A chaotic life is good breeding grounds for a messy space. But a cluttered home can brew disorder in our lives too. Messiness can be a vicious cycle, one that may start with physical clutter but always ends in mental clutter. In order to nip chaos in the bud, it’s important to clean, science says.
Like everything else in my life (read why I finally started exercising after 30 years of never working out), I began to make cleaning a top priority of mine only after I saw the benefits. Not only did I feel more in control of my life, but I felt more relaxed when I did rest. I could think more clearly when I did work. A neat surrounding made me happier. So now, tidying up is the first thing I do when I get home, even if I have a busy day, especially if I have a busy day.
If you’re too busy to keep an organized home, I feel your pain. I’ve been there. But the people who are feeling the most overwhelmed may be the ones who are most in need of an orderly surrounding. If you’re lacking the motivation to clean, it’s because you prioritize other things more. But consider these five tangible reasons why keeping a tidy habitat can make you healthier, happier and more productive. It may help you work smarter. It can help you parent with more empowerment. And it may even help you sleep better.
1. It helps you focus. Clutter might seem harmless but mess speaks to you constantly throughout the day. Researchers at Princeton University found that the visual cortex can be overwhelmed by task-irrelevant objects, making it harder to allocate attention and complete tasks efficiently. Other research shows that unfinished tasks linger in our minds like a mental itch, affecting performance later on. So if you’re trying to work against a backdrop of clutter, mentally labeling the pile of mess as a to-do is one more distraction. Clear out the clutter and remove what psychologists call attentional residue.
2. It’s good for your health. Cleanliness is good hygiene. But the National Sleep Foundation reported that people who make their beds were 19 percent more likely to get restful sleep. A 2010 study published in the scientific journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that women who had cluttered homes had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And another study by Indiana University found that people with clean houses are healthier overall than people with messy houses. In fact, house cleanliness was even more of a predictor for physical health than neighborhood walkability.
It’s likely that people who are willing to pay attention to their homes are more likely to pay attention to their health. And it’s this characteristic and not the organized space itself that contributes to their improved health. But your environment has a way of creating certain expectations of you, argues interior designer Kyle Schuneman. Which brings us to our next point.
3. It motivates you. When you walk into a room, your surrounding is the first thing you notice. “Your room creates a sense of responsibility,” said Schuneman. Kyle is a young designer I interviewed for Los Angeles magazine, and the way he spoke of design changed my perspective from the superficial to the necessary. This is how he he described the space we live in:
“You’re trying to live up to what your surroundings are,” he explained. “So if you’re living in a doughty, cluttered place, then that’s what’s going to be expected of you. But if you bring it to the next level, then that becomes something to live up to.”
I find the notion that a room creates certain expectations to be true not only in work but rest as well. Lying down in a space that’s disorderly has little ability to calm my mind. Whereas a clean and organized space almost seems to promote peace from the outside in.
4. It saves time and money. When you know where everything is, you don’t have to waste time looking for something or waste money replacing items you may already have in stock. And there’s also something to be said for being the authority figure of your own domain, especially when there’s a frantic and excitable child looking to you to be the savior that delivers scissors or a sparkly set of markers.
5. It promotes harmony and community. Before my house felt organized and presentable, I seldom invited people over. Even now, I’m less likely to invite my friends and family over if my house needs tidying. If having an organized space is the deciding factor that makes you open up your home or not, there’s something to be said for the influence an organized home can have in creating community in your life.
Sure, organizing is time consuming. The constant upkeep can even feel like a waste of time. There’s always an opportunity cost. Thirty minutes a day spent organizing could be spent checking more email, perusing Facebook or even churning out another article, in my case. But what’s the opportunity cost of disorder in your life? Your mind, body and soul not only appreciates the logical ebb and flow of an organized home, but thrives on it.
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