The past few weeks, I’ve been traveling every few days, working on deadlines, and navigating tons of obligations and appointments. But rather than collapsing each evening with an episode of “Inventing Anna,” I’ve taken to cleaning and organizing every nook and cranny of my condo. Why expend more energy during a busy season? Well, because I’ve found that certain cleaning tasks bring me more peace than simply relaxing does.
Whenever I feel as if things are in disarray — whether literally or figuratively — I turn to the most basic of cleaning tasks to help restore a sense of order and calm in my life. The reason is twofold. First, when my space is a mess, I can’t focus. Whether it’s crumbs on the counter or cat hair on the floor, the tasks that need to be addressed seem to nag as I try to enjoy a productive day. Second, it helps me feel as if I’m in control of my own environment and gives my brain something to focus on besides work, social media, and the news. Taking the time to put energy and attention into my home and my surroundings is self-care.
I asked decluttering expert Liz Jenkins, owner of A Fresh Space, for her perspective on the connection between cleaning and calm. “It gives me the opportunity to really focus on the process, not just the end result. I can settle into it, kind of like yoga, where it gives my brain a rest from the mental clutter that’s built up,” she says.
Jenkins adds: “When I clean or organize, my hands stay busy which frees up my brain in a way that leads me down creative paths and finds a sense of restfulness. It’s like the clutter in my mind calms and it opens me up to problem-solving and solutions I didn’t even know I needed.”
The best tasks to turn to are repetitive and have a defined beginning and end. A long-term, ongoing cleaning or organizing project will be gratifying in the end, but on a day-to-day basis, it may cause more stress than it alleviates. Here are six quick tasks that will help you take control of your environment and find a relaxing, mindful connection.
This one is a go-to — making your bed can make the day feel like it’s starting from a harmonious place. Make it the first thing you do and make it easy. If arranging pillows is more of a hassle than a meditative exercise, for example, get rid of a few.
Whether I wipe down the counters before turning in for the night or tackle them as I make my morning coffee, this is one cleaning task that always makes it seem as if everything in the world is right. If the kitchen counters are free of items that don’t belong and the quartz is sparkling, I have a pristine blank canvas to start my day.
This is the bang-for-your-buck task that I take on when I want to refresh my entire home without deep-cleaning it. I have it timed — 15 minutes covers my entire condo. If I make my coffee at 8:30 a.m., I can start by 8:45, and I’m done in time to log on to my computer at 9. Vacuuming is the task that makes my entire space feel orderly and makes me feel energized to start my day on a productive note.
Living in a small condo, decluttering is a way of life. One in, one out doesn’t apply here. It’s more like one in, three out. That’s why decluttering is so critical to the sense of order in my home. I like to write down “clean out one space” in my planner whenever I feel like things are moving toward disarray. Maybe that space is one drawer, a cabinet, or a shelf in my linen closet. Whatever it is, I take 20 minutes and tackle it. There’s something about doing this one space at a time that feels more calming than if I were to turn my entire home upside down in one weekend.
Wipe on, wipe off. The repetitive, circular motions used to clean a mirror are incredibly meditative. Particularly if you use an ultra-effective microfiber cloth, this is a cleaning task that is oh-so-satisfying. You start with a dust-and-toothpaste-covered mirror, and a few calming moments later, you have a gleaming surface.
Lastly, the extra credit cleaning task that not only makes me feel like my home is in order, it makes me feel like I’m on top of everything. What kind of person remembers to oil the cutting boards? One who has a sense of order and calm running through everything (or at least their butcher block).