8 Reasons We Love to Clean

It turns out that doing housework can actually boost our spirits.

Cabinets and counters after makeover
Photo: Thomas Loof

Since spring officially marks the arrival of cleaning season in our books, we asked Real Simple Facebook fans a question: "Do you like to clean?" Nearly 90% said they either liked cleaning (or having cleaned). And readers had some pretty profound thoughts on why getting out the scrub brush and the Ajax made them happy. We reached out to neat freaks and cleaning experts to find out what it is about running the dishwasher and folding the laundry that produces such a sense of contentment.

01 of 08

Affords a Sense of Accomplishment

Cabinets and counters after makeover
Thomas Loof

With cleaning, we "get to have an end product," says Dr. Fugen Neziroglu, Ph.D., director of the Bio Behavioral Institute in Great Neck, New York, and author of Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding. "In many tasks you don't get an end product that's so observable. For Michelle Jesperson, 37, a program manager for the State of California in Walnut Creek, the joy of cleaning comes from that tangible result. "My satisfaction is mostly gleaned from having a clean home with things organized and put away," she says.

And it can have spillover effects into other areas of our lives, says Marla Deibler, Psy.D., director of the Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia. "When we accomplish a goal like cleaning the fridge, we gain confidence that we can succeed," which helps us tackle projects in other areas of our lives. It's one of the reasons Julia Stone, 36, a CPA and mom to two in Denver Colorado makes cleaning a priority in her home. "If I can even get something silly organized like a junk drawer, it feels like I accomplished something. I feel ready to take on other challenges."

02 of 08

Calms Your Mind

Clean white bathroom
Monica Buck

Many readers said that cleaning helped them feel more at peace, which is one of the reasons Rebecca Beaton, Ph.D., founder and director of The Anxiety & Stress Management Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, encourages her clients to use cleaning as a therapeutic task. "Cleaning up our external environment can make us feel like we're cleaning up our psyche," says Beaton.

A good scrub on the weekend makes Stone "feel more peaceful, like I am starting my week fresh." She typically tackles the laundry, sweeps floors, wipes down kitchen and bathroom surfaces, and tidies up all toys, books, and clothes on Saturday and Sunday. With those tasks under her belt, she feels "like things will go smoothly" during the week.

03 of 08

Offers a Sense of Control

Stove and wooden spoons
Mikkel Vang

Living in a clean space "gives us a sense of control over our environment which brings comfort," says Deibler. Maria Ping, 35, a nursing student and mom to two in Chicago, even cleans her house before going on vacation. "I love going on vacation knowing that the house is perfect, and when I come home on Monday everything will look the same."

Beaton says cleaning can even help people "feel more control over their environment when they feel a lack of control in other areas of their lives." There's no way to force our bosses to love our job on that work presentation, but we can make our home a clean, inviting space that gives us happiness.

And there's an evolutionary need for that control, says Sally Augustin, Ph.D., an environmental psychologist and principal at Design with Science. In our modern-day life, we're not worried a saber tooth tiger will attack us from the dining room, she says. But "our sensory organs have evolved to always be taking stock of what's around us." So we gravitate toward uncluttered spaces that are easier to survey. And when we're in them, we feel more relaxed.

04 of 08

Reduces Stress

Cleaning spray with flowers, sponge, and cloth
Stephen Lewis

When Tula Karras, 43, a contributing editor to Self magazine and freelance writer in Brooklyn, New York, was moving apartments, she found herself spending several days deep cleaning her old apartment to get her deposit back. A few days later, the building's superintendent called to say that in his 19 years of working there, he had never seen a tenant leave an apartment so clean. Karras realized she had been using cleaning as a way to handle "the stress of the move."

Like many of the Facebook responders, Karras cleans to take a break from the pressures of work and everyday life. "As a freelancer, when I have a deadline, I do everything else on my to-do list before doing my work," says Karras. Some might see that as procrastination, but Neziroglu says it can be a healthy way to handle anxiety. "People may clean as a form of distraction…and doing something mindless can rest your brain."

05 of 08

Can Be a Form of Meditation

Woman meditating on bed
Henry Arden/Getty Images

In fact, in our fast-paced, work-centered lives, the mindlessness of cleaning may be one of its biggest allures. A surprising number of our readers said that cleaning is actually a relaxing activity for them—whether they crank up their iPod while they do it or just allow their brains to take a break from everyday thoughts.

That makes sense to Karen Maezen Miller, a Zen Buddhist priest in Southern California, and author of Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, who says the "physical components of housework are meditative, because they are simple tasks you perform with your own body, and they are repetitive." Plus, "you don't have to analyze how to do them, you don't have to go to school and perfect them, you just have to get in there and do it."

Ping, whose daily cleaning includes making beds, doing laundry, unloading the dishwasher, wiping down kitchen counters, and picking up endless amounts of dog hair, finds comfort in that repetitive, unchanging aspect. "I like the sameness of it," says Ping. "I like change everywhere else in my life, but not cleaning."

06 of 08

Boosts Mood

Happy woman cleaning the counter
Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Not only can cleaning burn calories, but it also "increases endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals in our brain," says Deibler. "We get a sense of reduced stress and anxiety, and an improvement of mood." In fact, says Deibler, a 2008 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that "even 20 minutes a week of household cleaning reduces feelings of stress and reduces the risk of psychological difficulties. So, it not only improves mood, but it is also a little preventative, making you more resistant to stressors."

07 of 08

Reflects Who You Are

Stacks of unfolded and folded white laundry
Dream Pictures/Ostrow/Getty Images

As a psychologist on TLC's Hoarding: Buried Alive, Beaton knows the detrimental effects of a cluttered and dirty space on someone's mental health. "Disorganization degrades a person's sense of self-worth," says Beaton. "If you feel like your space is cluttered and dirty, it's difficult not to internalize that."

A messy home can also be an indicator of how you're feeling about yourself. "People are less likely to take care of their environment when they don't feel good about themselves," says Deibler. "And the more chaotic their environment becomes, the worse they feel about themselves."

But beyond undoing the negative effects of living in a mess, cleaning your home "gives you a chance to reassess the message you want to send about who you are to yourself and others," argues Augustin. If you've had a major life event such as going back to school or becoming part of a couple, reorganizing your home is an opportunity to telegraph that to the world by putting up new pictures or restocking your bookshelves.

08 of 08

Is a Means of Self-Care

Woman cleaning living room
Tim Evan Cook

"The state of your bed is the state of your head," says Miller, who views stacks of dirty dishes and piles of laundry as emblematic of how someone is managing their life. "If you are avoiding difficult things in one area of your life, you do that everywhere."

Miller made a radical transformation in her late 30s when she left her life as a successful PR exec to become a Zen priest. One of the pivotal changes she made on that journey was doing her own housework after paying someone else to do it for 15 years.

"We wake up, we produce waste and laundry and dust and messes. They are the real stuff in our lives. So the time that we spend avoiding denigrating and demeaning these fundamental [cleaning] tasks means we are rejecting our own life," says Miller. "By turning toward what you would rather not face, you are making a profound, radical transformation in every aspect of your life. You begin to feel much more comfortable in your life, you feel competent, and you feel fulfilled."

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