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Does this Junk Drawer Make My Bum Look Big? The Science (and Solution) Linking Clutter to Weight Gain.
Welcome back my fellow lifestyle enthusiasts. If you are new, I’m Linné and to say that I’m obsessed with all things lifestyle and how they impact your overall health, is an understatement. As a physician and a researcher, my goal is to provide you simple tactics to improve your lifestyle and thus improve your health and well-being.
And boy am I excited about today’s post. Today we unleash my favorite topic that not everyone links to health and wellness. I want to talk about clutter and how it impacts your weight. That’s right. Your junk drawer may be contributing to the junk in your trunk. Listen, I already know that this statement is a bit crazy but stick with me…I think you’ll find the connection to be fascinating.
And, by the way, if you are a lifestyle enthusiast and obsessed with all things health, then click that subscribe button, give this post a thumbs up and hang on because I get super nerdy when it comes to decluttering.
With the recent release of Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up series on Netflix, people all over the united states have been clearing out their homes in search of more joy. So much so that the donation centers across the nation are experiencing a record-breaking overload of inventory. So, if you are a Goodwill junkie, you are living the dream. Have you ever wondered if there is science behind why decluttering is a good idea? Did you know that the state of your home can contribute to your overall health and even your current weight? Did you know that professional organizer, Peter Walsh, author of ‘Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight’, says that people with cluttered homes are 77% likely to be overweight or really is the missing link from the discussion of minimalism or the decluttering process. It is so much more than having a clean space. It really is about your health.
Many of you are familiar with my stroke scare and how it led me to make drastic changes in my health, home environment, and the pursuit of more happiness. But what you may not know is that through my difficult circumstance and hospitalization, this led to researching ways to simplify my environment and to declutter my home. The process of decluttering led to further researching ways to improve my health and the last 20 pounds slowly came off. What I did not realize until years later was that research has proven that our environment has a dramatic effect on our overall health and well-being; that a decluttered space can often become the catalyst for healthy changes in one’s life. In today’s’ post, I want to discuss specifically how a clear space can affect your waistline.
You don’t have to be a hoarder to accumulate clutter and it can come in many different forms. But have you ever watched the show Hoarders and noticed that often, they are overweight or obese?
Based on multiple research studies here are the key findings regarding clutter and your health:
- An Australian-US study conducted by Lenny Vartarian demonstrated that people will eat more sweets in a cluttered environment because their subconscious mind feels out of control. We can deduce from these studies that when your home or workspace is cluttered, it can lead to feelings of overwhelm or discontent that may lead to overeating or poor choices of food.
- In a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30 couples gave tours of their homes and provided salivary samples measuring cortisol levels 4x/day for one week. This study linked the attitude that women had toward their home, to their changes in their cortisol levels. In essence, those women who viewed their homes as chaotic or in disarray had cortisol changes that were unfavorable. Those who described their homes in terms of restoration had sharp changes in cortisol and thus more inclined to experience psychological and physical well-being. Here is the rub. The irony in this study was that the men had cortisol changes that remained in healthful patterns regardless of their environment. We know that men have better chemical coping mechanisms in terms of stress. For women, this means that if our environment is stressful, we will have abnormal hormonal levels that are responsible for maintaining a healthy weight. Weight gain can be linked to high levels of stress chemicals and typically involves increased belly fat which is the most dangerous as it increases cardiovascular risk.
- Recent research from 2016 shows that chronic stress stimulates your body to produce betatrophin – a protein that blocks an enzyme that breaks down body fat. (BBA Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids February 2016: 1861(2); 130-137)
- Researches have identified what is now called the “thrifty gene” that links hoarding and obesity in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorders. Greater hoarding behaviors were linked to higher BMI’s. It is believed that the clutter we surround ourselves with is a mirror of unwanted weight. Just as our clutter can act as a buffer from the outside world, our excess weight can act as protection from our environment; therefore, our excess weight can mirror our physical environment and surroundings.
So to summarize the studies, we have linked cluttered spaces to overeating and binging, increase in stress hormones and abdominal fat, and the inhibition of fat burning mechanisms.
Now that we know that our clutter an influence our waistline, how do we get started? Over the years I have developed my own method for clearing out my home. I have curated the best tips from top minimizing gurus and have found that this 5-Step method, using some of the best cognitive science, has helped me to clear out my entire home not once; but, three times. Of course, I stand on the shoulders of decluttering giants before me so I have to give these folks credit for inspiring the method I use and have listed my favorite gurus and their books or websites at the bottom of this post, for your review. Here is a summary of that method.
- CALENDAR: As part of the preparation process, you will need to schedule the time that you will be decluttering. If it isn’t scheduled, you are more likely to find something else to do with your time. I have created a template for you to do this with estimations of the time you will need for each major category and each subcategory. You can schedule each major category over the course of five days, 5 weeks or 5 months. Focus on the number five when you get stuck. Each subcategory will take you less time and may only require a few minutes or a few hours. However, the key is that you schedule it, ideally in the morning or a time of day you are most energetic and clear headed. For most of the population, this is the morning hours. I find that if it is not on the calendar, you are less likely to commit to doing it.
- CLARITY: Take 5 minutes to meditate. Before I begin any decluttering project, I take the time to do a short guided meditation that includes visualizing my home exactly the way I want it with the feelings I desire to create. Next, I visualize myself sorting through my items with ease and having generous amounts of clarity on what to keep and what to let go. I see myself beaming with pride as I identify which items in my home are meant to stay and which items are meant to move on. I visualize the sense of weightlessness and calm that comes over me after my drop off to the Goodwill. If I have 15-20 minutes, I use the 6 Phase Meditation by Vischen Lakianti. You get the added benefit of compassion, forgiveness, and asking for divine assistance as well.
- COLLECT: Collect everything in ONE category. There are FIVE categories (papers, clothes, miscellaneous, books, and sentimental). Each one of these From every room in your house, gather the items in the category you choose. For my full category list, you can grab my free decluttering guide below. I like to start with the paperwork. In 2009, when I first started my journey in downsizing, I found that papers are often the cause of most stress in the mind and heart. Sorting through this category first can bring heaps of peace upon your life and create a ton of momentum for your next category. Don’t include books or sentimental items in this category. I save books and sentimental items for the end as these are the hardest to sort for most folks. Once you have collected everything in one category from your home, spread it out on the floor or clean surface, examining everything ONE-AT-A-TIME.
- CONSIDER: Ask your FIVE questions that will determine if this item fits the visualization of the lifestyle you want. With every item that you own, ask yourself four questions: “Do I love this piece?” “Is this item useful?” “When was the last time I loved/valued or used it?” “Does this item promote or inhibit my mental and emotional health?” and “What is this item’s purpose and has this item already served its purpose?” As you sort your items, the key is to focus on what you want to keep versus what you need to get rid of. If you have trouble with this, revisit your mental picture of the ideal space and the feelings you want to generate. You will only keep the items that promote these feelings. This is REALLY the only criteria.
- CONCLUDE: If the item no longer is meant for your space, then set it aside in one of FIVE piles: toss away, give-away, donate, sell, relocate. When I do this, I actually put sticky notes up on the wall to designate these FIVE piles. To keep things simple, only sell items that you know that you can get $50 or more for or that you are CERTAIN you will take the time to post it for sale. If you are honest with yourself and you know you will not take the time to sell it, then consider it a tax deduction and donate it. If an item needs to go to another room, set this in a relocate pile; however, don’t relocate it, now. You need to keep your momentum and avoid all distraction. After each day that you declutter, go directly to your nearest donation center. Don’t wait until you have completed your entire home to do this.
After you have decluttered each of the categories, you can maintain your process by scheduling time each year to repeat the steps above as your taste and lifestyle changes. This is not a one and done process. While each time it will be easier and more time-efficient, the key is to re-evaluate your possessions on a regular basis. This will keep you living in you most intentional spaces that represent “you” of today, not yesterday or tomorrow. Because you are changing, your home should change with you. As your tastes change, so should your home. Remember when mauve and seafoam green were the colors that every home in the late ’80s needed to have? Oh, the tragedy of 80’s trends. Yeah, today is a different day and you are a different person. While I still have a strange affection for leg warmers, you can bet that mauve is nowhere on my walls, carpets or countertops.
I’ll bet you’re a little bit like me: you like to learn new information; but, you’re not sure where to start (and how much you will actually do). The two biggest mistakes I see people make when it comes to decluttering is either not getting started or trying to organize before they downsize. Listen, it took me a year to fully declutter my home and organize it the way that would make my heart sing. You don’t need to overhaul your entire house in a weekend. While it does benefit you to declutter your entire home, you could do this over a week if you are super ambitious, a month, a quarter, or a year. It’s not the timeline that matters as much as the momentum. So, do me a favor. Start with the area of your home that you use most frequently. This could be your kitchen, your den, your office, your entryway, your dining table. Just pick one area. Use this ONE choice as your monthly challenge this month! Chances are that the joy and peace you receive from this one area will create the motivation and momentum you need to keep going.
If you have made it through the post this far, I want to commend you, my friend. I know you can do this. Truly, like working out first thing in the morning, getting started is the hardest part. But once you do, I know you will feel better. I’m here for you, cheering you along the way. I would love to hear about your decluttering experiences so please leave a comment below and tell us what one area is your Achilles heel at the moment. For me, I will be tackling sentimental items. I have an entire bin full of papers, report cards, stuffed animals, etc. from my childhood that needs to be reviewed and refreshed. Don’t forget to give this post a thumbs up if you found it beneficial, share it with your friends who are trying to declutter their homes, and subscribe for more posts like this to help you achieve optimum vibrancy and vitality!
And, as always, strive to supercharge your health by simplifying your lifestyle so you can satisfy that lovely soul of yours!
In the next post, we will be discussing the studies linking clutter-free environments to your overall health and wellbeing, not just your pant size!
Until the next post my friend,
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD In Psychology Today “5 Reasons to Clear the Clutter”
Saxbe, Darby E.; Repetti, Rena. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, January 2010.
Timpano KR et al. Consideration of the BDNF gene in relation to two phenotypes: Hoarding and obesity. J Abnorm Psychol 2011 Jun 13; [e-pub ahead of print]. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0024159)
SPECIAL THANKS TO THE MANY RESOURCES THAT INSPIRED THE 5X5 DECLUTTERING METHOD:
Alejandra Costello (www.alejandra.tv)
Marie Kondo (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Spark Joy)
Greg McKowen (Essentialism)
The Minimalists (www.theminimalisits.com)
Courtney Carver (Soulful Simplicity)
Fay Wolf (New Order)
Ruth Soukup (Unstuffed)
Francine Jay (The Joy of Less)
Be a Johnson (Zero Waste Home)
Joshua Becker (The More of Less)
Peter Walsh (Lose the Clutter Lose the Weight)