Do you ever find yourself speed-cleaning after an argument? Have you done the washing up after a conflict with your kids? Ever thrown an ex-partner’s clothes out of the window when you’ve broken up? (That just sounds like sensible decluttering to me!)
If you pick up the vacuum or start frantically tidying after dealing with a difficult situation this could be a way that your brain tries to ease your stress levels. A sort of reset, if you will.
It’s all subconscious, of course. I’m sure you’re not thinking that you MUST have a clean house just to spite the person you argued with. What good would having an empty dishwasher be when you’re crying about your boss berating you at work?
Some people find that the act of cleaning or organising helps them relieve stress from other areas of life.Dr. Brian King (2019)
If you find yourself tackling a task, decluttering or doing paperwork after dealing with a difficult situation, you’re probably it doing in order to feel better. It may provide a distraction from the situation, it might allow you time to process negative thoughts without acting on them, and it certainly helps you to use up that excess ‘fight-or-flight’ energy.
You know the phrase ‘there’s no use crying over spilt milk’? It basically means: the quicker you get on with your life after an incident, the better you will feel. It’s telling you to stop crying (the stress element) and get on with cleaning it up (to ease the stress). I think that’s essentially why cleaning and organising makes us feel better – it literally wipes the slate clean.
In fact, it’s likely that you’ll get loads more work done during a stressful time than if you were doing some run-of-the-mill cleaning and organising at home. So, if you’re struggling with mental or emotional clutter after a difficult situation, you might as well harness this to tackle your physical clutter too – and feel better in the process.
Plus, an organised, clutter-free home enables you to feel more calm and relaxed in general – as discussed in my previous article ‘You are an Antelope: Why Evolution Causes Us to Be Stressed by Clutter‘ – which explain why we feel the urge to tidy and ‘clear the horizon of danger’ after we’ve been through a tough time.
Some people find solace in cleaning and organising when they’re in midst of a difficult period in their life. If something is out of your control and is causing you unhappiness, stress or anxiety, at least you can regain some control by tidying or organising your own environment.
Often people turn to minimalism after a period of stress in their life in order to get a feeling of calm and a sense of control. I’m not talking about an argument in this instance, but other issues such as grief, burnout at work or health problems. For example, co-founder of The Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn began his own minimalist journey after the death of a parent and dissatisfaction in his corporate career.
We didn’t control our time, and we didn’t control our lives. So in 2010, we took back control using the principles of minimalism to focus on what’s important.’Fields Millburn, J and Nicodemus, R (2010-20150 pp. 10)
So, the next time you feel stressed, maybe you could try to harness your brain’s desire for calm and order by doing trying following:
- Grab the vacuum – the noise is a great way to block out worrisome thoughts.
- Dig the garden – the physical activity can help you to burn off excess adrenaline.
- Tackle tasks you’ve been putting off – you’ll feel a sense of achievement doing something you’ve procrastinated over.
- Declutter your belongings – clear the horizons of clutter to naturally bring down your ongoing stress levels.
- Shred unnecessary paperwork – that sense of destruction will help you to feel calmer after an argument.
- Organise your desk – to regain a feeling of control.
If you have a go at doing one or more of these tasks after you’ve experienced a difficult situation, even if it doesn’t improve your mental state, at least you’ve achieved something, moved your body and will have a tidier home, garden or desk at the end of it.
Fields Millburn, J and Nicodemus, R (2010-2015) Essential: Essays By The Minimalists Montana: Asymmetrical Press
King, B. (2019) The Art of Taking It Easy: How to Cope with Bears, Traffic and The Rest Of Life’s Stressors. USA: Apollo Publishers