Wake up, eat, do homework, attend classes, eat, spend three hours on your phone and sleep –– only to start the exact same cycle again tomorrow and the rest of the week. With most classes being held virtually, many college students face the crisis of an insanely monotonous schedule, with absolutely nothing new to pique our interests. Most of this time is spent in the same place, too, with many of us scarcely leaving our living areas to do anything except maybe throw out the trash. While we may currently feel empty reliving each day over and over again, there is something that might drastically improve our time spent in the same area: cleaning.
Maybe your cleaning routine looks a lot different than it did a year ago. Or maybe with the effects of Zoom fatigue, cleaning has taken a lower priority on your task list. But the benefit of cleaning is not just that your environment is more aesthetically pleasing. My hope is the science behind it gives a stronger incentive to finally mop away that alien-shaped stain on the floor in front of your window that somehow seems to get bigger by the day.
It’s the same reason why during exam week, many of us are found baking four dozen cookies at midnight or scrubbing the walls in the shower. When stressed, a common pattern is repetitive behaviour. Temporary anxiety leads to meticulous cleaning, because when everything seems to be slipping out of hand, we want to feel in control. While we have gotten accustomed to the same daily schedule, our mental health is still being damaged because of the pandemic, whether that be because of lack of social interaction or deprivation from doing the activities we love but now cannot do. We cannot control the pandemic immediately, but we can control our environment. Perhaps that is why, at least for me, making sure everything is spotless has done wonders to increase my optimism.
Even something like washing the dishes, when done mindfully, by taking the time to inhale the fragrance of the soap and focusing on how your skin is touching warm water, has been reported to cause college students a 27% decrease in nervousness and a 25% increase in mindfulness, the latter categorized by the ability to sustain focus on a single object without fastening on emotional or intermediate experiences. While part of that comes from our brain knowing washing the dishes is one job we can do with a certain probability of success, another part may also be attributed to just getting rid of clutter. Subconsciously, a trashed environment is linked to negative emotions like confusion, tension, annoyance and concern, while a clean environment is linked to the opposite. Our minds see clutter and absorb the image as unfinished work, which adds a burden to our subconscious “to-do” list — a factor which has been linked to an increase in cortisol levels.
How people react to cleaning with mindfulness depends on each individual. It is not feasible for every person to focus on one task without getting distracted. For such individuals, psychologists recommend starting small. Instead of washing all the dishes and mopping every inch of the floor, take it one day at a time. On your first day, pick up the coat that’s laying on the floor and throw it on the sofa; tomorrow, put it on a hanger. The important thing is to try to have a larger end goal in mind and smaller goals in the process –– for example, having no clothes on the living room floor by the end of the month, with a reasonable step-by-step method for achieving it.
While right now there are an incredible number of situations we cannot control, for many of us, arranging our surroundings might help gain our footing. From my experience, cleaning sparks a remarkably positive attitudinal shift that we could all use right now. Though laughing at TikToks for a few hours has its own place in allowing us to relax, to switch things up, try throwing on some music and cleaning that sticky spot of an unidentifiable substance that’s been on your counter for weeks. Take your routine into your hands, play some classical music and light a candle. Spring, a time of new beginnings and prosperity, is finally here: Let’s try to greet it as mindfully as possible.
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