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Spring Clean Your House, Spring Clean Your Mind

Written by Erin Michel, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate School

Spring has officially sprung. Even though we live in Ohio, where all four seasons can be experienced in a single day, it seems that the warmth is finally here for good (we hope). Springtime can mean different things for different people, but for many of us, it’s time for something that we simultaneously dread and crave: spring cleaning. A chance to declutter, sweep out the cobwebs, reorganize, and start afresh. This year, consider doing some mental spring cleaning in addition to the more traditional domestic tidying of the season. Read on for some strategies on how to celebrate the spring by decluttering both your home and your brain.

An illustration of a woman sipping tea with a tiny woman vacuuming inside her head.

Spring Clean Your House

Psychology Today says that spring cleaning your living space can lead to improved mood, decreased stress, and heightened creativity. Simply put, a clean room reduces distractions that get in the way of our performance on a wide range of tasks. Though the benefits of decluttering are clear, the task can feel daunting and it can be hard to know where to start. Here are some strategies to help you get going.  

  1. Choose a system that works for your brain. Take some time before you start to strategize—you'll thank yourself later. Think about how you usually tackle other multi-step tasks, like writing a paper or working on a group project. Short bursts? Slow and steady? Do you figure out every detail first, or sketch out a rough overview and then dive right in? Apply the strategies that you know work for you in other areas of your life.  

  1. Create a to-do list. Now that you’ve got a strategic plan, document it so that you won’t forget any steps and so that you can have a visual of your progress—it'll help you keep going even when you’re feeling overwhelmed! The Clutterfree app is a handy tool that allows you to create a personalized spring cleaning to-do list on your phone. Or, if you’re more of a paper person, create a list and hang it on your wall; be sure to break down tasks by category in a way that makes visual sense for you. This article from The Spruce has six different printable spring cleaning to-do lists with different visual styles, levels of comprehensiveness, and categorization strategies, so you can be sure to find one makes sense for your style.  

  1. Out with the old to make room for the new. Many people’s least favorite part of a true deep-clean is decluttering and minimizing your belongings. It can be hard to part with things, even that one pair of jeans that you haven’t worn in five years. But it’s important, because if you don’t change anything about the objects you own and how they’re organized, you’ll get stuck in a cycle of messiness and constant tidying. Marie Kondo, beloved decluttering expert and author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has some great advice to help you decide what to keep and what to toss—firstly, sort by category, not by location. Gather up all of one type of object from every room and put them in one big pile; this way, you can get an idea of the true volume of clothes, books, kitchenware, or anything else you own. When going through the piles, hold up each object, thank it for everything it’s brought to your life, and ask yourself one simple question: does it spark joy? If the answer is no, donate it to someone in need. Check out this Vox article for more of Marie Kondo’s decluttering advice.

     

Spring Clean Your Mind

Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in caring for the physical spaces we’re in, or our bodies, that we forget to take care of our minds. Spring and all the newness and freshness that comes along with it is the perfect time to reconnect with yourself and your values as well as tweak your self-care routine. Spring cleaning your mind is similar in practice to spring cleaning your house: decluttering the things that are holding you back, reinventing or refining your values, and then maintaining that sense of mental cleanliness and self-awareness moving forward. Here are a few strategies to get started with your mental spring cleaning.  

  1. Get rid of self-criticism through awareness and reframing. One of the biggest things that can clutter our minds and hold us back is negative thoughts about ourselves. As Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology (CBT) tells us, this negative self-talk is inextricably tied to our behaviors in a cyclic manner. If you tell yourself that you’re too awkward for people to like you, then you’re less likely to put yourself in social situations, and the ensuing loneliness you feel can be interpreted by that negative internal voice as proof that you’re too awkward for people to like you. Firstly, try and learn to be more self-aware and catch these thoughts as they come up. Mindfulness practice is a great strategy to learn to identify your thoughts and emotions throughout the day. Once you feel pretty proficient at recognition, give reframing those thoughts a try. It can be hard to jump right from negative thoughts to positive ones, so consider first shooting for neutral thoughts. Imagine you performed poorly on an exam. Instead of “I’m a failure,” try “I tried my best in a difficult situation and didn’t get the result I wanted, but I still learned from it. I know what doesn’t work for me, and that has value.”  

  1. Reconnect with your values. Everyone has different values that provide a foundation for our unique worldview and serve as a compass to guide our behavior. But we often don’t explicitly think or talk about our values, on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. Reflecting on your values can help you examine your current life and pinpoint some areas where you can change in a way that will be fulfilling to you. To get started, try this online values card sort activity to get a better idea of your top guiding values. Additionally, to get an idea of what’s important to you, try some visualization techniques. Ask yourself this question: “If I woke up tomorrow and my struggles with (fill in the blank) were completely solved, what would my life look like? How would it be different? What would I do?” Then, use this new information to guide your behavior. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits (a book on the science of habit formation), recommends character-based action as a more sustainable way to form and maintain habits over time. If physical strength is something you’re aiming for, ask yourself “How would a strong person act?” If you’ve discovered that adventure is an important part of life for you, ask yourself, “What would a fearless person do today?”  

  1. Use tools to maintain your new habits. For many people, the hardest part about developing a new habit isn’t getting started, but rather keeping it up over time. As humans, it’s natural for our motivation to wane or to feel a creeping sense of complacency. In Atomic Habits, James Clear brings up habit maintenance and points out that an important part of maintaining a new habit involves setting yourself up for success through developing systems of accountability and behavioral cues. You could tack your new habit on to an already formed habit (like brushing your teeth or eating lunch), write yourself notes and stick them in prominent areas like the bathroom mirror, or use a habit-tracking app with a reminder feature. Todoist is a personal favorite, but there are many out there, and like everything else, different people have different preferences. Check out this article for a comprehensive list (with descriptions!) of 11 different habit tracker apps.