Apart from being a chore and hygienic necessity, spring-cleaning can also be a way to put your life in order. Have you ever notice that tidying up made you feel better? Maybe it also helped you to make up your mind about something. It lifts the proverbial weight off your shoulders and makes you happier. This effect has a scientific explanation.
In Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, Santiago cleans crystal glasses for the merchant, saying that it helps him to clear his thoughts. Agatha Christie came up with the plots for many of her novels when washing dishes. It does work this way.
Our minds are overwhelmed. Many people today work intellectually. Even menial tasks are performed in the office environment, at the desk. This is a usual habitat for a city dweller or a townie. Even our pastimes demand some brainwork – reading, watching films, playing videogames. To reload we need switching to completely different activity. Preferably physical – workout, dances, sports, or… cleaning our house!
Outer order contributes to inner calm. Not only the process of cleaning can help you organize your thoughts in a Zen-like way, but also the visible result is beneficial. When your home is cluttered, it creates visual noise. Each thing is like a to-do on your endless to-do list. The accumulative effect is stressful.
Whereas when your environment is clean and tidy, it becomes a welcome resting place where you can relax completely. It also frees you from the guilty thoughts of chores you did not have time to do.
This is true for the working environment as well – your office, your desk, even our computer. Try cleaning your laptop from unnecessary files (manually or using specialized software). You will see how easier it is to concentrate on the tasks.
Speaking of chores. One of the reasons why tidying up feels so satisfying is that it tied to reward mechanisms in our brain. Initially, those mechanisms were nature’s way to tell you “Atta boy” when you do something that is good for survival. Humans, as usual, refined things and made it all more sophisticated.
As children, our parents give us some kind of positive reinforcement – a praise or a pat on the head – for doing something that is considered good or right. Thus, we grow up with this feeling of achievement – i.e. each task we complete rewards us with the dose of dopamine. In the long run, this feeling of achievement boosts our self-esteem. Thus, chores we complete successfully make us happier.
If you do not know where to start, the basic principle of Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant and an author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up will come in handy. When you decide whether your old jumper is worth keeping, ask yourself one simple question. Does it bring you joy? This way you will get rid of many things that only occupy space and do not make your life better. If you overcome the initial anxiety, you will find that the experience is liberating.
This approach has an additional bonus. Once you have gone through hundreds of things asking yourself are they worth keeping and where shall you put them, your mind becomes more organized. Decision-making becomes easier. Everything falls into place.
· If you are of a frugal disposition, as I am, you may find decluttering stressful instead of meditative. Your head is probably full of notions that in reality are nothing but decluttering myths. “Do not toss it, find it a home”. “You will regret scrapping it”. “Be organized. Just put it in a nice container as the one you saw on Pinterest”.
Try to fend off these thoughts by logic. Did you ever regret getting rid of anything? Isn’t putting useless things in fancy containers akin to sweeping dust under the carpet? How long is this thing waiting for a “new home”? If it is more than a year, simply toss it away. No remorse.
· Another problem is nostalgia. We become attached to little mementos too easily. I cannot even toss away a pair of old ballerinas without reminiscing about the day I bought them and the parties I went to wearing them. Old letters, postcards, and souvenirs are much worse.
However, mementos are only good when they are chosen carefully. One T-shirt is enough to remind you of your college days. You do not have to keep the whole pile. You do not toss your past or your memories of it away. If something is worth remembering, you will never forget it. If it is not, then a dusty trinket will not help.
· If spring-cleaning seems like a daunting task, take baby steps. Fifteen-minute spree a day will get you far if done regularly. Multiple studies show that concentrating your effort into short bursts of energy is more effective than attempting to tackle large tasks. Develop a habit of washing up dishes, making your bed, and folding laundry immediately. You will be more motivated to clean your home once visible mess is out of the way.