We have all heard the phrase ‘a tidy home is a tidy mind’. For me, when it is time to sort out my life, I start by sorting out my room. Cleaning out my wardrobe, rearranging my books, wiping down the surfaces – cleaning becomes a kind of therapy.
Science confirms that cleaning and mental health are very much interconnected. Cleaning the spaces we inhabit has been shown to significantly reduce levels of the body’s main stress hormone, cortisol, located in the adrenal glands. High levels of cortisol disrupt almost all of your body’s normal processes and can lead to a greater risk anxiety and depression. Tidying and cleaning spaces in which we exist affects chemical processes in the body which, in turn, affect our mood, health, and everything in between.
Philosophies of cleanliness have existed for centuries. Early-modern philosopher Carl Jung believed that our homes were extensions of ourselves, physical reflections of our identities and internal psychology. Homes are more than just shelter from the elements, and how we keep them has a direct influence on our mood and behaviour. The subtlest of things make a difference: from the amount of sun which hits our bedroom walls, to the aesthetic pleasing-ness of the insides of our wardrobes.
But the philosophy of cleanliness does not just exist in the sphere of scientists, academics, and ancient philosophers. In fact, cleaning is actually pretty cool. British award-winning rapper Benjamin Coyle-Larner (Loyle Carner) has spoken about his love of cleaning in many interviews. He expresses how cleaning helps with his ADHD, steadying his chaotic brain.
In a 2018 interview with British GQ, Coyle-Larner explains a book he loved about the Buddhist approach to cleaning: “The reason that the Buddhists clean the temple everyday is not [just] to clean … but it’s to clean their mind.” He describes waking up in the morning and instinctively, “wanting to tidy [his] house.”
In other interviews, Coyle-Larner talks about cleaning up venues after his gigs: “I’ve got nothing to do [so] I just sweep up, I don’t care. It’s good for the mind as well to sweep up, man.”
The philosophy of cleanliness seems to be cropping up in other unlikely places: There are Vogue articles about how to ‘Clean Your Way to Happiness’ (with supermodel Gigi Hadid on the cover holding a vacuum on a mini trampoline), and TikTok accounts that centre around the premise of cleaning, hitting millions of views every day.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, author and tidying-connoisseur Marie Kondo shot to fame through her Netflix hit series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. In every episode, Kondo transforms families’ homes and lives through tidying. Kondo has since trademarked her KonMari Method™, which encourages tidying by category (e.g. clothes), rather than location. During the pandemic, while everyone worried about their health, futures, and livelihoods, Kondo showed us how we could reclaim at least some sense of control back in our lives through cleaning.
As students, messiness is pretty ubiquitous. You can’t control the messiness of your flatmates, and keeping our rooms clean and tidy is often low on our priorities list, but keeping your own space tidy at university is important. During term time, emotions run high; university is an intense experience, and doing what you can to maintain some emotional stability is beneficial and, dare I say, cool.
Whether you want to set a whole afternoon aside to pop on your favourite podcast and give your room a deserved clean-up or just tidy for five minutes a day, cleaning is something that is completely within your control, in a time that can often feel quite chaotic.