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Psych Your Mind: Cleanliness is next to...

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | February 11th, 2013



Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
A couple of years ago, my significant other and I were making our initial “introductory rounds” (meeting each other’s families for the first time) and decided, while we were in the neighbourhood, to drop in on one of his couple-friends. While the pair was (and is) lovely and we got along just swimmingly, there’s no lighter way to phrase it: I was appalled by the state in which they kept their living quarters.

In their defence, I will say they were not expecting our company. However, I could not then and still cannot now understand how anyone could possibly tolerate living with clearly visible dirt and debris. The icing on the cake was the fact that their house had seen such neglect from upkeep that one of their children’s pets – a goldfish – was floating belly-side up in a fish bowl, apparently unbeknownst to them.

After this incident, it came to my attention just how UNcommon this situation among our demographic is. The more I got invited over to my own friends’ houses, the more I realized that tidiness does not seem to be a universally embraced ideal.

At the risk of sounding like a germaphobe, admittedly I was and continue to be shocked by this notion given that I’m frankly embarrassed to invite over company if my home has not been cleaned the week of. Furthermore, if my mom, for instance, is coming to town, I will clean every inch of my apartment so thoroughly that it’d be fit for the arrival of the Queen herself and should she so choose, she could eat off the floors without any fear of adverse physical reaction!

Aside from the obvious health benefits to living in a dust-bunny-free environment, how one maintains or fails to maintain one’s personal habitat will affect how others view your character, and even your sense of morality! Did you know, for example, that the original Oxford English Dictionary definition of the term “slut” was “a slovenly, untidy woman or girl”?

According to environmental psychologist Sally Augustin, throughout our evolutionary history, cleanliness was considered a valued trait given that a home free of clutter would make it easier to spot potential predator attacks. While this benefit may no longer be applicable in modern society, it does have an unconscious psychological holdover: when one enters a messy living space – whether it’s their own or one is a visitor – it results in enhanced stress levels.

A lack of upkeep in regard to one’s physicality and/or the physical spaces he/she occupies too has been linked to the mood disorder depression. Among other symptoms, depression has been known to have a debilitating effect on many of one’s motivations. With this in mind, it’s unsurprising that counsellors often recommend “cleaning house” as a means of elevating one’s mood. After all, the messier one’s house gets, the more it adds to one’s guilt and merely continues the cycle of “not-good-enough-ness.”

As counsellor Jennifer B. Baxt explains, “taking the time to clean the home from top to bottom is like cleaning (out) one’s life. The dirt, dust and clutter are done away with and the house has a fresher, more comfortable atmosphere that the person can feel happier and more relaxed in.”

To this, Yahoo! contributor Ayanna Guyhto adds that it’s the whole concept of “idle hands, idle mind”: “by remaining sedentary, it gives your brain too much time to focus on the things that are bothering you. By getting up and focusing your attention on household tasks, you give yourself a mental diversion.”

Let’s just stop there for a second to make one point very clear: it’s highly unreasonable to suggest (and by no means am I suggesting!) that EVERY individual who seemingly is not too concerned with the condition of their home is suffering from the “Big D.” Clearly there must be something else here at play. Wouldn’t you know it? Psychology again proves illustrative.

Believe it or not laziness is a modern “invention,” largely due to the comforts (and excesses!) of Western industrialized living. Despite our incessant complaints and excuses that would suggest otherwise, apparently we DO have too much time on our hands and this, in effect results in the appearance of laziness’ twin brother: procrastination.

As evolutionary psychologist Nando Pelusi points out, it wasn’t until we no longer had to worry about constantly fending off predators, protecting our kin or surviving off of scarce resources that we had the “luxury” of dreaming of future actions. In the past, we held our energy in reserve because we never knew when an immediate threat may be looming. Nowadays, all that energy has the ability to build up, tricking us into believing (at least on an unconscious level) that there will always be more time to “get around to things.” Given the multitude of distractions available to occupy our time – the Facebooks, Twitters, and YouTubes of the world, for starters – it isn’t hard to see why so many of us have lost sight of how to properly “prioritize”… but more on that in another issue.

The point I’m trying to get at is quite simply: while “cleanliness” may not necessarily be next to “godliness,” it certainly is linked to “goodliness”… on many levels. In other words, my “neat-freakness” is indicative of the fact that I take great pride in appearances, value the idea of hospitality, see my home as a reflection of my own work ethic, and perhaps most importantly that I am within a balanced mental state. So I ask you all to ask yourselves, “What does YOUR home say about YOU?” Is it time for yet more introspection? Methinks so.

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