental clutter in order. Your mood and overall health will thank you.


Thanks for reading,


-Raven


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