Dishes to do, laundry to wash, meetings to plan—who doesn’t feel overwhelmed when faced with the seemingly endless To-Do lists of life? Just as you’re ticking off one thing, another thing crops up. It’s not hard to imagine that cleaning our house or room is often the last thing we have on our minds. Sometimes, just looking at the sheer amount of work needed to spruce up our living areas can make us feel tired before we even get started.
But do you know of the proven mental health benefits of cleaning your room? Research from scientists and other experts have found numerous links between a clean living space and a calm headspace. Like in Tidying Up, the recent Netflix series that has taken the world by storm, professional home organisers such as Marie Kondo have recommended the act of decluttering to make the home a much more pleasant place to live in.
“From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life. Your life will start to change. It allows you to confront the issues that are really important,” she writes in her best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Beyond that, scientific research has also shown that a messy room can trigger depression and anxiety, which can interfere with good physical health in the long run. As a result, spring cleaning can mean more than cleaning out your pantry and giving away old clothes, but clearing your head and refreshing your overall well-being.
Why a messy room is bad for your mental health
Have you ever looked at a photo of a really organised workspace or bookshelf online and felt an unexplainable sense of satisfaction? What is it about neatness and cleanliness that provokes such peace of mind? Due to our busy lives, we often overlook this fact: that keeping your living spaces clean and tidy is good for you.
As the old proverb goes, “cleanliness is next to godliness”, but this isn’t merely unverified superstition or an old wives’ tale. Various studies conducted throughout the years have proven that a clean home significantly improves mental well-being.
For example, even something as simple as having clean sheets will lead to a better chance at having a good night’s sleep, as shown by a survey carried out by the National Sleep Foundation in the United States. In the same survey, it was found that people who made their beds every morning were 19 per cent more likely to sleep better, compared to those who did not.
When our living spaces are clean, our stress levels also decrease. In a 2010 study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who described their home as being messy or needing work began their day stressed. They would remain stressed throughout the day until they managed to find time to clean. This can result in a vicious cycle where people begin to procrastinate—leading to more clutter and thus, more stress.
Clean living spaces have a positive impact on physical health
It may sound like a no-brainer, but bad mental health will eventually affect the quality of one’s physical health too. It’s a known fact that depression and anxiety results in lethargy and fatigue, which can then contribute to poor eating habits and a weaker immune system.
The stress triggered by mess and clutter has also been shown to trigger coping mechanisms like overeating unhealthy snacks. A University of Florida study found that people who spent time in an unorganised room were 77 per cent more likely to binge eat and be overweight. In a cleaner environment, people feel more relaxed, which ends up giving them more time to plan and prepare more nutritious meals.
According to Lynne Johnson, president of the Institute for Challenging Disorganisation, a group which helps people tackle chronic disorganisation, “People don’t eat well because their kitchen isn’t functional, and they don’t sleep well because their beds are piled with stuff. It’s a contributing factor to keeping appointments and being able to do exercise and eat well—all the things that point to living a healthy life.”
More directly, a dirty room can exacerbate asthma, pass around colds and spread dangerous bacteria. This isn’t to say that you have to obsessively ensure your space to be completely sterile at all times, but a clean, dust-free environment can help keep you and your loved ones healthier.
Keeping your room clean isn’t something you should do because you are expecting people over for a party—it affects us in more ways than we can think, both internally and externally.
Productivity: it’s the little things that count
For those who are always on the go (and nowadays, who isn’t?), a clean room can also boost productivity. Researchers at Princeton University have discovered that a messy space can actually make it more difficult to focus on specific tasks. When the brain’s visual cortex is overwhelmed by irrelevant objects, it makes it that much harder to concentrate on what’s immediately at hand.
Getting rid of mess helps us work and think more efficiently, which naturally spills over to benefit other areas of our lives. When we’re more productive as a result of a clean room, it frees up more time for us to do the things we like, and spend time with the people we love.
It’s hard to believe that a disorganised room can slowly stack up to become a much larger issue, but the evidence is there. After all, it has been proven that the human body is built towards organisation: this is the reason why we have internal body clocks, and why our bodies are regulated the way they are. One misstep, and everything goes out of place.
Hence, cleanliness is the result of our bodies’ relationship with order. At the end of the day, a clean, tidy room is a natural mood booster. Like psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter says, “Your bedroom is your personal space. It’s where you drift off, wake up and likely spend a lot of “me time.” Unlike a cluttered space, an uncluttered room won’t overstimulate your senses, distract you, make relaxation difficult or trigger guilt for letting things get out of control.”