Stress, Mess, Mental Peace

by Dr. Virginia Smith

Not too long ago, on this blog, I wrote about the connection between mess and a heightened level of stress in life. Recently when I visited the classroom of a friend of mine, I was reminded of this as she shared that she couldn’t locate the homework assignment of a particular student. She knew it had been turned in, but she had taken it home to grade and it had gotten misplaced in the clutter on her dining room table where she works in the evening. She was frustrated and knew something had to be done but really didn’t know where to start.

Research has demonstrated a high correlation between the amount of mess in life and the stress that is reported. But what does this mean for your home and family?

As much as I agree with the current mantra that “the dishes will always be there but children don’t stay young forever,” let’s face it, eventually those dishes have to be cleaned or you will spend all of your remaining monthly budget going out to eat because you can’t find anything clean to cook with or eat on. Additionally, it is important for your children to see you make an effort to have a clean and orderly home – and – for them to learn to take responsibility for helping with that task. An orderly environment promotes peace, which makes your time with your children and other family members more beneficial for everyone.

Orderliness is Peaceful and Healthy

Why is orderliness important to have a peaceful and less stressful and frenetic home?

When things are neat and orderly you can find what you need. When things are in a jumble or you can’t locate a clean glass to get a drink of water, you waste a lot of time finding the item or fixing the situation. This not only wastes your time but also as that time clicks by, your level of anxiety rises until said item is located. The stress just isn’t worth it.

A clean environment is a healthy environment. While many germs such as the flu virus don’t last long, they do live for 24 hours, even on hard surfaces. If you regularly clean your counter tops and door handles, you can take care of those nasty bugs before they have the chance to infect your family. Also, food left out on the counter, or not cleaned up after being spilled attracts bugs and even mice. These critters are no fun to have around and even spread disease.

What To Do and When?

What can you do to make your home a more orderly, safe, and clean environment?

First, identify what needs to happen and how often each task must be done. While washing the dishes and picking dirty clothes off of the floor are usually daily tasks, some things like dusting, vacuuming, and cleaning the bathrooms don’t happen as often. Make a list and then create a realistic schedule. If you try to do too much at once, you could end up becoming discouraged and give up.

Then it’s time to share the load. It isn’t primarily one person’s responsibility to clean up after everyone else – it is everybody’s job. Each person in the household should pick up after themselves and then also pitch in to clean and straighten the communal spaces and take care of other tasks. Hold a family meeting to divide up tasks and, if it helps, make a chart where each person can check off their responsibilities once they are complete.

There will be times when the family gets so busy that tasks fall through the cracks and things get messy and crazy. But if you keep pushing the tide back a little more every time you have the chance to clean, then things will eventually get easier and even those hectic times don’t completely destroy your progress.

My friend eventually found the missing homework assignment – after she had cleaned and straightened the dining room. She is now making the conscious effort to do a little bit of straightening every single day – even on those days when she is tired after a full day of teaching.

Keep it up and you will feel the peace that comes with a neat and orderly environment. And you will, honestly, end up with much more time to relax!


Dr. Virginia Smith is a speaker, author, and life-long educator. A Kamm Distinguished Fellow in Academics, Research, and Leadership, she holds degrees in family services, business, and education with areas of concentration in curriculum design and development.

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