Psychologist Explains Why Cleaning Makes Some People Feel Less Anxious

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Everyone has their own things they like to do in order to unwind. It can be anything – exercise, reading, meditating, or even cleaning. A tidy house means a tidy mind, after all.

Coming back to a clean house after a stressful day at work can sometimes be all the remedy you need to make you relax.

And while we all understand the reasons why it’s good to unwind if you’re feeling stressed, a psychologist has explained why cleaning in particular can make you feel less anxious.

Darby Saxbe, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, suggests cleaning can be a therapeutic exercise for people feeling anxious or stressed.

In her research paper No place like home: home tours correlate with daily patterns of mood and cortisol, Darby said:

[Cleaning] gives people a sense of mastery and control over their environment. Life is full of uncertainty and many situations are out of our hands, but at least we can assert our will on our living space.

Clutter can be visually distracting, too, and serve as a nagging reminder of tasks and chores undone.

The research also suggests, from a practical point of view, a tidy house means easy access to the things people need. Living in an untidy place means it’s more difficult, and therefore more stressful, when it comes to finding things you need.

Darby’s research also looked at women with varying degrees of stress in their home environments. The study found those with more stressful situations feel more depressed over the course of the day.

Darby wrote:

Women with higher stressful home scores had increased depressed mood over the course of the day, whereas women with higher restorative home scores had decreased depressed mood over the day.

Of course, people don’t just keep clean houses because it makes them feel less stressed – personality is part of it, too. Darby suggests those who enjoy a clean house may be more conscientious and detail-orientated, while others may be more spontaneous but unorganised.

Scientists have also suggested the stress-reducing effects of cleaning may have its basis in evolution.

Martin Lang, an evolutionary anthropologist at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, who studies ritualised behaviour, suggests people turn to rituals – like cleaning – to be able to control and predict their surroundings.

In a study titled Effects of Anxiety on Spontaneous Ritualized Behavior, he said:

The human mind likes to predict things. We like to know what’s going to happen because it allows us to survive in, and extract resources from, the environment.

Leaving things cluttered and chaotic can seem like a lack of control. Having a tidy, ordered home is thought of as a helpful, evolutionary impulse.

Martin added:

It pushes us to take precautions and try to control our environment so there’s nothing surprising that could potentially harm us.

While some people may see cleaning as a chore and something to only be done when necessary, if you use it as a way to relax then go for it – tidy home, tidy mind and all that.

But at the end of the day, look after your mental health in the way that works best for you.

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Charlie Cocksedge

Charlie Cocksedge

Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.