Could Cleaning Your Home Alleviate Depression?


January 24, 2023

When you look around your home, what do you see? If there are dust bunnies in the corners, clutter on the counters and laundry in piles, this quick glance may leave you feeling anxious and overwhelmed. 

You’re not imagining things, either. The state of your home can be a direct reflection of the state of your mind. 

And because depression and other mood disorders make it easy for messes to pile up, it can become an endless cycle. You’re too out of sorts to clean, so your space becomes messy, which in turn makes it harder to clean and exacerbates your depression. 

Feeling stuck?

First, take a deep breath and know you’re not alone. Plenty of people struggle to keep house, depression or not. And when you have other things going on, it can be even harder.

Take heart that the opposite might be true as well. 

Perhaps cleaning your house could provide some relief for your depression symptoms. While scrubbing your place isn’t a magical cure for mood disorders, regular housekeeping could help alleviate some of your symptoms.

Disclaimer: the following is meant as information only and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition, including mental health issues such as depression. Please reach out to your doctor if you have concerns about your health.

Messy Homes and Depression

The term “depression nest” has been trending in recent years. Putting “nest” in the name makes it sound cute and cozy. For the person who’s living in a depression nest, though, it may feel anything but.

“Depression nest” refers to a bedroom — or even a whole house — that’s become cluttered during a bout of depression.

It’s a common issue. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a term and a trend built around it. If you’re dealing with this situation, then we want to reiterate that you are not alone.

Understanding why depression and mess so often go hand-in-hand won’t fix the problem, but it may help you feel better about your current situation. At the very least, it may help you to recognize that other people experience the same overwhelm that you do.

Depression Leads to Mess

Depression often makes everyday tasks feel impossible. Getting out of bed may be all that you can manage. In the meantime, you put off household chores until you feel more up to it.

And so the clothes end up on the floor instead of hangers. The dishes sit in the sink. The mail waits in a pile by the front door.

And that’s just the everyday stuff. The bigger jobs, such as scrubbing the bathroom or mopping the floors, certainly don’t get done during this time.

Your goal during a bout with depression is simply to survive. Everything else gets put on the back burner.

Mess Exacerbates Mental Health Symptoms

The connection between your mental health and the state of your home doesn’t end there. Research shows that the clutter in your living space may feed into your depression.

In one study, researchers asked women to provide tours of their homes. Some of the participants used clutter-related words to describe their living spaces. Others used restful language when talking about their homes. The women who frequently mentioned clutter experienced depressive moods to a greater degree than those whose homes felt restorative.

In another study, researchers explored the effects of clutter on people’s ability to focus. When there was clutter in the space where people were working, they weren’t able to pay as much attention to projects. It was harder to accomplish what they needed to do. This inability to focus could contribute to stress and anxiety levels.

A Cycle Continues

In the beginning, depression may lead to just a little mess. That mess can feed depression. Then, as the depression symptoms grow stronger, the clutter may grow deeper. As we mentioned earlier, it can become a vicious cycle.

But if you can break the cycle, your mental health may benefit.

Benefits of a Cleaner Home

A messy home can be detrimental to your mental health, but the opposite is true, too. A clean, organized home could make a noticeable difference in your mental well-being.

Reduced Stress Levels

Just as clutter can make you feel stressed, getting rid of clutter might lower your stress.

Once the mess is gone, it will no longer be competing for your attention in the background. When you’re working, you can focus on work. When you’re relaxing, you can focus on relaxing. Overall, you may feel less distracted or anxious.

Better Sleep

Studies show that making your bed can help you get a more restful night’s sleep.

And improving your sleep quality may be good for your mental health. When you’re well-rested, you may feel more in control of your emotions and less overwhelmed by daily life.

Physical Exercise

Jobs like sweeping, vacuuming and mopping get you up and moving. As you pace back and forth across your floors, you’ll stretch your muscles and raise your heart rate. It might not be as intense as a gym session, but doing chores is no easy task, and it keeps you active.

Physical activity sends endorphins through your body. Endorphins are often called “feel-good” chemicals because they have a positive effect on mood and outlook.

Mental Redirection

When you’re lying in bed, it’s easy to dwell on your problems and worries. That can send you deeper into the spiral of depression.

During a cleaning session, you are focusing on the task in front of you. That helps redirect your brain away from your anxious thoughts.

Sense of Control

According to Mayo Clinic, making intentional choices to manage your depression “is a healthy coping strategy.”

Choosing to tackle the mess may help you feel more in control of your life. That sense of accomplishment could be empowering. It might encourage you that overcoming your current struggles is possible.

How to Clean When Depressed

If you’re ready to clean but can’t seem to make yourself do it, then don’t. Adding feelings of guilt and inadequacy to your already full mental load won’t accomplish anything. Instead, go slow. Start with what you can manage when you can, taking it task by task if you need to.

Consider these tips:

  • Break up the task. Pick a room and set a timer for five minutes. Clean what you can in that time and then give yourself a break. Come back in an hour or the next day to do another 5- or 10-minute session.
  • Focus on one job at a time. Cleaning feels less overwhelming when you break it into manageable chunks. Instead of resolving to clean the entire kitchen, focus on loading the dishwasher. Later, you can wipe down the counters or sweep the floor.
  • Play music. If you need a mood booster to power you through a cleaning session, put some upbeat music on.
  • Ask for help. Let your family members know that you’re counting on them to pitch in. For those who live alone, tell a friend that you could use support to get started. If it’s within your budget, consider hiring a cleaning service.
  • Make a daily list. To help you maintain your cleaner home, give yourself a daily to-do list. Focus on the basics so that the list feels doable, even when you’re down. If you’re not up for creating a customized list, use a free printable, such as Clutterbug’s daily cleaning guide.

Remember, slow and steady. Give yourself space to have good days and bad. You may not accomplish all of your goals each day, but every little bit helps. By improving your living environment one step at a time, you may start to see a change in your mental health.

A Word of Caution

Cleaning your home could make a difference in your mental well-being. You may enjoy the breath of fresh air that comes with living in a clean, organized space.

But housekeeping is just one piece of the puzzle. Alone, it’s unlikely to fully relieve your depression symptoms.

If you’re struggling with your mental health, reach out to a professional. Therapy or medication, or a combination of both, may help improve your symptoms and allow you to function better. Treatment will support your efforts to get your house in order and could make it easier to achieve your goals.