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Does a Clean House and
Mental Health Go Hand-in-Hand?

September 17, 2019

With the popularity of tidying room by room, decluttering and other housekeeping trends to create a more peaceful environment, and a calmer mind, it’s time to take a look at the connection between a clean house and mental health. Leading psychological research has correlated clutter with stress and anxiety and discovered that housekeeping has a positive benefit on your mental health. If you need to destress, pick up a cleaning rag and a duster and start clearing out all that dirt and anxiety with a thorough house cleaning. Here’s how it works.

The University of California gathered thirty couples for a study on stress hormones. Those who described their house as messy or chaotic showed increased levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone produced in response to stress. The study also found that women were more adversely affected by clutter than men. The evidence shows that decluttering and other housekeeping reduces cortisol levels and are healthy habits to adopt. But the benefits of a clean home also extend to your physical well-being.

A study by associate professor NiCole R. Keith, Ph.D., research scientist and professor at Indiana University, found that people with clean homes are healthier than people with messy homes. Keith and her colleagues tracked the physical health of 998 participants. The results showed that participants who kept their homes clean were healthier and more active than those who didn’t. In fact, house cleanliness was even more of a predictor for physical health than neighborhood walkability and other factors.

Cluttered House, Cluttered Mind: Messy Homes Lead to Messy Relationships

A study noted in the scientific journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin measured the way 60 women discussed their homes. Women who described their living spaces as “cluttered” or full of “unfinished projects” were more likely to be depressed and fatigued than women who described their homes as “restful” and “restorative.” The researchers also found that women with cluttered homes showed higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

As a parent or spouse, that depression, fatigue and stress naturally affect self-esteem, relationships and overall well-being. From worrying about unfinished tasks and projects to concerns about a healthy environment for the family, messy homes lead to messy relationships. For parents, this relationship between a clean house and mental health can help temper all the other stress of simply being a parent. 

If you have kids, keeping a clean home gives them a safe and healthy space where they can play, do homework and sleep. Even though it may seem like kids don’t mind messes and generally hate anything to do with chores, if their space is cluttered, they will be less likely to be able to focus and can experience some of the same negative consequences of a dirty environment as their parents.

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Limiting the number of possessions your child has can help them want to clean up more and give them peace of mind. Some kids don’t clean their room because they don’t feel like it, but others are too overwhelmed by all their clutter to even get started. If a child has a room with fewer toys, he is not only likely to appreciate them more, but will also be more inclined to keep their room tidy. Your child will know where things belong and will find it easier to keep their room clean. Having a clean space and being able to keep it clean on their own will help your child’s self-confidence and their relationships with the rest of the family.

When we, and our kids, are surrounded by clutter, we all become more irritable, anxious and frustrated. From snapping at a family member over a missing phone, car keys and other belongings to blaming others for messes, an unruly, cluttered home can lead to behaviors that damage relationships.

Read on to find out the positive correlations of a clean house and mental health.

Does a Clean House Mean a Clean Bill of Mental (and Physical) Health?

Darby Saxbe, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California recently published research about having a clean house and mental health. She reported that “(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.” In other words, when you feel that urge to clean and declutter when you’re stressed out, there’s an underlying basis for it. 

Temporary anxiety can lead to cleaning more meticulously, according to a study from the University of Connecticut. Researchers theorized that people gravitate toward repetitive behaviors like cleaning during times of stress. The reason for this inclination to clean when we’re stressed is all about control. If you have the urge to purge, but can’t seem to get started, try a helpful cleaning checklist to get your cleaning routine in order. 

“We want to be able to do something when we get anxious, and what we really want is to be in control and take action,” says Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You, in Life, Love, and All That You Do. “While there are times we have to accept some situations in life, we do not have to accept an untidy home.”

Aside from having a cleaner home, the relationship between a clean house and mental health can help us reduce anxiety and other mental health issues. According to the ADAA, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the physical action of housekeeping and the end result of a cleaner home help relieve stress, anxiety and depression. When stress affects the brain, the rest of the body suffers consequences as well. The physical benefits of exercise like cleaning house are well established, from reducing fatigue to improving concentration. 

Exercise like housekeeping produces endorphins which improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Scientists have found that regular participation in an aerobic exercise like scrubbing and mopping has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects. If you can clean for just twenty minutes a day, you can reduce stress, clutter and relationship friction. Vigorous cleaning like scrubbing floors is an outlet for negative emotions as you burn energy and occupy your mind with the task at hand.

A study published in the journal Mindfulness found that participants who engaged in mindfully washing the dishes — meaning they took a moment to inhale the scent of the soap and to allow their skin to absorb the warmth of the water — reported a 27% reduction in nervousness, along with a 25% improvement in “mental inspiration.”

The relationship between a clean house and mental health is one that should be important to your whole family. We all love a cleaner, more organized home and we typically feel more at ease with less clutter. When you consider the overwhelming benefits—better physical health, improved mental health and a cleaner, healthier environment, it’s easy to see how keeping a home clean can keep minds more calm and relationships strong.

If you need help getting your cleaning routine back on track, The Maids is ready to lend a hand and help you create a better environment for your family. 

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