Tidying your desk, folding laundry, or watering houseplants – not everyone enjoys these household chores. But what is it about these tasks that makes them oddly satisfying?

Many potential mechanisms explain the perfect pleasure of puttering, and they may well encourage us to do it more frequently. It may be beneficial since it occupies the mind, allowing us to focus less on the things that are bothering us. Unlike other forms of distraction, such as playing video games or watching television, puttering is proactive and beneficial, boosting our “perceived control”. A sensation of powerlessness might increase the number of stress hormones when we are anxious. This can harm the immune system’s ability to function over time. Ideally, we would deal with the distressing circumstance directly. However, psychologist Stacey Bedwell says that simply having the ability to change our environment can give us a sense of agency, which could explain why cleaning and organizing our homes can be so therapeutic. “It doesn’t necessarily have to align with actual control, as long as we believe, or feel, we have control,” she explains. But the benefits don’t end there. If your tinkering takes the form of organizing and decluttering, you could find that having a cleaner environment is a source of peace in and of itself. You don’t need to remove the clutter entirely; merely rearranging stuff will suffice. Organizing objects into groupings (for example, by color) can help the brain navigate the mess by providing more evident cues.

Cleaning and organizing are all activities that can help us relax. As homebodies during this time of the pandemic, we may now see why our productive fidgeting might be a therapy for the restless mind.