Cleaning your space can lead to increased well-being. Confused? Let’s break down the psychology of cleanliness in detail.
Why, oh why, does a clean space feel so good?
Why do some people clean to blow off their stress or anxiety?
Whether you are cleaning your home or workspace or watching someone on CleanTok putting things in order – cleaning offers you a sense of calm and relief from the chaos outside. And there are clear scientific reasons for that.
Decluttering and keeping your surroundings clean can actually help keep your brain clean.
Outraged by the idea?
Let’s dive deeper into the psychology of cleanliness and understand how the mere act of cleaning is essential to people’s well-being.
How Are Cleaning And Mental Health Related?
A growing body of research has pointed to a significant link between cleaning and mental health. Studies show that decluttered and cleaner surroundings are associated with higher levels of mental well-being, and people can greatly improve their moods through the process of cleaning.
Simply put, your mother was right. You really do need to clean your room and not just find the lost black sweater from the back of your closet.
A survey conducted by Clorox found:
- 72% of adults slept better in cleaner households.
- 80% of people agreed that they felt more relaxed in decluttered surroundings.
- 60% of people felt less stressed in cleaner homes.
Following the survey, a biometric analysis also found that people felt a spike in happiness once they entered a clean space, and the hike stayed steady for a good time. Additionally, the longer people stay in a dirty room, the unhappier they become.
A study by the University of California found that women living in cluttered surroundings had higher levels of cortisol (stress hormone). Not just that, women who described their living space as clean had lesser levels of cortisol hormone and reported feeling less sad throughout the day. Another study led by researchers at Indiana University found that cleaner homes had healthier and more active inhabitants.
Now that it’s clear how the psychology of cleanliness affects mental health, let’s dive into why you have the sudden urge to clean and organize. For this, we’ll look into the psychology of clutter and disorganization and the positive effects of cleanliness.
How Does Clutter Affect Your Mental Health?
Have you ever walked into a messy room and instantly felt stressed? Or, on the contrary, walked into a well-organized space and felt your spirits lift? If yes, you would know the importance of understanding the psychology of cleanliness.
At a subconscious level, the psychology of clutter and disorganization is linked with negative emotions like frustration, anxiety, stress, tension, worry, and irritability. This is because cluttered or unclean spaces are incomplete tasks in our heads. This unfinished business makes us feel unsettled and stressed. Additionally, there’s an inherent sense of negativity attached to unclean spaces.
Let’s dive deeper into the reasons why clutter affects your mood and mental well-being adversely:
1. Clutter can make it difficult for you to enjoy in any space.
One of the primary reasons why cleaning and mental health are related is because cleanliness significantly impacts a person’s ability to feel joy in a space. A study by the University of New Mexico found that people felt reduced pleasure and happiness in cluttered spaces.
2. Clutter distracts your focus.
It isn’t entirely shocking; we have all experienced it before – messy surroundings distract you more.
When your home is disorganized, your brain focuses on multiple things simultaneously, which hampers your ability to concentrate on one particular task. A study conducted by Princeton University found that disarray and clutter constantly compete with your brain’s cognitive resources, thereby limiting your ability to focus.
Therefore, multiple stimuli from a cluttered environment make it difficult for you to focus on the tasks.
3. Unclean surroundings lead to higher levels of stress.
You might have seen people regularly indulging in cleaning for stress relief. However, disarray in your surroundings means that you will have more unfinished business at hand, which translates into more stress and anxiety.
So, while unclean surroundings make you anxious, your constant desire for a cleaner environment makes you feel guilty. This way, you are stuck in a vicious cycle, which increases your stress levels.
4. Behavioral effects of clutter.
Thoughts translate into actions, and that’s why, while deciphering the connection between cleaning and mental health, it’s essential to look at the behavioral effects.
Chaotic spaces can lead to many negative behaviors – irritation, anger, agitation, and apathy. Clutter has been linked as one of the primary reasons for discomfort and discontent in relationships.
As per research published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, disorganized homes can significantly hamper children’s ability to process their information in the household.
We derive a lot of energy from our environment. Therefore, very few things have as much power to affect your mood and energy levels as your immediate surroundings. Beyond the aesthetic issues with a cluttered environment, such spaces can lead to avoidance and apathy.
What Are The Psychological Benefits Of Decluttering?
Now that we have understood the psychology of clutter and disorganization, let’s dive into the positive benefits of cleanliness.
The psychology of cleanliness states that clean spaces are associated with higher levels of mental well-being. Clean spaces can provide multiple mental health benefits, such as an improved quality of life, increased self-confidence, and higher productivity levels.
Let’s dive deeper into the mental health benefits of cleaning:
1. Cleanliness increases happiness.
The psychology of cleanliness says that a cluttered environment will lead to a cluttered mind. And a cluttered mind is overwhelmed with negative emotions, making it difficult for any person to feel calm and happy.
A study conducted by Adam W. Hanley and team solidified the connection between a clean house and mental health. The study concluded that people who engaged in the whole process of cleaning dishes experienced higher levels of mental inspiration. They had much more capacity to feel positive emotions like happiness.
2. It provides you with a greater sense of control over your life.
Whether cleaning your closet or organizing your work desk, cleaning makes you feel more in charge of the environment.
Think about it this way: you usually start with a messy space and end with a tidy one, which is technically a more controlled and positive outcome. On the face of it, this effect of the positive psychology of cleanliness might not feel huge. However, it can be a complete game changer when combined with the uncertainty associated with stress.
3. Cleaning reduces anxiety and stress.
As we have established above in the psychology of cleanliness, cleaning and mental health are closely connected, especially with respect to stress levels.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America lists physical activity as one of the main reasons ways to reduce stress. One way you can indulge in physical activity is through cleaning. Therefore, it’s a win-win situation – cleaning relieves stress and gives you the much-needed physical activity for the day.
4. Decluttering increases focus and productivity.
Another significant aspect of the psychology of cleanliness is its impact on concentration levels.
Simply put, you are more concentrated and dedicated to the task when you’re not focusing on the mess around you. Having too many things around you can divert your attention. Therefore, one of the psychological benefits of decluttering is that it significantly enhances your productivity by increasing your concentration levels.
5. You sleep better in clean surroundings.
You are much more likely to have a good sleep in a clean environment than a dirty one. A survey conducted by the US National Sleep Foundation found that individuals who made their beds first thing in the morning were 19% more likely to have better sleep at night. Another 75% of people reported that having clean sheets made them sleep better.
Apart from clean sheets, having a clean bedroom is one of the integral parameters for good sleep.
6. It makes you more creative.
This one from the list of positive benefits of cleaning is up for debate because many artsy people like having messy surroundings to inspire them.
However, as per a study conducted by Princeton University, minimalist environments are the best to ignite creativity and inspire fresh ideas. When your attention is divided by clutter (mental and physical), it usually leads to a lack of creativity and fresh ideas.
Therefore, if you have a sudden urge to clean and organize, indulging in it might give you a much-needed boost of creativity.
When Does Obsessive Cleaning When Stressed Get Unhealthy?
While talking about the psychology of cleanliness, it’s important to understand that having a sudden urge to clean might be expected. Still, if you obsess over dirt every next moment, deeper reasons might be at play.
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have a heightened tendency to control all areas of their life. They are hyper-focused on how things look and feel.
Additionally, people with higher levels of anxiety or trauma might also be affected by the look and feel of their surroundings, especially if they grew up in somewhat disorganized households.
If this sounds like something you might be dealing with, talking to your general practitioner or a mental health professional might help.
If you have ever fixated on cleaning videos on Instagram or felt happier after entering an organized home, you have experienced the positive psychological benefits of cleaning. The whole psychology of cleanliness offers scientific evidence as to why a simple cleaning can be an influential game-changer for your mental well-being.
However, excessive cleaning can be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder. To differentiate between the two, click here.
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