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The Psychology of Spring Cleaning

Chances are, you already started spring cleaning this year—but it might have been more about scrubbing and eliminating possible germs than decluttering and reorganizing.

If your current situation finds you with a few extra hours on your hands, set aside some time this month for a more thorough spring cleaning. Now that you’re home more, you may have noticed dust on places you never noticed before, and little kids’ fingerprints on surfaces you don’t often look at. Not only will you feel good about taking any steps you can to protect your family from illnesses, but spring cleaning is good for your physical health, mental health, and just might help you hit your fitness goals this season.

“People with clean homes have actually been found to be more active, less stressed, and more focused,”  says Stacy Cohen, M.D., double-board certified addiction and general psychiatrist and founder of The Moment in Santa Monica, Calif. 

Here’s how spring cleaning is a boon for your physical and mental health.

Clear out the winter dust and doldrums. Using the onset of spring—and extra time at home—as an excuse to clear clutter and get organized can also help you feel less stressed.

Not only will organizing your closet help you find your favorite workout clothes faster, but decluttering may even help you shed those winter pounds. Research finds that clutter makes you more likely to stress-eat, and if the only foods you see when you’re feeling overwhelmed are unhealthy ones, you’re adding another barrier to weight loss. Put “declutter kitchen” on your spring cleaning to-dos for a faster path to a healthier body.

Clean physical clutter to improve mental clutter. Cleaning can help us gain control over our environment, says Dr. Cohen. In a world where there are so many things that are out of our control, being able to figure out those things we can control—like our physical environments—and address them, can be very liberating and empowering.

The more we can focus our attention on the things we can control right now, the more we are distracted from anxious thinking, she says. “Distraction is actually a very effective tool for treating anxiety and achieving a sense of calm,” says Dr. Cohen. So blast your favorite playlist and start tossing out excess junk in order to take your mind off your worries.

When online business coach Fabienne Raphael owned a home staging business, having her customers declutter their homes before they went up for sale was one of the first tasks she’d charge them with.

After removing a lot of their excess stuff in order to prepare the home for selling, Raphael says customers would tell her they felt less stressed. “When you come into a clear, clean and well-organized home, it’s much easier to think straight and feel more relaxed,” Raphael says.

How organization results in a healthier body

When you’ve got clutter all around, your cortisol (stress hormone) levels spike, says Alexandra Franzen, author of The Checklist Book: Set Realistic Goals, Celebrate Tiny Wins, Reduce Stress and Overwhelm, and Feel Calmer Every Day. 

“Chronically elevated cortisol levels . . . can wreck your sleep, mess with metabolism, and zap energy levels,” she says. “Decluttering your physical environment feels amazing and can help bring those cortisol levels back into balance.”

While you’re tidying your closet and kitchen, write a checklist about what you want to accomplish, whether that’s tossing out old workout clothes or writing down your spring fitness goals and challenges, Franzen suggests. The act of writing down any “unfinished business” usually provides immediate relief that weighs on your mind, she says.

The first items on our decluttering checklist? Ratty workout clothes, old sneakers, and junk food.

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