For first-year students, living on campus can be a hectic and chaotic transition, said Cynthia Manzano, Counseling and Psychological Services counselor and outreach coordinator.
Since students are used to living at home, keeping their new living space organized is an important way to combat stress.
“Any space that feels a little bit disorganized — messy, cluttered, maybe laundry on the floor, maybe pizza boxes everywhere, things like that — there's kind of a natural human reaction to feel a little bit more stressed, especially if that's our own space,” she said.
Architecture senior Michelle Loyola lived at Vandergriff Hall with a roommate in a one-bedroom dorm during her freshman year. Growing up an only child, Loyola said she was used to having her own room.
She didn’t know her roommate and found that the best way to establish boundaries was keeping her side of the room organized.
One of her primary motivations for keeping her living space organized is productivity and creativity, Loyola said. She needs a dedicated space for her projects and assignments.
She said whenever she wants to start organizing, she begins in the kitchen. A sink filled with dishes or cluttered countertops can definitely become overwhelming if you live in a small space, she said.
“Having a visually clear space will allow me to have a clear frame of mind,” she said.
The stress hormone, cortisol, is released into the human body when students have an overwhelmingly long to-do list, Manzano said. Cortisol is the natural hormone responsible for the fight or flight system when responding to threatening situations.
However, when students aren’t in threatening situations, elevated cortisol levels can cause sleeplessness and difficulty focusing when trying to study, Manzano said.
Alex Rojas, broadcasting and advertising junior, said she recently reorganized her whole room after feeling unproductive. She said the project made her feel accomplished for the day.
Rojas said she shared a room with her little sister for about eight years before she had her own room. Now that she has her own living space, she said it’s important that she can inject more of her personality into her surroundings.
Hanging up movie posters and motivational pictures allows her to feel ownership of her surroundings, but when her room is a mess, it can negatively affect her self-esteem.
“When you just kind of look around and you're like, ‘Oh, man. Look at all my T-shirts and look at all the pencils and stuff strewn about my desk.’ That just kind of puts you in a bad state,” she said.
Doing the little things like organizing the pillows on your bed can be just as helpful to mental health as an all-day cleaning spree, Rojas said.
Typically, Loyola said she does all her organizing in one day, rather than starting a project and finishing it little by little. She said having her closet half organized is visually annoying and makes her feel like she might not come back and finish it.
“Once I start, I feel like I can’t stop,” she said. “It’s like a snowballing effect.”
Manzano said organizing isn’t the cure for depression and anxiety, but it can be a useful tool.
“When it comes to mental health, it's all about the addition of these small things in our lives that we can do that can ultimately add up to something pretty big,” she said.