As you drive down your block on Garbage Day, the signs of spring are all there: overflowing trash cans, piles of rusty hose reels and leaky hoses lining the curb, and paper-shredder confetti littering the lawn.
Spring Cleaning is upon us. I overhauled my coat closet today; you might have heard my son moaning about how he had to try on every … single … hat … I had found crammed into the deepest crevices of that tiny space. The experience was as painful to him as a drug-free root canal.
The American Cleaning Institute found in 2013 that 72 percent of adults – like me – do some Spring Cleaning every year; a similar number reported that Spring Cleaning is a tradition worth maintaining. And science says the practice is good for our families. The journal, Psychology Today, reported in 2015 that clutter increases stress; it distracts us, and the smell, noise and sight of toppling piles overwhelm our senses. Organized spaces, in contrast, are associated with increased physical activity, generosity, conventionality and eating more healthily.
The same Spring Cleaning practices can be applied to marriage. Innumerable experts have examined this idea and written about it far more eloquently than I can, but their advice generally falls into three areas:
1) As in your home, clean out the clutter in your marriage. You could do that by mastering the art of forgiveness, dealing with the past, and talking about the subjects in our lives that are the most stressful – finances, for one. A 2016 study by TD Bank (the bank actually entitled the survey “Love and Money”) found that people who talk about money more often have a higher level of happiness with their significant other – 78 percent who talk at least once a week about dollars and cents say they are happy, compared to 50 percent who discuss the subject every few months.
2) Discard old habits. Resolve to abandon your most childish behaviors. If your phone or tablet is keeping you out of conversations with your spouse after dinner, resolve to cut back on your screen time in favor of interpersonal communications. Researchers at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business surveyed 453 adults and found that phone-snubbing behaviors (called phubbing) negatively impact relationship satisfaction; the behavior creates conflict, lessens relationship satisfaction and therefore life satisfaction, and it can increase levels of depression.
3) Identify the areas of your marriage that need more attention. Think of something you used to love doing with your spouse, figure out why you stopped doing it and then make firms plans to do it again soon. A 2008 study from the University of Denver Center for Marital and Family Studies found a highly significant correlation between fun and marital happiness; individual leisure activities, such as watching TV or browsing the Internet, don’t build those positive connections.
None of it sounds easy, but it’s far more important that trying on yet another winter hat.
Want to share your ideas for Spring Cleaning with Joanna? Please write to her at [email protected]