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Secrets Behind Why We Really Love to Clean

Unexpected explanations for why we like doing it and the surprising benefits cleaning can have for us.

By Real Simple Magazine May 16, 2012 8:40PM
By Kate Rope
Since spring officially marks the arrival of cleaning season in our books, we went to Facebook and asked our readers if they liked to clean. The surprising results? Nearly 90% of you said you either liked cleaning (or having cleaned) and you had some pretty profound reasons why getting out the scrub brush and the Ajax made you happy. We took those reasons and went to neat freaks and experts to find out just what it is about running that dishwasher and folding the laundry that can produce such a sense of contentment.
Also See: Quick Cleaning Solutions for Every Room

It Gives You a Sense of Accomplishment

When we clean, we "get to have an end product. In many tasks you don't get an end product that's so observable," says Dr. Fugen Neziroglu, PhD, director of the Bio Behavioral Institute in Great Neck, New York and author of Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding. For many of our readers and Michelle Jesperson, 37, a program manager for the State of California in Walnut Creek, the joy of cleaning comes mostly from that tangible result. "My satisfaction is mostly gleaned from having a clean home with things organized and put away," says Jesperson.
Achieving that can have spillover effects into other areas of our lives as well, says Marla Deibler, Psy.D. director of the Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia. "When we set out to accomplish a goal like cleaning the fridge, we gain confidence that we can succeed," which helps us tackle projects in other areas of our lives. It's one of the reasons Julia Stone, 36, a CPA and mom to two in Denver Colorado makes cleaning a priority in her home. "If I can even get something silly organized like a junk drawer, it feels like I accomplished something. I feel ready to take on other challenges."
Also See: The Best Cleaning Products

It Calms Your Mind

Many readers said that cleaning helped them feel more at peace, which is one of the reasons Rebecca Beaton, PhD, founder and director of The Anxiety & Stress Management Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, encourages her clients to use cleaning as a therapeutic task. "Cleaning up our external environment can make us feel like we're cleaning up our psyche," says Beaton.
A good scrub on the weekend makes Stone "feel more peaceful, like I am starting my week fresh." So she typically tackles the laundry, sweeps floors, wipes down kitchen and bathroom surfaces, and tidies up all toys, books, and clothes on Saturday and Sunday. With those tasks under her belt, she feels "like things will go smoothly" during the week.
Also See: Cleaning 101

It's a Way to Stay in Control

Living in a clean space "gives us a sense of control over our environment which brings comfort," says Deibler. Maria Ping, 35, a nursing student and mom to two in Chicago, even cleans her house before going on vacation. "I love going on vacation knowing that the house is perfect and when I come home on Monday everything will look the same."
Beaton says cleaning can even help people "feel more control over their environment when they feel a lack of control in other areas of their lives." We may not be able to make our bosses love the job we did on that presentation at work, but we can make our home a clean and inviting space that gives us happiness.
And there's an evolutionary need for that control says Sally Augustin, PhD, an environmental psychologist and principal at Design with Science. "We're the kind of animals that still like to keep track of what's around us all the time," says Augustin. Even though we're not worried a saber tooth tiger will attack us from the dining room, "our sensory organs have evolved to always be taking stock of what's around us," says Augustin. So we gravitate toward uncluttered spaces that are easier to survey. And when we're in them, we feel more relaxed.
Also See: Conquer Household Odors

See More Secrets Behind Why We Love to Clean

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Readers' Best Cleaning Tips and Tricks
10 Unexpected Natural Cleaners
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May 22, 2012 1:35PM

i sleep better knowing im not sleeping in garbage


May 22, 2012 2:24PM
I love to know that eveything is in it's right place. I love to clean and throw things out!
May 22, 2012 11:02AM
I love....seriously..LOVE to clean.  It is very relaxing for me and makes me feel controlled, organized, and centered.
May 22, 2012 2:13PM
Living in a clean space is nice, but cleaning SUCKS.  Anyone who says they love it can come try to clean my crumbling little post-war bungalow.  I can clean all damn day and it never looks any better.  
May 22, 2012 2:25PM
There is nothing better than a clean house.  I find that I am much more productive and feel more rested and peaceful when all the clutter is put away and everything is sparkling.  That said, I absolutely HATE cleaning, which is why my housekeeper is truly a Godsend.  LOVE IT.
May 22, 2012 9:52PM
I agree with HEYITSME, I love a  clean house but hate cleaning.  When I finally hired a housekeeper my anxiety level went WAY down.  BTW, I disagree with the observation that we "get to have an end product . . .".  While that's technically true, it doesn't last very long -- wash the dishes, start cooking -- do the laundry, fill the hamper --vacuum the carpet, track in some dirt -- you get the idea.  It's a never ending battle.
May 22, 2012 10:06AM
I get sick if I'm not in a clean place.little bleach is ok but not bundles of it without outside air will make me sick.All houshold sprays; deorants things like that make me sick,I clean with steam.Whats better than pure water to clean and stearlize with?
May 22, 2012 7:52AM
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