Thanks to Clorox for inviting me to participate in this research. Though I was compensated for my time, the results and opinions are my own.
I stood in the doorway of my son’s room and heaved a huge sigh. Living with a busy 15-year-old boy comes with many challenges, not the least of which is the constant battle over how much of his bedroom floor we can see at any given time. Our son’s bedroom was dusty and in desperate need of a good vacuuming. Discarded plates from snacks long ago consumed and sticky rings from sodas downed while playing video games made my shoulders sag at the sight. His room was a mess.
And the smell. OMG, I don’t mind telling you that teenage boys do not smell like daisies.
I picked my way over to throw his window open in an effort to blow out the stench of a teenage boy who often forgets to shower. As I gazed around the room, I thought about how he’d be leaving us soon, off to college and a roommate. A roommate who would undoubtedly be annoyed by my son’s less than tidy side of the dorm room.
I knew it was time for us to have a chat with our son.
But this chat was going to be different.
This time, I wasn’t going to yell at him for his laundry pile that rivaled Mount Kilimanjaro. I would keep my opinions about his bed-making skills to myself. I would try to avoid yelling at him for being lazy or not cleaning up.
Our chat would not include me listing cleaning tips that I found useful or helpful because I knew those ideas would fall on deaf ears.
No, I would do none of those things.
I was going to talk to my son about starting a new journey.
I was going to explain to him how I felt when the space around me was clean.
I knew he knew how to clean up his room. I’d seen him grudgingly carry laundry to the laundry room plenty of times.
But, I realized, I hadn’t taught him to view a clean room as a gift to himself.
In all the years that I have argued with him about cleaning his room, I realized I’ve never helped him see that he was worth a space that complemented his sense of humor and warm personality.
It was time my son learned that cleaning isn’t a punishment. Clean matters because it allows you to relax, to focus. It’s a way to show that you care about yourself and others. It creates new possibilities.
Clean the beginning and what comes next is everything. It was my job to help my son find his way to a better space around him.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to participate in research with Clorox to measure the impact of clean on our emotions. I wasn’t told much about the project, and I realize now there was a reason they wanted to keep me in the dark. When the car arrived to take me to the research location, I was told only that the researchers wanted me to view two rooms. And that they wanted to record my biological and emotional responses between clean and dirty spaces, using biometric sensors that measured my heart rate, subtle facial expressions, and more as I toured the rooms.
As I caught a glimpse of myself with the electrodes on my face and the fanny pack containing the monitors, I chuckled. What had I gotten myself into?
A researcher took me down the hall to the first room. My instructions were to simply walk around the room and observe my surroundings. After being reassured that a clown wasn’t going to jump out of the closet at me, I pushed the door open and looked around.
What I saw was a normal, clean room. Nothing out of the ordinary and everything in the room was neat and tidy – backpacks were hung up, clothes were hanging neatly in the closet, the bed was made, the bathtub was clean and soap-scum-free. And thankfully, zero clowns. I wandered around, checked out the closets, and took a peek in the drawers. No surprises to be found, and after five minutes, the researcher came to collect me.
And then we proceeded to room number 2.
Oh my sweet God in heaven, this room could not have been more different.
Dirty dishes in the kitchenette sink. Sticky, grimy fingerprints on the counters and tables. Unwashed clothes and kid toys left on the floor. An unmade bed. In the bathroom, there was kitty litter spilled on the floor, and the tub was grimy.
I think the researchers (who I later found out were watching on hidden camera) may have gotten a kick out of my reactions.
“All the nopes in nopeville on ever showering in that bathroom.”
“I don’t want to sit anywhere in here, thank you very much.”
I was so relieved when the researcher came to get me.
I couldn’t believe how visceral my reaction was to such a dirty space. I have always felt that our home should rise up to greet us and be a safe place to land at the end of a busy day. Until I was thrust unknowingly into a dirty, unkempt room, I didn’t realize how much I valued the power of a clean space.
The data from the biometrics sensors showed that the longer I spent in the clean room, the happier I became. My critical thinking levels were 36% higher in the clean room. Meanwhile, in the dirty room, my disgust levels spiked and were 353% higher.
I’m not alone. Overall, the research found that cleaning and clean spaces make us happier, more productive, and less stressed out. The impact goes beyond our own feelings to how we engage with others. The real power of clean is that it teaches us important empathy, compassion, and connection skills we need to thrive in today’s world. People who did chores involving cleaning as a kid are more likely to exhibit above-average empathy and have stronger connections and willingness to help others in their communities as adults.
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That’s what I want for my son: for him to find peace and serenity in his bedroom at the end of the day, to view the concept of clean as restorative and calming.
And so my son and I talked.
We talked about his goals for his coming high school years. We talked about his feelings when he walked into his bedroom. We walked into my bedroom, fresh and clean, and talked about how the space made him feel. We discussed his definition of tidy and the reasons why his laundry couldn’t make it into his drawers. I asked him to close his eyes and think about the smells that made him feel relaxed. He admitted that “smelly teen boy” was not a favorite scent.
We made a plan. We set goals. And we cleaned his room, together. But this time, taking stock of what we put where and why. When we were finished, we took pictures of his new and improved room to help him remember how it felt to have a clean room, in case life got busy and he couldn’t tidy up at the end of the day.
It’s been three weeks since we cleaned his room, and I am happy to report that it is clean as I write. We’ve had a few missteps along the way and his version of a made bed doesn’t always match the pictures we took, but he’s committed to his new room.
And when he said, “My shoulders don’t feel tense anymore when I walk into my room,” I smiled.
It’s a start.
Clorox believes that cleaning matters. Clean isn’t the opposite of dirty — it is the start of new possibilities. Whether it is a clean space to work, a germ-free table to feed your family, fresh sheets to sleep, or pure water to drink, clean creates the environments where we thrive as healthier and more vibrant versions of ourselves.