Spring cleaning: de-clutter your home and mind

For many of us, the renewal of spring and the rise in temperatures signals that it’s time to get into ‘spring cleaning’ mode.

And according to Scott Bea, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic, spring cleaning isn’t just good for our homes, it can actually lift our moods.

“We’re shut in a lot during the winter months; we’re not getting rid of as much, we’re accumulating more, not taking care of as much, and so this is a ritualized behavior – it’s part of the renewal of spring,” he said. “I think it’s correlated with the lifting of our moods; we get more active behaviorally, and this is one of the activities.”

Dr. Bea said the brain likes it when we finish what we’ve started, so, when a task is accomplished, our brains feel good – and it reduces tension.

Some of us, however, procrastinate about spring cleaning and it can cause us some stress.

“At the moment we get to the task we think we want to do, tension fills our brain and body, and we back away from it,” said Dr. Bea. “When we back away from that task, our tension is relieved, and that’s really powerful and it’s what procrastination is all about.”

If we make a habit out of procrastinating, Dr. Bea said it can escalate to what experts call problematic avoidance.

Problematic avoidance happens when people have so much anxiety about certain responsibilities they repeatedly avoid or back-out of them.

In order to avoid becoming a procrastinator, he said we have to accept some discomfort and find a way to get started on a project and plow through it.

Starting, of course, is the hardest part. But, Dr. Bea said once we can accomplish getting past the starting point, it becomes easier to get the task done.

And when we take care of something or accomplish a task well, it not only produces feelings of satisfaction, but also makes us feel effective, and therefore more likely to face other challenges, or solve other problems.

“I think there’s a tension reduction that comes with that, when we have clear space,” said Dr. Bea. “When there are fewer things to be taken care of, it also endorses our effectiveness as human beings.”

For those of us who are dreading spring cleaning, Dr. Bea recommends breaking up the work into smaller tasks, and reminding ourselves that we don’t have to accomplish the whole house all at once.

“It’s like looking at Mount Everest – you look up at Everest and say, ‘I’ll never be able to climb that mountain,’ – if we look at our clutter in our homes that way, we won’t even take the first step,” he said.