There’s far more to eating than hunger, and surprising factors in your environment could be having subtle — and not-so-subtle — influences on how much, and what, you eat.
Research shows, for instance, that people tend to eat more when in the company of others (ranging from 33 percent more when eating with one companion to 96 percent more when dining with seven or more people).1
The state of your kitchen — whether it’s well organized or a cluttered mess — also makes a difference, according to researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia.
You May Eat More Sweets in a Messy Kitchen — With One Caveat
If your kitchen is in a state of disarray — dishes piled in the sink, stacks of papers on the counter and other odds and ends taking up space — it could be affecting your diet, and not for the better. In a study of about 100 college students, the participants were split between a standard kitchen and a “chaotic” kitchen.
They were asked to recall a time they felt in control or a time they felt out of control, and then were given cookies, crackers and carrots to taste and rate. Participants in the chaotic kitchen in the out-of-control mindset ate more cookies (about twice the calories’ worth) than those in an in-control frame of mind.
The results suggested that eating in a chaotic environment may derail your diet, with the caveat being that your mind may overcome the chaos or its tendency to lead to unhealthy eating. According to the researchers:2
“Although a chaotic environment can create a vulnerability to making unhealthy food choices, one’s mindset in that environment can either trigger or buffer against that vulnerability.”
A Cluttered Environment Is Likely to Lead to Stress and Weight Gain
While your mind may be able to overcome the ill effects of clutter and chaos, for many people existing in such a state will lead to increased stress and a chaotic mind.
In the book, “Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight: The Six-Week Total-Life Slim Down,” author Peter Walsh cited 2008 research that found people who struggle with clutter were 77 percent more likely to be overweight or obese.3
He equated this weight gain to the rise in stress levels that comes along with a cluttered existence. Stress alters the way fat is deposited because of the specific hormones and other chemicals your body produces when you’re stressed.
Clutter at Home and Work May Zap Your Mental Energy, Productivity and More
Clutter in your home or workspace may encourage you to eat more or to eat unhealthy foods, but that’s not all. Existing in an unorganized space leads many people to feel overwhelmed. Walsh told WebMD, “When people see clutter, they use language like ‘suffocating,’ and ‘I can’t breathe.’”5
There are different types of clutter as well. Walsh describes “memory clutter” as things that remind you of an important person, achievement or event, for instance. There’s also clutter that people hold on to because they think they might need it one day.
This type of clutter is often based on fear and preparing for an imagined future. Then there’s “lazy clutter” — the stuff that accumulates because you don’t take the time to get rid of it. Walsh continued to WebMD:6
“It’s about balance … If you have so much stuff it drags you into the past or pulls you into the future, you can’t live in the present.”
Clutter’s link to stress isn’t simply anecdotal, either. In a study of 32 middle-class homes conducted by a team of archeologists, anthropologists and other scientists, mothers who described their homes as “messy” or “cluttered” also had higher levels of stress hormones by evening.7
Separate research also found women who described their homes as disorderly were more likely to suffer from depressed mood, fatigue in the evening, poor coping skills and difficulty transitioning from work to home.8
A messy home or workspace can make it feel like it’s impossible to relax, and it greatly interferes with creativity and productivity. The infographic below, from The OKA Blog, shares more of the negative effects of clutter.9,10
Addressing Clutter at Its Source: Overconsumption
In the U.S., many homes are cluttered not because they lack adequate storage space but because they contain too much stuff. UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) conducted a nine-year study resulted in the book, “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors.”11
The book explores the homes of 32 U.S. families, whose homes were overflowing with toys, furniture, DVDs, souvenirs, food, trinkets and “stuff.”
One of the most revealing objects in the homes turned out to be the refrigerator, which held an average of 52 objects on their doors and side panels. A correlation was seen between the number of items a family displayed on their refrigerator and the density of “stuff” elsewhere in the home. According to the book:12
“ … [A] family’s tolerance for a crowded, artifact-laden refrigerator surface often corresponds to the densities of possessions in the main rooms of the house.
… [T]he refrigerator panel may function as a measuring stick for how intensively families are participating in consumer purchasing and how many household goods they retain over their lifetimes.”
The study also revealed that 75 percent of homes’ garages were so cluttered with boxes, storage bins and other items (300 to 650 items in all) that there was no room left to store a car. On the inside, the average home contained:13
- 39 pairs of shoes
- 90 DVDs or videos
- 139 toys
- 212 CDs
- 438 books and magazines
Overconsumption is partly the result of advertisements, partly the result of fear (and a drive to stockpile things we “may” need someday), and partly due to a desire to reward ourselves for hard work by buying more material goods.
As the UCLA study noted, “we are living in the most materially rich society in global history, with light years more possessions per average family than any preceding society.”14
Simple Steps to Get Rid of Lazy Clutter
Lazy clutter refers to mail, laundry, receipts and other “stuff” that accumulates because you don’t want to deal with it. Walsh recommends the simple steps below for getting rid of lazy clutter fast:
- Discard anything not used in 12 months
- Discard stuff that belongs to someone else
- Discard trash
Of course, decluttering is an ongoing process, not one that happens overnight. That being said, you can make some serious progress in even 20 minutes if you know where to start. This includes:
- Get your “supplies” ready: you’ll need file folders, labels and markers, a paper shredder, a recycling bin, a trash bin and a bin to put items you plan to donate or sell.
- Pick a location to start: decluttering should happen in stages, so start with your office or your kitchen, and then within that “region” focus on your desktop, pantry or a particular cabinet, moving forward only when that space has been organized. If you feel overwhelmed, start small with one shelf or drawer.
- Tackle papers head on: paper organization is often cited as the highest priority among those looking to get organized, but many simply end up stacking and re-stacking the same papers. Instead, sort them into “like” piles and have file folders ready to store them in by category.
- Every item must have a “home”: this should be your decluttering mantra, because if you don’t have a place to put an item, it will end up back in the clutter pile. Before you create a permanent home for any object, paper or file, make sure it’s something that is truly useful, important, valuable or otherwise worthy of keeping.
- Remember, clutter breeds clutter: if you put a box of items you don’t know what to do with in a closet, soon it will be joined by another box, and another. Break this cycle by tackling the box head on, not leaving it to be decluttered “later.” This also means you should declutter on a daily basis and always put items back where they belong.
- Put storage solutions where you need them: do you need a mail sorter for your kitchen counter? A bin to catch your keys, dog leash and cell phone when you walk in the door? A toy box for your family room? Analyze the way you live and choose your storage solutions accordingly.
Envision Your Life Free of Clutter
From your kitchen to your bedroom, it’s important to visualize your home the way you want it. When considering whether to keep, donate or discard an item, ask if it will contribute to your ideal vision of the life you want.
Does the item make you feel good? Do you use it regularly? If so, determine its proper “home.” If not, donate it or discard it. The four tips that follow will further help you to achieve a life free of clutter — and the healthier body and mind to go along with it. You can also use the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to clear any emotional blocks standing in your way of clearing clutter.
- Handle an item only once: once you pick it up, put it away, get rid of it or donate it. Do not simply put it back down again in the same cluttered pile.
- If you buy something new, get rid of something old: if you buy a new set of glassware, donate the old set you no longer need. Likewise for new items of clothing, shoes or bedding, and even computers and electronics.
- You only need one: one wine opener, one charger for your phone, one set of barbecue tools. If you have multiple items of the same object that you don’t need, be ruthless in getting it down to one.
- Buy less to begin with: the more new items you buy, the more you’ll have to declutter your home. The Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century study found that a family’s number of possessions increased by 30 percent each year with each new child, and that was only during the preschool years! Be very choosy about what you buy and bring into your home, choosing only items that will add true value to your life.
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