It’s that time of the year again. Are you moaning and groaning about your need to tackle spring house cleaning? Change that “have to” mindset — instead, welcome the opportunity to hit the psychological reset button.
There’s something infinitely relaxing about arranging your space to please you. When you change your attitude to love and appreciation, you can see how even dusting your bookshelves qualifies as self-care. Here’s how spring cleaning can improve your mental health.
1. Out With the Old Negative Habits, in With the Positive
Spring cleaning offers you the opportunity to re-evaluate what you surround yourself with and whether the habits those objects represent bring you joy. With that in mind, why not change up your traditional room-by-room approach this year?
Instead, take a tip from Marie Kondo, tidiness expert, and start sorting your things by category instead of location. You might start with your clothing, then move on to your kitchen utensils, your home office desk and eventually more sentimental items.
While you do, use this chance to rid yourself of those things that harm your mental and physical well-being. What does that mean about that pair of skinny jeans you’ve hoped to squeeze into forever?
The critical thing to remember is that behaviors that start with good intentions — such as buying clothes in a smaller size to inspire yourself — can become maladaptive toxic influences. You most frequently see this phenomenon when people talk about needing a drink to take the edge off their anxiety when in reality, excess alcohol use only creates more problems and stress.
Therefore, honestly ask yourself how those clothes make you feel. If they inspire, go ahead and keep them. If not, ditch the guilt.
2. Letting Go of Old Memories and Processing Trauma
Many people procrastinate spring cleaning because they can’t stand the thought of parting with objects that once brought them joy — or that they hoped would. Some people develop hoarding disorder after a stressful life event like a house fire where they lost everything. Others struggle with indecision.
However, letting go of old memories and processing trauma can be highly therapeutic. Are you still clinging to your old wedding gown three years after your divorce? Instead of keeping that ghost in your closet, why not donate it while imagining the joy on a young bride’s face when she finds the perfect dress for pennies on the dollar?
The movement itself involved in spring cleaning can improve your mental health. Research indicates you store trauma in your body through your autonomic nervous system (ANS).
This system has two branches — the sympathetic, which inspires fight-or-flight, and the parasympathetic, spurring rest-and-digest. These two halves usually work in harmony, but trauma upsets the balance. Physical activity helps to moderate your ANS responses and return you to a calm state.
3. Eliminating Clutter Stress
Did you know that living in a mess can increase your stress? Clutter causes psychological distraction and distress in several ways.
Too many objects cluttering your visual field makes your mind work overtime to make sense of it all. Human biology compels you to scan for hazards instinctively, and having to check every item puts your unconscious into overdrive.
Clutter also distracts your focus away from more important tasks. You know you have to finish that budget report — but you spent 20 minutes making chains from stray paper clips on your work desk. When 5 p.m. rolls around, you panic over how much you have left to do.
When you come home to a messy house, you might throw down your briefcase in despair, feeling like your work is never done. However, a tidy abode welcomes you like a haven.
What if you can’t decide whether to toss something when you begin your spring cleaning? Try the following tips:
- One item a day: Resolve that you will get rid of one thing you don’t need each day. You can make the rules as strict as you like — for example, used coffee filters don’t count.
- Label the date: If you can’t decide whether to toss, sell or donate or keep an item, write down the date on a piece of labeling tape and affix it. Next year when spring cleaning rolls around, you know what pile to add it to if you haven’t touched it since.
- Make a disposal bin: Create a container for placing items you intend to return to the store — with the receipt attached so that you can toss the rest. A spare laundry basket comes in handy for clothing you plan to donate when you finish your family’s closets.
4. Creating a Fresh Psychological Start
Finally, a thorough spring cleaning is like a psychological fresh-start. If you want to reinvent yourself as you emerge from lockdown, use this time to surround yourself only with those items that reflect the new you.
As you sort through your belongings, thank each one you discard for its service. Even if you now look at that pair of Spongebob pajamas with a questionable eye, they once made you laugh — let yourself feel that gratitude before letting them go.
Then, take a tip from new year’s traditions and fling open all your windows and doors when you complete your spring house cleaning. Shoo away the old spirits — burn sage if you like — and welcome in the new.
Discover How Spring Cleaning Can Improve Your Mental Health
Please don’t think of spring cleaning as a chore. Instead, discover how this annual ritual can improve your mental health.