Here’s Why Decluttering Will Make You Happier

Photo by Eduard Militaru
Photo by Eduard Militaru
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The Challenge: We often don’t have enough time to clean up messy spaces
The Science: Clean, organized spaces reduce stress and increase productivity
The Solution: Set aside small amounts of time each day to clean and organize.

Cleaning is not something that most of us enjoy, or associate with happiness, but studies are increasingly showing that it does affect your mood and your stress. Unfortunately, most of us simply don’t have the time to dedicate to regular, deep cleaning of our homes. It’s also difficult to motivate yourself to clean after a long day, no matter what your job, especially when tasks build up and take a long period of time to complete. In fact, the average adult works some 47 hours a week, according to a poll by Gallup, with some 18% of people working as long as 60 hours a week, or nearly 12 hours a day. That’s a lot to do – not to mention little time or energy to clean afterwards. But, mess does cause stress and cleaning reduces it, even in animals other than humans, such as fish.  

Clean homes and organized spaces are proven to reduce stress, improve happiness, and even improve your eating and exercise habits. Another study correlated reducing clutter with increased productivity at home and in the workplace. Eva Selhub, M.D., and author of “Your Health Destiny: How to Unlock Your Natural Ability to Overcome Illness, Feel Better, and Live Longer” integrates cleaning and organization in a large portion of her book, and she’s not the only one.

In fact, one study published by The University of California showed that coming home to a messy house can interfere with the body’s production of the de-stressing hormone cortisol, primarily because people believe that they had to clean up the mess, and therefore stress about it, even if they didn’t have the motivation to actually clean up.

While messy homes and messy office spaces can seem harmless, these studies are proving that a disorganized space causes stress, which can amplify the stress created by work, life, personal issues, and even driving home from work.

2 Reasons We Don’t Clean Up After Ourselves

While there are multiple concepts that tie into why people who work long hours or spend long hours with their kids are less likely to clean, two of the most relevant theories include the process of ego depletion and goal based failure.

Ego depletion views willpower as an exhaustible resource. Therefore, using your willpower to go to work, drive home in traffic, or go to the gym first will deplete your resources for cleaning the house later.

Goal based failure is the process of either not tackling a large task because it’s seen as too daunting or failing a small part of a task and losing motivation because you think you’ve failed the entire task. You’re less likely to complete that large housecleaning task when you’re trying to do it all at once and only get to the dishes.

Getting Organized

Most of these studies also find a relationship between cleaner homes, better sleep schedules, and healthier habits. For example, the National Sleep Foundation correlates that people who make their beds in the morning as soon as they get up are 19% more likely to get a good night’s rest. These people are also more likely to get up and go to bed at the same time, which correlates to an organized lifestyle instead of making the bed, but the key point of organization still remains.

Not necessarily. Einstein and Roald Dahl are two people who were famously creative and productive with a messy desk, and some studies show that some people are more creative and productive in chaos. Chronically disorganized people tend to benefit from disorganization, simply because they and can focus on simpler tasks. The Institute for Challenging Disorganization even has a clutter test to help identify chronically disorganized people. However, no one benefits from a dirty space. Even if you work better in a cluttered area, you can make time to clean.

In fact, cleaning can be a relaxing activity on its own. By concentrating on cleaning and not spending your time on your phone or watching TV, for example, can actually increase your well-being. One study found that mindfully washing your dishes can significantly lower your stress.  

The 15 Minutes a Day Approach

So given that we have no time, what’s the solution to a clean house? So set aside short periods of time to clean, build habits and stick to a schedule, and keep it up over time.

Multiple studies show that concentrating your effort into short bursts of energy is more effective than attempting to tackle large tasks. One study, completed by K. Anders Ericsson on Deliberate Practice, showed that violinists who focused their energy into short bouts of practice were better players than those who practiced for longer.

Similarly, cleaning for short periods of time can be effective, and more so than most people think. For example, if you normally clean up for 2 hours over the weekend, you’ll achieve the same amount of cleaning with 15 minutes a day, only you’ll be less stressed about getting started, and therefore more likely to complete the tasks. Plus, you should choose a time of day when you are most productive to clean. A study of the habits of famous authors shows that people can be productive at wildly different times of the day.

  • Focus on visible rooms, where you spend the most time
  • Develop a habit of washing up dishes, and folding laundry immediately. You’ll be more motivated to clean your home when visible mess is out of the way.
  • Fix your bed as soon as you finish getting dressed.
  • Consider spending a few minutes tidying up your kitchen and bathroom every morning
  • Build habits by cleaning every day at the same time.
  • If your home needs major organization, tackle it in small portions to make it seem like less of a chore. Then, dedicate small chunks of time every week to keeping organized.
  • Clean up your desk or work space every night when you finish using it.

Taking the time to clean can be difficult but science and psychology prove that it is beneficial. Building the habit to clean every morning is the hardest part of process, but you will quickly see results, and your home will look clean throughout the week. You’ll also get a sense of satisfaction and morale boosting accomplishment from each small task you complete. And, most importantly, without the stress of having to spend hours cleaning, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your time off.

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Mike Hanski

Mike Hanski

Mike Hanski tries to keep his writing environment clean and minimalistic and always seek for new efficient ways of minimizing distractions. You can find his writing on Business.com and Bid4papers blog.
Mike Hanski

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