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Highlights | No-stress spring cleaning

  • Refreshing your environment can boost creativity, productivity and overall well-being.
  • Break cleaning into small, easy tasks that take 15 minutes or less.
  • Add items that make you happy, like a photo, card or flowers.
  • Try to avoid shame and let go of what you can’t get to.

Spring cleaning can be a way to start fresh and revitalize your space and mindset — but it can also just feel like yet another to-do. You want the cozy home and office space, but the scrubbing and sanitizing? Not so much.

“Our brains have been programmed and evolved for years to take in our environment: small sights, sounds, texture,” says Tuesday Burns, MD, a psychiatrist at UW Medical Center – Roosevelt. “How your space looks and feels affects how you function. Not just productivity and creativity, but your overall well-being.”

You don’t need to do an absolute overhaul to enjoy the benefits of a cleaner, refreshed space. Instead of slogging through hours of deep cleaning, try small actions that provide big benefits.

Start with a small, highly visible task

Burns’s top tip is to think about the messy or cluttered thing in your home or office that bugs you the most and start there, breaking it into small tasks if need be. This way, if you only complete one cleaning task, it’s the one that matters to you and will make you feel better.

“Don’t start with the closet no one ever goes in; start with the place you see every day. Then pick a really small goal and work on it,” she says.

You might know what that is right away, but if you don’t, consider when you walk into a room what the thing is your eyes gravitate to that makes you cringe. Maybe it’s a smudged window or a long-ago discarded stack of mail. If just thinking about it irks you, that’s the one.

Choose items you can complete in 15 minutes or less

Cut yourself a break and keep it short and sweet.

“Do just one small thing. That’s it, then walk away,” Burns says. “Completing something that takes a tiny amount of energy can be rewarding and inspire you to do a little more later.”

Some 15-minute task inspiration? Vaccuum one room. Reorganize a single drawer. Clean the cat box. Organize your teas and coffees. Take out a bag of trash.

If you need added incentive, give yourself a treat after you complete the task, whether it’s a chocolate, a walk around the block to get fresh air or a couple of no-email minutes of peace.

Allow yourself to indulge in little, lovely things

Who said spring cleaning had to be all about deep cleaning?

“It can be really helpful to ask yourself if there are ways you can start with joy and bring beauty into your space,” Burns says.

Small options might be to hang a photo you love, bring in some flowers from your garden (or the store) or tape up a card from a friend. It might seem frivolous or inconsequential, but it makes a difference.

“You’re sending a message to your brain, ‘Oh, I deserve to be around beautiful things and around happiness,” Burns says.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

Having high expectations can stop your spring cleaning before it begins. If you’re waiting to clean your office until after you’ve renovated it, you may never toss those old, unnecessary files.

Try to notice if you’re waiting to take action until you can have things just right. Put up the photo you love even if you haven’t had time to get it framed. Hang or fold your laundry even if you can’t reorganize your closet. These little steps count — maybe even the most.

When in doubt, shift where you sit to change your perspective

So, you didn’t get around to folding the laundry or doing the dishes. Some days (weeks? months?) it just doesn’t happen.

Instead of criticizing yourself or stewing in shame, try to take a breath and then shift your perspective. Literally. Let yourself change where you are sitting so that you don’t have to look at the item that bugs you.

Burns practices this in her office.

“My desk is in the middle of the room, which allows me to move. If I find myself looking at something with laser focus and feeling bad or guilty, I just shift where I am,” she says. “If I haven’t spent all morning heavy with shame, then maybe I have the energy to clean that corner later because I’ll feel better.”

The goal of spring cleaning is to have healthier, more enjoyable places to live and work in — not to berate yourself if your space isn’t set up like a Pinterest ad. Think about what matters to you, do what you can and let the rest go.

That seems like the best spring state of mind.