Hungering For Less

By Catherine McNulty

March 16, 2016 4 min read

"A house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff." -- George Carlin

Clutter has become a national obsession: How to define it, how to organize it, and how to get rid of it. We've been a nation of spectators in the war on clutter, gleefully binging on "Hoarders: Buried Alive" and then shopping at The Container Store while reassuring ourselves that our stuff wasn't quite that bad. If everything fits into color-coordinated plastic bins, then there isn't a problem, right? Then 2015 happened.

2015 saw the publication of Marie Kondo's "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" and Peter Walsh's "Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight." The lines have been drawn: 2016 is the year we all get rid of our clutter. But can cutting out the clutter also lead to a smaller clothing size?

Anecdotally, it comes up again and again -- a clean, well-organized house leads to a miraculous weight loss. Marie Kondo mentions it in passing in her book and it's the thesis of Peter Walsh's book. In a 2008 article in The New York Times, "A Clutter Too Deep for Mere Bins and Shelves," Tara Parker-Pope interviews Dr. Pamela Peeke who recalls having a patient whose entire garage was crammed solidly full of stuff. After the woman cleaned out her home, she lost 50 pounds. Is there a medical link between too much stuff and being overweight?

Nothing has been proven definitively. But having too much stuff has been linked to stress. According to Psychology Today, clutter overstimulates our minds and "makes it more difficult to relax, physically and mentally." It also "creates feelings of guilt and embarrassment." Guilt because you want to be better organized and embarrassment because no one wants to show off a messy house.

All of that can add up to stressing you out, and overeating is a common way to deal with stress. Also, if your kitchen is a mess and your pantry disheveled, you're probably not preparing home-cooked nutritionally sound meals. As Peeke notes in Tara Parker-Pope's article, "if you can't find your sneakers, you aren't taking a walk." So what can you do to battle the clutter and the bulge?

One thing both Marie Kondo and Peter Walsh want you to do is envision the life you want in the space you have. Is it a sanctuary that relaxes you instantly? A place where friends and family can gather and you're never embarrassed about the mess? Or is it tidy space where you have everything you need and you know just where to find it? Whatever it is, know that it is within your power to transform whatever space you have into whatever space you want.

George Carlin is both entirely right and entirely wrong. He's right because we've been looking at the situation backward -- thinking, "What do I need for my home?" But your home isn't supposed to be a home for stuff; it's a home for you. It isn't about what your home needs, but rather what you need for the life you want. All too often mindless consumption jumps from buying to eating. Start consciously making decisions in one area of your life and it will affect other areas of your life.

Which is all fine and good theoretically, but what about practically?

Paring down is hard. Getting rid of stuff you've grown accustomed to is hard. Wanting to keep things because you might need them someday is an easy trap to fall into. It's also time consuming. And hard. Did I mention how hard it is? Unfortunately there isn't a one-size-fits-all form of organization and decluttering.

So what do you do? Whatever vision you have for your life, and the supporting role of your stuff, is up to you to bring about. That's both the good and bad news. No one is ever going to force you to recycle your old magazines, sort your mail and make your bed everyday. But if you long for empty countertops and hospital corners, then it's time to get down and dirty and make some choices.

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