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Health Fusion: Life lessons about procrastination from the Laundry Goddess

Are there tasks in life that you absolutely dread? But the longer you procrastinate, the more anxiety you feel? In this "Health Fusion" column, Viv Williams explores how to get things done and shares lessons about the process from the Laundry Goddess.

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Viv Williams

ROCHESTER -- When I first met the Laundry Goddess, I was unaware of the depth of her wisdom, genius and skill. We had just moved to the neighborhood, and she was welcoming and kind. Our families shared similar interests, such as gardening and bonfires, so we bonded quickly. But over time, I began to notice some oddities. No matter how dirty her kids' clothes got, or how much juice my boys spilled on her tablecloths, everything was always completely clean the next day. No stains anywhere. Ever.

"What the heck," I thought to myself. "Does she go buy her son new pants every time he gets a grass stain?"

Then I entered the laundry sanctuary. The room looked as if it had been staged for a TV commercial. Dirty clothing was divided into categories and placed into bins that were situated in a tidy row under a counter. Laundry supplies were perfectly lined up in the cupboards. And the lighting was soothing. The beautifully painted walls were adorned with artwork, much of which was original and signed by the artist. I had never seen anything like it. My laundry room was a dramatic contrast. Nothing was organized and everything was in a huge heap on the floor, making any attempt at walking anywhere in there quite perilous.

Stunned, I asked the Laundry Goddess, who's real name is Linda Sorensen, how she managed to keep her laundry room so immaculate and inviting. I commented that she must really love doing laundry.

"No," she said, "I actually hate it."

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What? How could that be? Linda's aversion to laundry prompted her to actively make a change in order to improve her quality of life. She turned a chore she dreaded and over which she repeatedly procrastinated into a hobby she enjoyed. She took control of her own situation.

"The original motivation for making laundry my hobby was huge frustration over finding mountains of clothes to wash in the dungeon (aka the basement)," says Linda. "I decided I could not go through life hating this household task, so I decided to reframe it and call it a hobby."

She became so adept at stain removal that friends from all over call for consultations. She knows how to get just about anything out of everything.

Linda's acceptance and embrace of a task she hated exemplifies one potential way to decrease levels of stress, anxiety and fear while increasing happiness, joy and, potentially, our overall health. The National Institute of Health's website notes that over time, chronic stress may increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety and other illnesses. If a piles and piles of dirty clothes in a messy and unpleasant laundry room causes stress, creating a more organized and pleasant space may help to relieve it.

A study from researchers at The College of New Jersey and published in the journal Anxiety, Stress and Coping explores the relationship between negative feelings and next day procrastination. The researchers found that if you have negative feelings about a task, you are likely to procrastinate getting it done the next day. And that dealing with the emotions associated with certain tasks may help to decrease how much you procrastinate instead of doing them.

That makes perfect sense to me. When I think about the piles of clothing on the laundry room floor, I get agitated and even a little resentful. I get mad at the people who tossed their laundry onto the pile and irked at myself for telling them I'd do it in the first place. And when I procrastinate, the situation grows worse — my stress level elevates and the whole thing haunts me until I get it done. What a waste of time and energy!

The lesson I learned from the Laundry Goddess is a good one. While I'm still wrestling with my heaps of dirty clothes, I've applied her technique to other aspects of life. For example, I'm gripped with fear when it's time to take our pontoon boat out of the water. My dread was spawned by a scary mishap I endured years ago when I drove our rusty old pickup to the slip to meet my husband with the boat. Somehow, I hadn't secured the trailer and it started swinging wildly on the highway, pulling the truck back and forth across the line. But now, instead of hiding from that task or putting it off, I bake a cake to mark the end of the season and have mastered driving the truck and trailer.

Thanks, Laundry Goddess!

Related Topics: HEALTH FUSION
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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