I am notorious for not cleaning my room. Usually, the problem is my reluctance to put away a pile of clothes after a long day. But, over the past few weeks, what began as a pile has slowly escalated to a full-blown category 8 hurricane of clothes, making it impossible for my friends to so much as enter my humble abode. I lost my couch, my Tylenol, and my work ethic—all things a growing junior needs to function properly.
Did I notice the pile growing and further entrapping my room daily? Of course I did. Did I care? No. I felt too busy to acknowledge my new cotton blend roommate. When you work two jobs and have a full schedule of classes, there’s barely enough time to eat, let alone clean your room. But the problem was deeper than my lack of cleaning habits.
The room was a display of my inner thoughts: unorganized and chaotic. As the space got more cluttered, I spent my days criticizing everything that I did and every aspect of my being. From overanalyzing what I ate to worrying I was breathing too loudly in class, every move I made was followed by a voice in my head telling me I could have done it better. Ironically, the best place to hide from and try to ignore these thoughts was in my room.
My room was the only place I felt safe from the interactions that made me rethink the bowl of cereal I had when I was 6 years old. My bed was safe, and I liked feeling safe all the time. I didn’t go out with my friends, I didn’t sit with people at lunch, and I hid from anything that might have made me feel anxious.
I’ve been taught that when you feel like you’re not enough, think about something else. My family doesn’t like to talk about mental health. I grew up being told that the only problems worth fixing were the tangible ones—everything else was simply my imagination running wild.
In fairness, my family left poverty in Puerto Rico to pursue the American dream, so can we really blame them for this mindset? Despite that, it’s clear I was having a moment, and the first step in addressing my problem was cleaning the physical representation of my anxiety: the mess inside my room.
Beginning the process seemed impossible. I spent two hours just staring at the consequences of my actions and wondering how I got there. I started throwing all the clothes and junk into the air in bursts of frustration. Eventually, I asked myself, “Wouldn’t it be more productive if I threw this junk into its respective areas?”
What ensued was a two-day affair of deep cleaning that gave me time to sit with my thoughts. Unlike before, these thoughts were focused on cleaning, rather than running rampant degrading my own existence. Although minimal homework was done during these two days, I allowed myself to channel my anxious energy into a task.
After many tired sighs, frustrated screams, and progress-updating vlogs, the room was finally clean. I started telling everyone: my friends, my family, my co-workers. It gave me a new reason to reach out to the people in my life.
My point isn’t to say that cleaning your room is going to help your mental health, but when you’re feeling like your own worst enemy and all you want to do is hide from the world, sometimes what you need is a small achievable win. All it took for me was a spark of confidence to know that I did something of substance and that I am someone of substance.
Cleaning my room gave me that high. I felt like I could do anything, even if just for a day. So find your pile of clothes and put it away, then watch your day get a little better.