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Can Cleaning your Home be Therapeutic?

June 27, 2011

A few months ago, I ran across a blog post comparing “cleaning therapy” to “retail therapy”:

to know that someone is coming in to clean, just makes me feel so good. I love the smell of a clean space. You can see it on my face and tell by the sound of my voice I become more at ease and energetic.

~Jenny Smythe

author of Minimalism Defined: minimize stuff, maximize life

Jenny clearly values the effect of a clean home if she’s willing to compare it our other forms of “paid” therapy:

For ladies, the common retail therapies are mani/pedi, facial, massage, hair, tanning, and of course clothes and shoes!

For gentlemen, some common retail opportunities include tools, golfing, building working model airplanes or robots, and the ever expensive car refurbishing!

This idea is even so powerful that one professional resident house cleaning business in Overland Park, KS, named themselves Therapy Cleaners: a clean home is a peaceful mind; have you had your session?

But that’s not really what we’re getting after with this cleaning therapy idea. We’re wondering what it is about the activity and the result of cleaning that calms the mind and the spirit.

About five years ago, the “cleaning as therapy” idea seemed to pop out of the woodwork, with researchers and psychologists extolling its virtues with some of the following posts:

Women clean the house to feel in control of their lives and find it mentally therapeutic, research suggests.

Blogger-Mom Julie Gentry discovered cleaning therapy after her brother was in a car accident:

I don’t mean everyday cleaning. That can be drudgery. But when there’s a problem to be worked out, strong emotions to be dealt with, or a situation that seems impossible, the repetitive physical activity is a real blessing. The overwhelming majority of cleaning can be done without a lot of active thought. That allows you to run things over in your mind. When your body is moving, your brain seems to work better. I’ve often come up with good ideas while scrubbing the kitchen floor or cleaning the oven.

Hilary Bruffell cites Carol Nemeroff, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University:

“The urge we have to clean may be a trait that is biologically programmed into us,” says Nemeroff. “And, because we know that good hygiene leads to good health, cleaning may ultimately be related to a basic survival instinct.”

On the flip side, more recent research seems to indicate that the stress of “keeping up appearances” can take its toll on a relationship:

[Researchers] found that when housework gets done, couples’ cortisol levels drop — but it depends on who’s actually doing the work. When men pitched in with the housework, women’s cortisol levels went down — perhaps because the women no longer had before them the specter of doing it all alone.

But men’s cortisol levels dropped only when they were not doing housework and their partners were — perhaps because the guys knew that not only was the housework was getting done, but also that they didn’t have to do it.

And then there’s this:

Domestic chores take up an average nine years, two months and 25 days over a lifetime and the cleaning habit costs women an average $20.00 a week on household products such as air fresheners. (currency converted from British pounds)

WHAT! Are you kidding me? Now I need therapy. That’s nine YEARS

  • less time with your kids (or less time sleeping when they are)
  • less time fishing or playing golf with your buddies
  • less time spontaneously road-tripping to see your favorite band in concert
  • less time checking things off your bucket list

And it’s TWICE AS MUCH TIME as a 75-year-old has spent vacationing his whole life…if he takes 3 weeks of vacation every year!

So what do you think of cleaning your own home now? Is your regular weekly cleaning a needed therapy, time and money well spent?

PS: I clean my own home so that I can put my mp3 player in my ears and tune out the family for about 2 hours every Sunday morning, often before anyone is out of bed.

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