Mess and Stress: Survey Reveals How Dirty Homes Impact Well-Being

By HomeAdvisor

Published September 7, 2021

woman sitting on the floor with laundry

You know the old saying: Mess equals stress. While it may not always be that simple, we wanted to see what kind of effect a messy house had on people’s moods and well-being.

Quite a lot, as it turns out. We recently surveyed more than 1,000 Americans about their experience keeping their homes clean, and most respondents said they notice a connection between their mood and how clean (or dirty) their home is. And the most common negative emotion associated with a messy house was, indeed, stress—named by half the respondents.

Key Findings

  • Nine out of 10 said there’s a link between their mood and the cleanliness of their home.
  • Nearly 2 in 5 have gone a month or longer without cleaning their home.
  • Almost half admit to being petty when it comes to messes: 47% have ignored a mess to see how long a housemate or partner would let it stay.

Studies have shown that keeping a clean house is good for us both mentally and physically.

People who keep an uncluttered, organized work area are less likely to become irritable and distracted—and more apt to be productive. One study showed that competing visual stimuli that are present at the same time can inhibit our focus. In other words, the more there is to look at, the harder it is to concentrate.

And there’s a similar effect while we’re sleeping. Making the bed is a chore many people don’t enjoy (or avoid altogether). Yet, people who turn down their beds daily tend to fall asleep more quickly and get a better night’s sleep. It seems neatness counts toward a more relaxed state even when you’re in dreamland.

And while you may not enjoy doing the dishes, a small study of 51 college students found that using it as a contemplative practice may lead to reductions in stress.

Of the 1,000 people we surveyed, an overwhelming majority (95%) said having a clean home is important. But how do they feel when it’s not so neat?

Messy Homes Cause Stress

As mentioned above, nine out of 10 respondents say they’ve noticed a link between their mood and the cleanliness of their home, and more than three in four have even had their health affected by the state of their home, including experiencing disrupted sleep patterns and the inability to relax.

Having a messy house created negative emotions in large numbers of those who took part in our survey. In addition to half of them (50%) saying they get stressed by a messy house, nearly as many (49%) noted it made them anxious, while 35% said it made them sad and 33% reported becoming angry.

dirty homes and well-being

These findings are similar to the results of the studies we noted above. But the results of our survey went even further, showing that social interactions—whether with houseguests or housemates—were affected by how messy respondents’ homes were.

When it came to inviting people over, more than half (52%) said they’d canceled plans for social gatherings they were supposed to host because of the state of their home, and 65% reported having felt shame or embarrassment over the state of their home.

Messes Lead to Conflict

Living with someone can be even trickier when it comes to cleaning because you have to deal with different ways of doing things and different comfort levels about neatness. Not surprisingly, arguments can ensue.

In fact, 46% of respondents to our survey say they argue sometimes or always with their housemate about the cleanliness of their home. Two in five admit to having ignored a mess to spite their housemate, and nearly half (46%) have left a mess just to see how long their housemate would let it stay.

cleanliness of housemates

But if a messy home can be a source of stress, embarrassment and strife, respondents’ states of mind turn around completely when their house is clean. Fewer than one in 10 respondents say they experience the sadness, anger, anxiety or stress associated with a messy home when their home is neat and tidy. Instead, when their homes are clean, they feel:

  • Satisfied (81%)
  • Happy (75%)
  • Calm (63%)
  • Energized (31%)

The act of cleaning itself also leads to positive emotions, including feeling:

  • Productive (50%)
  • Satisfied (50%)
  • Energized (38%)
  • Happy (37%)
  • Calm (35%)

How Often We Clean

Of course, not all chores are created equal, and different kinds of cleaning can create different levels of enthusiasm and engagement.

When it came to relatively simple, routine chores like vacuuming and cleaning high-traffic areas, 88% reported cleaning their homes once a week. But the frequency dropped when they were asked about performing a deep clean—which calls for more elbow grease—such as cleaning the baseboards, sweeping behind appliances or washing the window sills.

Only one in five do this once a week. Most often, respondents performed a deep clean once a month (25%) or a few times a year (21%). Whether that’s because it’s needed less often or because it’s a less appealing activity isn’t clear, but some other survey results may provide additional insight.

why people clean

To start with, sometimes cleaning isn’t done just for cleaning’s sake. Sometimes, there are other motivations. For instance, more than three in five use cleaning as an excuse to procrastinate, and nearly three in four (71%) admit to doing chores during work hours while working from home.

That once-a-week routine for light cleaning isn’t set in stone, either: Nearly two in five admit to having gone a month or longer without cleaning their home at all. And despite the positive emotions associated with cleaning we noted earlier, the respondents were not necessarily averse to paying someone else to do it for them, which means bringing in a cleaning service.

When We Hire Pros to Clean Our Homes

hiring a house cleaner

Hiring a house cleaner was far more common for homeowners. In fact, 51% of homeowners said they hired a house cleaner, compared to 29% of non-homeowners. Overall, nearly half of respondents (44%) say they would hire a house cleaner to clean for them, most often once a week (43%) or every other week (34%).

And they’d pay good money, too: 43% said they’d shell out between $50 and $250 a month for someone to clean their house.

On average, people said they would pay $5,800 in exchange for never having to clean their home again. But the average encompassed a wide range, from people who said they’d pay nothing and do it themselves, to those who said they’d pay “$1 million if I had it.” Others simply couldn’t wrap their heads around the possibility: “This is a hard question to answer because the value of never having to clean again is more than my head can handle.”

The Messes We Love To Hate

So, which messes do we find the most aggravating, and which chores do we find the most fulfilling? What does the scale of ickiest to most tolerable messes look like, and how about our least favorite to favorite chores?

Our survey found that dust and dirt were the messes that made us feel the most dread, at 48% and 42%, respectively. Pet or human hair triggered a degree of disgust in 34% of respondents, followed closely by stains at 31% and laundry at 27%.

the worst messes

The kitchen was ranked the messiest room in the house by more than one in four survey participants, followed by the bedroom (21%) and living room (13%). Interestingly, most of the messiest rooms are also the ones that respondents say need to be clean at all times: the kitchen (34%), bedroom (17%) and living room (15%).

Our respondents’ least favorite chores were cleaning and disinfecting sinks, bathtubs, showers, etc. (20%), followed by dusting (18%) and vacuuming (14%).

While having a clean house can improve well-being in many ways, getting there can still be a pain, which helps explain why so many people in our survey expressed an interest in hiring a house cleaner. There are plenty of advantages to hiring a pro to clean your home: Doing so can give you peace of mind, more free time and a way of getting routine maintenance done without sweating it.

If you choose that route, finding the right house cleaner is important. You should think about qualifications to keep in mind during your search, what questions to ask, what specific chores you’ll want them to do and whether you’ll want a self-employed housekeeper or a cleaning service. That’s for starters.

Then there’s the matter of what you’re willing to spend. You probably won’t have to pay $5,800 to never clean your home again. Hiring a maid service typically costs around $116 and $235.

Whether you choose to hire someone else or check out cleaning resources and do the job yourself, keeping your home clean really can benefit you. And if you want to be environmentally friendly, you can use green cleaners and green cleaning tips to do that, too. Keeping your home clean is a win for everyone involved: you, your housemates, guests and whoever lives there next if you sell or if you’re renting and want to get back that deposit.

Finding ways to reduce the mess in your home can dramatically reduce your stress levels as well, and can lead to greater satisfaction, happiness, and overall well-being.

Methodology: On August 5, 2021, we surveyed 1,000 Americans about the cleanliness of their homes using the Amazon Mechanical Turk service. The average age of respondents was 37; 59% were male, 41% were female; 64% were married, 24% were single, and 8% were unmarried and living with a partner. Of respondents, 66% own their home; 57% live in a single-family home, 30% in an apartment, 6% in a townhouse, and 5% in a condominium. 62% of respondents have children, and 75% have pets.

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