The connection between a tidy environment and personal well-being has been made over and over again by scientific studies and self-help celebrities like Marie Kondo. A cluttered home can be a source of distraction, stress, embarrassment, fatigue and even disease.
The most important environment to maintain is that of your own body. You can’t vacate the premises when somebody hits the reset button, and you can’t shove disorder into a hall closet. Good personal hygiene does not guarantee happiness, but it can dramatically improve the infrastructure of your emotional well-being. As George Bernard Shaw famously said, “Better keep yourself clean and bright. You are the window through which you must see the world.” So give yourself a good scrub and catch up on the delightful benefits of a cleaner body.
Your body has a way of letting you know when you aren’t keeping yourself clean. If you are one of those people who passes off poor hygiene as “your natural state,” you might enjoy this Washington Post article that notes that, “For animals, staying clean is as necessary as eating. If birds don’t have clean feathers, they can’t fly fast enough to catch a meal or avoid becoming one.” That coating of grime you are wearing might not put you at risk from a hawk, but it is probably interfering with your day. Is your itchy face driving you crazy? Do you feel the tight throb of that zit forming on your temple? Your skin is trying to get your attention and tell you that you need to be washing your face more frequently. Throw on the occasional peel off face mask for blackheads and maybe you won’t spend the next Zoom meeting staring down the pores of your nose instead of tracking an important presentation.
It’s easy to be caught in a mess-stress loop. A chaotic room can cause higher levels of stress, which can have a paralyzing effect on efforts to clean up the mess. For the skin, stress can both trigger breakouts and make them worse. Not only does a stress-related hormone pump up oil production, but stress tends to disrupt the usual routines of diet and cleanliness that prevent acne. The resulting pimples are an additional source of stress, and so the spiral continues. Not only can grooming be a calming ritual in and of itself, it can also break the cycle of the stress loop by removing a link in the chain.
Poor personal hygiene and low self-esteem are often intimately connected, especially in young people. Like our environment, it can feel like people are judging aspects of our personal appearance that are out of our control. That can be legitimately overwhelming. While obsessing over what people think about the way we look or even smell can be counterproductive, discovering some basic aspects of self-care can provide an incredible confidence boost. For example, are you struggling with acne? Try using solution-focused products like charcoal face wash or charcoal body wash, depending on where your skin acts up. Looking good really does help us feel good. Everyone’s body pulls embarrassing hijinks, but the science of hygiene helps us know when we shouldn’t interfere with the body doing its thing and when we can step in and handle our business. What a relief that can be! It’s like learning that you don’t need to avoid smiling because you have lettuce in your teeth. You just need a bit of dental floss.
Neuroscientists have found that sleep deprivation and anxiety go hand in hand. Similar to the mess/stress loop, a vicious cycle is created in which anxiety makes it harder to sleep and sleep deprivation amplifies the effects of anxiety. Since personal hygiene can provide a calming routine that gets rid of stress and alleviates the source of chronic embarrassment, it can allow the body to get the rest it needs to better defend itself against anxiety. According to a study commissioned by the National Sleep Foundation, a made bed with clean sheets in a tidy room makes a dramatic difference in getting a good night’s sleep. Taking a relaxing shower about an hour and a half before bedtime doesn’t hurt either.
Sometimes, a messy home isn’t just a matter of disorganized drawers. It can be a dangerously insanitary environment. As much as we often separate mind and body, physical health and mental health are inextricably connected. Practicing good personal hygiene is absolutely essential to our physical health. It represents the primary defense against infections and halts the spread of everything from Athlete’s Foot to Ebola. For a truly grim tally of the number of lives that could have been saved by better hygiene, visit the CDC’s breakdown of the science behind washing your hands.
Cleaning a house doesn’t ensure a happy home. There’s a lot more to a satisfactory life than just sanitary practice. But good hygiene can help break the vicious cycles of stress and fatigue, while promoting self-esteem and physical health. And if you wake up after a good night’s sleep, without that frog in your throat, those pimples on your face or that weight on your shoulders, you’re much likelier to have a better day.