I got a call from a dear friend the other day; after a long winter, she had broken off a difficult relationship and started fresh. One thing she was grateful for was having her own space again, in which she can surround herself with the art, music, and decor that inspires her, and more than that, to have a clean and tidy environment.
“Have you ever noticed,” she asked, “how unhealthy people almost always live in dirty, cluttered environments?”
“Well yes,” I said sheepishly, thinking of myself. I caught a brief mental image of her lovely apartment the last time I had visited: beautiful decor—not expensive, but lovingly chosen—, clean kitchen and bathroom, good smells, and a very particular atmosphere permeating it all. When you walked into this place, you felt just the
right combination of relaxed and energized.
“So,” I asked, “do you think it can work the other way around? If you’re feeling depressed and unhealthy, would improving your environment trigger a response in your attitude and bearing?”
And so for the last week or so, I’ve been giving it my best effort. Every morning I make myself a delicious soy-latte using the espresso machine I salvaged from a dumpster. Then I clean it immediately! As soon as I see the cats have used the litter box I scoop it out. I put away my art supplies every night, regardless of whether I intend to use them the next day. And I light a stick of incense when I think of it, to remind myself to enjoy this home I’m lucky enough to have.
I have observed at least some positive effect on my ability to concentrate. After I’ve cleaned or tidied up an area, I feel an immediate sense that I am capable. Satisfaction in chores may be fleeting, but the sense that I am able to affect my environment has had a profound effect on my well-being. Sometimes when we’re depressed, we feel so stuck, and we look for things to un-stick us. We self-medicate with food, or alcohol, or drugs, but why not self-medicate with small doses of cleaning or exercise? Something to actually help us out of the pit of ill-feeling, rather than just dulling our awareness of it.
I enjoy sitting in my beautiful, clean living room. I begin to feel calm for the first time in a long while. And it makes me want to pull out a sketchbook, which I have been doing, almost every night. I’ve set a gentle achievable goal for myself to draw one faery or mermaid every night. So far, so good.