Are you one of those people who feel relieved after an intense cleaning session? Or maybe you have that one friend who likes to scrub the floor or rearrange the closet after a harsh breakup. Believe it or not, science says that cleaning really feels like a relaxing meditation for some people.
Darby Saxbe, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Southern California decided to research the mental benefits of cleaning. She found out that women who think their homes are cluttered have increased depressed mood over the course of the day. On the other hand, those who consider their home as organized experience less depressed mood during the day. Organized places make it easier to find what you need opposite to cluttered places where you can get frustrated just by looking at all the mess.
“[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,” Darby Saxbe claims. “Clutter can be visually distracting, too, and serve as a nagging reminder of tasks and chores undone,” she explains.
However, cleaning is not an enjoyable activity for everyone. It’s okay if you don’t mind a little clutter here and there. Darby explains that people who dislike cleaning are usually more spontaneous and less organized. On the other hand, detailed-oriented individuals may find cleaning quite relaxing. It’s a matter of personality, and we shall respect our differences. Although, it’s a bit tricky when you live with roommates or a significant other who has very different preferences for cleaning than yours!
Another reason why some people enjoy cleaning is the fact that they like to predict things. So, how to recognize an avid cleaner? Maybe those who visit their psychic to predict the future are also enthusiastic about cleaning? Well, not necessarily.
It turns out that we have to look back at the evolutionary process to track the real reason behind the stress-reducing effects of cleaning. According to Martin Lang, an evolutionary anthropologist at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic who studies ritualized behavior, people rely on rituals to combat stress. Cleaning is one of those rituals that gives a sense of control and calmness even when other things in life aren’t working in the desired way.
“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,” he explains.
Anxiety may occur when we lack control or fear of unpredictable things. According to Lang, this is not necessarily a bad thing from an evolutionary point of view.
“It pushes us to take precautions and try to control our environment so there is nothing surprising that could potentially harm us,” he finishes.
What cleaning has to do with anxiety?
Lang explains that when cleaning, we move in predictable and often repetitive ways.
Since it’s a common ritualized action, cleaning could double as a useful anxiety-reducing strategy for some people.
In one of his researches, Martin Lang asked people to prepare a speech about a decorative object and later clean that object. The experiment showed that those who were anxious about their public speech ran a cleaning cloth over the decorative object more times compared to those who weren’t anxious.
Keep in mind that enjoyable cleaning and obsessive cleaning are two different things. Excessive cleaning, fear of contamination, and obsession with symmetry are some of the signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anyway, if cleaning your home helps you declutter your mind and makes you happier, there’s no reason to worry. You can always wash away your stress with a cleaning cloth!