Is cleaning up really good for your mind and body? We asked an expert.

Was your New Year's Resolution to clean up and finally get your home organized?

If it was, you're not alone.

Since the start of the year, cities all over the country are reporting more clothing donations than usual. And, of course, it seems like everyone is obsessed with the show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" and showing off their new home organization projects on social media.


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So whether you were inspired by a TV show, the millionth fight with your partner over dirty dishes, or simply a walk past the Container Store, it's always a good time to clean up and organize your space.

“There is a pleasure in imagining that this thing — being organized and clean — is a task that can be done," explains Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of Psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. “Once done, things would look nice and be less cluttered and you'd know where everything is. It's sort of like imagining how good you'd feel after you do a spin class or a run."

And that's part of the reason, she adds, why so many people are inspired right now by Kondo's Netflix show: it gives them the tools to plan out how they can get something done, and help them feel like their goals are, indeed, attainable.

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The good news is that setting a goal like this — and working to achieve it — can have a lot of positive effects on your life and your health, as long as you tackle it in a manageable way. Here are just 7 of those benefits:

1. Cleaning up can alleviate stress.

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A 2009 UCLA study found a correlation between women's stress levels and untidy homes. Women who described their homes as untidy, messy, cluttered or unfinished had higher levels of cortisol — the body's main stress hormone — than those that described their homes as “tidy" or “restorative." They also had increased feelings of depression during the day.

Photo by Alvaro de la Rica on Unsplash

This suggests that living in a cleaner, more organized space has a relaxing effect which can, in turn, lower your stress. On a slightly different note, according to MarketWatch, Americans spend about 55 minutes a day looking for stuff they own but can't find — which is stressful and disheartening in a totally different way. Not only that, but sometimes mess can simply be overwhelming, leaving you feeling defeated and depressed.

2. It can also improve your relationships.

“For many people the issue of how clean and how organized to be is a real source of relationship stress," says Dr. Saltz. This is especially true in couples. One half of the couple might really like things organized and obsessively clean. The other might think it's no big deal if the dirty clothes pile up or if the house goes a week or two between vacuums.

“This can be a source of arguing, disagreement and upset that takes a lot of emotional space up," she explains. That's why it's often important for couples to learn to compromise and agree on a certain standard of tidy for their shared space.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

“Having a relatively clean and organized space is probably better for a couple's wellbeing. I mean, unless you happen to have found your soulmate in filth," she adds, with a laugh.

3. You're more likely to socialize if you keep your space tidy.

Almost half of Americans say that if their house feels cluttered, they won't invite people over. But not socializing in your space can have a tremendous impact on your friendships and your well-being, making you feel isolated and increasing your chances of depression or poor mental health.

So get out those Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and start planning that potluck you've been meaning to! Your mind will thank you for it.

4. Cleaning up can boost your creativity and productivity.

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Clutter and dirt can have a negative impact on your ability to focus or process information, according to a Princeton Study. This can make you feel distracted and stressed out, inhibiting your ability to get things done — which is bad at home and at work.

If you take the time to clean up your desk and your home, it can help you be more efficient. “One's productivity and creativity might be increased once one has completed organization — mostly because mentally, that distraction has been taken off the table," explains Dr. Saltz. “It frees up more space to be productive and creative."

5. It might also help you financially.

If you can't find something in a messy house, but you really need it, you're likely to give up looking for it and just buy a new one. This can waste your money, according to MarketWatch — and it won't help your clutter problem either.

Extra stuff can also get expensive if you aren't willing to let it go. More than 10 percent of American households rent storage spaces to hold their extra belongings — and they can spend as much as $1,000 a year on that facility. It should come as no surprise that the sale of home storage products, such as plastic boxes, has become a $10.5 billion business.

6. You might eat healthier.

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A study in the journal Psychological Science suggests that people in orderly environments can show a preference for healthier snacks. That's something that can benefit every one of us!

7. A clean bed could help you sleep better.

According to a National Sleep Foundation survey, people who make their beds every morning are 19 percent more likely to report getting a good night's sleep.

Not only that, but that same survey found that 73% of people said that they got a better night's rest if their sheets and bedding were clean. It simply made them feel more comfortable — helping them nod off at night. So if you've been sleeping in the same sheets for over a week, it might be a good idea to take a trip to Laundry Town.

Before you embark on your cleaning adventure, though, there are two important things to remember:

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

First, not everyone has the same definition of “clean" or “tidy."

“There can be a lot of variability between one person's 'this is acceptable' and another person's 'are you kidding me?" says Dr. Saltz. “I don't think there is a uniform [standard] that everyone aspires to."

In other words, maybe you're the kind of person who finds that keeping a minimalist home is very relaxing. But someone else might find that same minimalist space depressing and too sparse. It's okay to want a bookshelf chock full of books or a lot of sentimental things around you. The key is to find the level of tidy and organized that makes you happy.

As long as your space or clutter doesn't interfere with your ability to function — i.e. you can never find things, you don't want people over, it's affecting your relationships or your job, etc. — then it's okay to decide what organized looks like for you.

Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

Second, don't overwhelm yourself in the process of trying to better your space.

“Usually when you tell someone that they need a major life overhaul, it doesn't work — sort of like the New Year's resolution to lose 50 pounds. It's probably not going to happen," Dr. Saltz explains. “You have to break things into bite-sized chunks so that it feels manageable and not overwhelming or anxiety-producing."

“If it feels anxiety-producing, most people won't even embark on a project at all," she continues. “So start one closet at a time and feel good about what you accomplish. That's more likely to work for you in the long run."

If you stress yourself out trying to achieve the impossible overnight, you're never going to experience the benefits that cleaning up can have on your health, defeating the point of your newest New Year's resolution in the first place.

Clorox believes clean has the power to transforms lives, which is why they've partnered with Upworthy to promote those same traits in people, actions and ideas. Cleaning up and transformation are important aspects of many of our social good stories. Check out the rest in the campaign to read more.

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Inclusivity

Anyone who's done yard work on a hot day can tell you that it can be just as good of a workout as playing a team sport.

You're down on your knees pulling weeds, up on a ladder lopping off errant tree branches, and pushing a heavy lawnmower that never seems to start on the first try.

Unfortunately, because lawn work is so physically intense and not everyone can afford a gardner, the elderly and disabled sometimes have to let their lawns and backyards grow wild.

An alternative learning center in Dubuque, Iowa is helping its kids stay physically fit while helping out their community with a new program that gives them high school PE credit for doing yard work for the elderly and disabled.

The Alternative Learning Center is for high school juniors and seniors who are at risk of dropping out of school.
As part of the program, the teens visit homes of the elderly and disabled and help out by raking leaves, pulling weeds, cutting grass, and cleaning gutters.



Teacher Tim Hitzler created the program because it helps the students get involved in the community while helping those who need it most.

"The students aren't typically too excited at the beginning but once they get involved and start doing the yard work they become more motivated," Hitzler told KWWL. "What they really like is A: helping people. They really like giving back to people and meeting the person."

Nick Colsn, a 17-year-old student at the learning center, told NPR that the program allows him to meet people he wouldn't have otherwise. "I'm more of like go-to-school-go-to-work-home-repeat kind of guy," he said. "So to me, I probably would not have met any of these people."

The end-of-year program has been so successful, Hitzler hopes to expand it next year. "You know, in education, a lot of times, there's so many different gimmicks and curriculum packages you can buy and things like that," he told NPR. "And something like this all you need is a few garden tools. You know, I mean, it just makes sense. It's so simple. And it works."

Recommended

If you're a white supremacist, I imagine drinking beer (or any other alcoholic beverage) is a nice way to relax and tune out the fact that you're a terrible person who's helping set human progress back at a rate the bubonic plague would be proud of. But for some self-professed white supremacists, it wasn't quite so easy on a June weekend in Germany.

According to Newsweek, the hundreds of neo-nazis who flocked to the "Shield and Sword Festival" in Ostritz found themselves uncomfortably dry when a court imposed a liquor ban at their gathering of hateful bigots who also like to listen to awful music together. The ban's aim was to prevent any violence that might erupt (you know it would...) and the police confiscated more than a thousand gallons of alcohol from those attending the weekend-long event. They even posted pictures on Twitter of the alcohol they'd removed from participants.



But that's only half the story.

Residents of the town of Ostritz, who've had to deal with the bigots before (they threw the same festival last year on Hitler's birthday), knew that the ban wouldn't stop the festival-goers from trying to obtain more alcohol while in town. So the townspeople got together a week before the festival and devised a plan which would truly make the white supremacists focus on how terrible neo-nazi music is: They bought up the entire town's beer supply.

"We wanted to dry the Nazis out," Georg Salditt, a local activist, told reporters. "We thought, if an alcohol ban is coming, we'll empty the shelves at the Penny [supermarket]."

"For us it's important to send the message from Ostritz that there are people here who won't tolerate this, who say 'we have different values here, we're setting an example..." an unidentified local woman told ZDF Television.

At the same time the festival was going on, residents also staged two counter-protests and put on a "Peace Festival" to drive home the point that bigotry wasn't welcome. If the festival is held in the same town again next year, ticket-buyers should be aware that Ostritz isn't playing around when it says that white supremacists aren't welcome.

There's some good news, too: Aside from the fact that residents aren't afraid to send the message that they're intolerant of intolerance, attendance to the far-right music festival has drastically decreased in the past year. In 2018, 1,200 people attended, according to the BBC. This year? Approximately 500-600. Here's hoping the festival won't have a return engagement next year.

Culture

I sent both of my children on a bus on Tuesday. I knew where they were going.

The morning started rainy, buggy, and too early. To be fair, it always feels too early.

My husband and I waved from across the street as the buses pulled away, our kids, along with a hundred or so others, behind tinted glass. We waved like we were excited. Our son was likely not looking. Our daughter may have been, but she also could have not been paying attention until the bus started into motion. We won't know for sure if she saw us waving until she returns.

Returns.

Every day when I leave the house, I expect to return.

That's the default.

It's so much the default that realizing it is actually stunning. We run our lives as though anything else other than what's in our head, our routine, our privilege, is what will take place. There's that little truism that a worrier shines like a pebble in the hand: you're more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. Yet we are much more likely to be worried about flying because it is out of our routine. Being out of your routine awakens you to the precariousness we completely shut out in our day-to-day lives.

I put my children on a bus. My oldest will be gone four weeks, my youngest, two.

What should be normal: sending your kids to sleep away camp. What feels wholly unnatural: sending your Jewish kids to a Jewish sleep away camp in the world we're living in now. Even writing those words: JEWISH SLEEP AWAY CAMP make my fingers seize at the knuckles. I don't want you to know there are such things as Jewish sleep away camps. Even having others know that they exist feels like a danger.

I'm used to my feelings and my instincts seeming like hyperbole to others. I'm emotional. I'm tuned in. I'm hyperreactive. I have a hair trigger. I have anxiety and depression.

I also come from a genetic and cultural history of people who ended up in this country because we were hunted and pursued and needed to escape. Over and over and over again. The cells that have come to build the tissues and structures of my body and my brain have been organized by UNSAFETY.

In "normal" suburban upper-class life, this can be a huge detriment. A handicap. It can manifest in the most unhelpful and frankly, startlingly blind ways. I've spent so much of my life reacting and feeling and then trying to understand what makes me tick. I've spent so much time learning to train and control and ignore and channel.

I wasn't made for easy times. I was made for survival. I was made, like an animal, to intuit danger and get the hell out, fast. I was made in the image of fight or flight. I do both better than most people. It's not something I brag about, because it doesn't feel like a good thing most of the time.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp. Because when my husband and I got married (I'm Jewish, he's not), our pact was this: if our children live in a world where historically they could be targeted and threatened because of their Jewishness (regardless of their actual observance of religion or customs), they deserved to know that being a Jew is not negative. We should give them every opportunity to be proud and happy about their Jewishness. Their belonging should help them to feel good about themselves and the world. It should help them seek connection and understanding of the human condition. They should know songs. They should sing full-throated. They should feel comfort in our traditions when they are useful to them, but never feel threatened or unnecessarily constrained by them.

Research funded by Jewish institutions and communities suggests that the number one way to help ground kids in their Jewish identity is to send them to Jewish sleep away camp. It's the glue.

And yet.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp at a time when our government is putting migrant children into concentration camps.

I bought all the supplies on the list. I washed and labeled and sorted and packed. I zipped up those bags to accompany my children. And then I dropped my children off and couldn't see if they were waving back as the buses drove away.

Of course, the camp I'm sending them to has a stellar reputation. Every day they post updates on a special web site, along with hundreds of pictures of the kids in action. I send emails to the kids which are printed out and given to them. I send packages with stickers and trading cards and all sorts of goofiness so that they know they are loved.

Migrants from central America have made their way to our border with just what they could carry. (My children's bags were so heavy that neither of them could carry them. Likely at least 1/4 of what I sent will come back unused or untouched.) Migrants are following the rules of asylum seeking. They are fleeing violence and intimidation and abuse far greater than I will allow myself to imagine. They are separated from their children by a government that has no business doing so.

I, an upper-class white woman, expect my voice to be heard. I expect to be able to vote and call and hold my elected officials accountable. I know what to say to get my point across. I've given money to candidates and I know how to threaten that support in the future. I also have the privilege of time and energy with which to do it. My underlying expectation is that there are very few problems that I don't have some redress for.

Asylum-seekers, in good faith, and following the rules, have nothing left to lose. They are coming here seeking something less life-threatening than what they're fleeing. They're seeking some good will. Or, at the very least, safety. Or relative safety.

I put my children on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp knowing that in my daughter's cabin of 8 girls, there are 4 young adult counselors who are there to make sure that she's safe, happy, and her needs are being met.

I also know that last year, an asshole white supremacist antisemite decided to go to a synagogue on shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, and turn it into a bloodbath. Well before that ever happened, well before the era of mass shootings and Columbine, Jewish institutions like synagogues and preschools and JCCs have needed extra surveillance. We've had police guard our religious services and social gatherings. Even (and perhaps especially) seeking out Jewish belonging, Jewish joy, has always been a reckoning with danger and threat.

After I sent my children on that bus—the one I knew where it was going—the one where I'd shoveled their overpacked duffle bags into the bowels of the bus—I came home to a house strewn with the remnants from packing. Laundry bins with unneeded t-shirts and shorts and single socks. The cat—he normally comes to greet me when he hears the garage door open—was nowhere to be seen. I called for him. He still did not come. I came upstairs and looked in my son's room. No cat. I looked in my daughter's room—with its orange and pink somewhat darkened by the rainy skies—and there he was, tucked into a furry circle in an eddy of her duvet. I laid down next to him and lost control. The control I never really had.

Twitter this week has erupted in a jagged back-and-forth between politicians and pundits and opinion-havers about whether or not it is appropriate to call the migrant detention centers run by ICE and our government "concentration camps." I, and most other Jews I follow and know, agree they should be called exactly what they are.

Non-Jews (and, to be fair, some Jews as well), like to tiptoe around the Holocaust and any words or imagery which may in any way encroach upon the historical accuracy or singular legacy of that horrible period. To a degree, I might agree when the comparisons are used flippantly or improperly.

But the legacy of the Holocaust, we are all reminded, is NEVER AGAIN. And NEVER AGAIN means that we don't wait until something worse happens. What's happening RIGHT NOW in the United States shares that DNA.

In the same way I understood or had an inkling in my bones that the election might go a way I didn't want it to, I know this same thing: we are not ok. This is not just the start. This is halfway down the road to the place where we lose not just perceived control, but real control. For all the current administration's lies and purposeful incapabilities, know this: the cruelty that comes out of the mouth of our president and those who continue to support him in the government and in the populace is not a lie. It is predictive. They're telling us in advance what they intend to do. And then they are doing it.

In a world where I still have the ability to put my daughter and son on a bus with all their toiletries and know that they will likely arrive at their destination, I also know that our government argued for the legal right to deny soap and toothbrushes to migrant children. When anyone's children are denied such basics—human basics—no one is safe.

I know it will sound like hyperbole. I know that those who so easily dismissed my concerns early on—before this administration even took office—will still attempt to dismiss my warnings now. But do so at your own peril.

I was not built for normal times. I was built for times like these. And I haven't been wrong yet.

This post originally appeared on Outside Voice. You can read it here.

Inclusivity