5 Ways Tidying Up Can Improve Your Mental Health

I remember as a girl coming home to what looked like a completely different house. This happened around season changes and times of conflict between my parents. The furniture would be re-arranged and we would have a brand new set of throw rugs in the bathroom. Why? Because my mother knew the power of the KonMari method long before there was such a thing. When mom needed to regroup, relieve stress and gain some emotional clarity, the house would get a good old fashion Spring cleaning - Spring or not.

In 2011 Marie Kondo published The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. At the time of my writing this blog, her book has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. This didn’t just happen by accident. Marie has been studying the art of tidying since she was a child. She even wrote her college thesis on the topic. Marie’s book (and now Netflix series) briefly touches upon the overall benefits of sorting, organizing, and tending to the objects around us.

In her book, Marie touches on the idea of difficulty letting go of objects (attachments) as a kind of in-between place.This indecision can be a combination of both depressed (sad, nostalgic, longing) and anxious (worried about the future) states causing us to feel stuck.

“But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can't let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.” “The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.” “Keep only those things that speak to your heart.

Taking inventory of our things can be a powerful action step to finding our way out of stuck emotions. Let’s take a look at some of the ways tidying helps us feel better.

1. It Reduces Anxiety - Tidying can help relieve anxiety in a number of ways. One study looked at obsessive cleaning and it’s impact on anxiety. This article sites A study in the journal Current Biology found a link between temporary anxiety and obsessive cleaning. ... The study's authors hypothesize that in times of stress, people might turn to repetitive behavior like cleaning because it gives them a sense of control over an otherwise uncertain situation.

This article sites common experiences of individuals with anxiety and the benefits they receive from cleaning including likening cleaning to meditation, gaining the benefit of a tangible outcome and making their home a safe and comfortable space to relax.

2. Tidying Improves Focus - “By handling each sentimental item and deciding what to discard, you process your past. If you just stow these things away in a drawer or cardboard box, before you realize it, your past will become a weight that holds you back and keeps you from living in the here and now. To put your things in order means to put your past in order, too.” - Marie Kondo

Marie’s quote illustrates the power of clearing up emotional space as a way to focus. She isn’t just talking about getting rid of stuff, she is talking about looking at our attachments and deciding that it’s time to let go of things that are draining our energy, thus giving us more room to focus on the important things.

According to a study from The Journal of Neuroscience, the less clutter present in our vision, the more focused we can be.  

3. It Boosts Your Mood - Check out the results from a study by UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) (from homelogic.com)

A link between high cortisol (stress hormone) levels in female home owners and a high density of household objects. The more stuff, the more stress women feel. Men, on the other hand, don’t seem bothered by mess, which accounts for tensions between tidy wives and their clutter bug hubbies.

Women associate a tidy home with a happy and successful family. The more dishes that pile up in the sink, the more anxious women feel.

Even families that want to reduce clutter often are emotionally paralyzed when it comes to sorting and pitching objects. They either can’t break sentimental attachments to objects or believe their things have hidden monetary value.

Although U.S. consumers bear only 3% of the world’s children, we buy 40% of the world’s toys. And these toys live in every room, fighting for display space with kids’ trophies, artwork, and snapshots of their last soccer game.

4. Tidying Encourages Healthy Habits - Tidying up can help with overall life satisfaction and goal achievement. Being tidy is reflected in the habit of a chef preparing to make a meal. The first thing they do is set up their mise en place or everything in it’s place. Having things in their rightful place gives us a sense of readiness and preparation for challenges and projects.

5. Tidying Fosters Meaningful Relationships - To me this is the most important of all. In our therapy practice we believe that everything is a relationship. We believe that all relationship are significant and whether it’s your relationship to the clothing in your closet or your relationship to your mother, they are all worth examining.  

One very direct way that tidying can improve relationships is the impact a clean home has on romantic couples and domestic partners. In an article from the Huffington Post, two research studies were sited.

According to a 2016 survey of newly divorced people, 30 percent of respondents named “disagreements about housework” as the top reason for the split-ups, which came in third after infidelity (40 percent) and drifting apart (35 percent). A Pew Research Center study from the same year found that more than half of all married respondents (56 percent) said that sharing household chores was “very important” to a happy marriage.

Sometimes Letting Go Is Hard

Need help getting started with your tidying? Therapy is a great place to discuss barriers to getting started with things like the KonMari method. Contact us today for a free 15 minute consultation.