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How Cleaning and Organizing Can Improve Your Physical and Mental Health

Piles of laundry and endless To Dos are exhausting, but they can actually mess with all aspects of your life—not just your daily schedule or orderly home. “At the end of the day, being organized is about having more time for yourself, and enabling you to live a more balanced life,” says Eva Selhub, M.D., author of Your Health Destiny: How to Unlock Your Natural Ability to Overcome Illness, Feel Better, and Live Longer. Clearing away the clutter can help you make healthier choices, improve your relationships, and even boost your workout.

It Can Reduce Stress and Depression
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Women who described their homes as “cluttered” or full of “unfinished projects” were more depressed, fatigued, and had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than women who felt their homes were “restful” and “restorative,” according to a study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (Try one of these other 20 Ways to Get Happy (Almost) Instantly!)

It’s no wonder: When you come home to piles of things or a list of To Dos, it may prevent the natural decline in cortisol that occurs over the course of the day, researchers say. This, in turn, can take a toll on your mood, sleep, health, and more. Taking the time to tackle those piles of laundry, sort through stacks of papers, and spruce up your space won’t just clear away the physical stuff, it’ll actually help you feel happier and more relaxed. Now, who needs a bubble bath?

It Can Help You Eat Better
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People who worked in a neat space for 10 minutes were twice as likely to choose an apple over a chocolate bar than those who worked in a messy office for the same amount of time, found a study in the journal Psychological Science. “Clutter is stressful for the brain, so you’re more likely to resort to coping mechanisms such as choosing comfort foods or overeating than if you spend time in neater surroundings,” Dr. Selhub says.

It Will Help You Stick to Your Workouts
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People who set short-term goals, have a plan, and record their progress are more likely to stick with an exercise program than those who show up to the gym and wing it, reports a study in the Journal of Obesity. The reason? Using these skills to be more organized about exercise makes you more aware of your progress, which motivates you to keep going especially when you don’t feel like it. Each week, write out your exercise plan and then note what you do on each day (get as detailed as you like about duration, weights, sets, reps, etc.).

Researchers also found that jotting down how you feel after a workout, such as your thoughts or feelings, may increase the likelihood that you’ll stick with a program. (Or try these 3 Ways to Track Your Strength Training.) It can either remind you that a good workout works wonders for your mood, or help you troubleshoot any issues and revamp your plan to find a routine that works better for you. 

It Can Improve Your Relationships
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Happy relationships with your partner and friends are key to warding off depression and disease, but a disorganized life can take a toll on these bonds. “For couples, clutter can create tension and conflict,” Dr. Selhub says. “And the time you spend looking for missing items can also take away from time you could be spending together.” A messy house may also prevent you from inviting people over. “Disorganization can lead to shame and embarrassment and actually create a physical and emotional boundary around you that prevents you from letting people in.” Keeping a standing date with your girls (Wine Wednesdays, anyone?) may be the impetus you need to keep your space tidy.

It Will Boost Your Productivity
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Clutter is distracting, and research confirms that it can actually affect your ability to focus: Looking at too many things at once overloads your visual cortex and interferes with your brain’s ability to process information, the Journal of Neuroscience reports. De-cluttering your desk will payoff at work, but the benefits don’t stop there. “Often, the greatest barrier to healthy habits is a lack of time,” Dr. Selhub says. “When you’re organized at work, you’re more productive and efficient, which means you’re able to finish at a reasonable time and go home. This leaves you with the time you need to exercise, prepare a healthy meal, relax, and get more sleep.” (Want more? These 9 "Time Wasters" Are Actually Productive.)

It Can Help You Lose Weight
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“Being organized enables you to be more mindful about what you’re putting in your body,” Dr. Selhub says. Being healthy requires forethought, organization, and preparation. When you’re organized, you’re more likely to plan your meals, stock up on nutritious foods, and prep things like fruits and vegetables to make healthy eating more likely. “Otherwise, people have no choice but to eat what’s readily available, like the packaged and fast foods that lead to obesity,” Dr. Selhub says.

It Will Help You Sleep Better
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Less mess equals less stress, which naturally results in better sleep. But keeping your bedroom neat may benefit your slumber in other ways: People who make their beds every morning are 19 percent more likely to report regularly getting a good nights’ rest, and 75 percent of people said they got a better night’s sleep when their sheets were fresh and clean because they were physically more comfortable, according to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation. In addition to fluffing your pillows and washing your sheets, these experts recommend staying organized up until bedtime: Chaos throughout your day can lead you to bring last-minute tasks—such as paying bills and writing e-mails—into your bedroom. This can cause you to stay up longer and make it more difficult to nod off. A more organized life can help you make your bedroom a sanctuary for rest (and sex!). (Also check out Strange Ways Sleeping Positions Affect Your Health.)