Spring is synonymous with longer days and warmer weather, which makes many of us want to throw open the windows and clean the house.
There are benefits to spring cleaning as people are impacted mentally and physically by their environment, explains Maria Mancebo, PhD, research psychologist and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) expert at Butler Hospital.
“Clutter sometimes builds as a result of stress and leading a busy lifestyle,” Dr. Mancebo says. “As it accumulates, it can be more and more bothersome. Getting things back to the way we like them can make us feel like we’re in control again. It also helps us feel like we’ve accomplished something.”
But, spring cleaning may not be for everyone. Activities we decide to put our time and energy into should be values-based, she explains. If you value spending quality time with others, on your hobbies or just relaxing, it may be time to skip spring cleaning and let go of society’s notion that everything must be perfect.
“Perfectionism is linked to depression because a person’s standards are set so high he or she may not be able to meet them,” Dr. Mancebo says. “Making decisions based on what we value the most can help us adjust those expectations to more realistic ones.”
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The trouble with all-or-nothing thinking—feeling as if we need to do top-to-bottom housecleaning or not bother—is that it can be overwhelming. The solution is compromise.
“If you have a couple of days free, determine what you want to accomplish and what is reasonable. Perhaps devote one day to cleaning and one day to doing something else that’s important to you,” Dr. Mancebo suggests.
Other ideas include:
Listing what needs to be done and prioritizing based on your values—If you feel the whole house needs cleaning but you don’t have the time, start with tasks that will make the most impact in your well-being. For example, clean the rooms where you and your company spend the most time—like the kitchen and living room. Let go of the closets that no one sees.
Cutting out judgment—We have a tendency to label ourselves “hoarders” if we are messy or “OCD” if we like things neat. The truth is, we’re likely neither, says Dr. Mancebo. “If you had either of these conditions, they would markedly interfere with your ability to function on a daily basis at home and at work and probably negatively impact your relationships. Many people have an attachment to things for sentimental reasons, but it doesn’t interfere with their daily lives.”
The same is true for being neat. If making sure everything is perfect before you leave the house makes you late or if you spend so much time cleaning you miss out on other activities, that might be cause for concern.
Think About What You Value
Figure out what is most important to you—spending time with family or friends or exercising—and move those above cleaning on the values list. You can:
- Ask yourself what’s the most important project.
- Cross items off that don’t rank high on your values list.
- Break projects down into smaller, manageable tasks.
It’s also important to know how you work. If you don’t enjoy the task, setting a time limit may help you be more productive, whether it’s an hour or an entire day. Other people may like rewards—go to a movie, take a walk or get together with friends once the task is complete.
If spring is the time of year when you most enjoy doing other things, then complete your major house cleaning at other times of the year, such as when it’s raining or too hot to be outdoors. You can also break down your "spring" cleaning into deep-cleaning tasks that you do throughout the year.
If you feel you or a loved one might have a problem with hoarding, Dr. Mancebo runs a free monthly hoarding support group at Butler. If you feel you might have OCD, visit butler.org/ocdclinic for more information.