How to Create a Healthy Home Space—And Why You Really Should
By: Annie Daly
Published: April 01, 2019
When you think about improving your healthy living routine, you probably think about amping up your workout a bit, or finally hiring that personal trainer, or resolving to actually eat fresh vegetables with every meal. What you may not think about, however, is cleaning up your home—but you really should. While decluttering your closet may not seem like the best use of your time if your goal is to up your wellness game, there’s actually an emerging body of research called environmental psychology that emphasizes the link between your health and the state of your home. The more orderly your home is on the outside, the research suggests, the cleaner and healthier you’ll feel on the inside.
At the forefront of this movement is none other than the one and only Marie Kondo. Yes, it’s basically impossible to talk about environmental psychology in 2019 without shining the spotlight on the queen of all things clean. The Japanese lifestyle guru originally took the world by storm back in 2014, when she dominated the New York Times bestseller list with her megahit book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering.” And now, she’s back again with a hit Netflix show called “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” released on the first day of 2019, in which she helps real people apply the lessons of her book and her brand in their own lives. In both the book and the Netflix show, Kondo introduces the “KonMari” method of cleaning—her own personal brand of organizational decluttering—in which she asks readers to take stock of everything they own, and toss everything that doesn’t “spark joy.” Doing so will not only leave your home space spic and span, she promises, it will also help improve your entire wellbeing.
She’s right. And there’s research to prove it. One study from Indiana University, for example, found that people with tidier homes were actually healthier and more active than those with messy ones. Another study, conducted at the University of California-Los Angeles, found that women who described their home spaces as “cluttered” or “full” or “chaotic” or “sloppy” (or other such stressful words) were more likely to be depressed and tired than women who said their homes were cozier and calmer, using words like “restful” or “restorative” or “peaceful” or “homey.” What’s more, the women who called their homes “cluttered” also had more of the stress hormone cortisol than the “restful” women. Why? Again, it all comes down to environmental psychology. The stuff you keep in your home—and the way you keep it—has an enormous impact on your subconscious wellbeing. When you see clutter on the outside, you’ll feel chaotic on the inside—and that inner feeling of chaos can make it a lot harder to stay focused on your health.
And it’s not just clutter, either. There are other ways that your environment impacts your state of mind, too—like the way you design your kitchen. One researcher at Cornell University, Brian Wansink, PhD, has basically made an entire career out of studying how your environment in particular affects the way you eat. He’s written tons of books on the topic, including Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life and Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Though his work is impossible to sum up in a couple paragraphs—he’s literally spent his whole career studying this topic!—the basic gist is that the way you set up your kitchen has a direct effect on what, and how much, you eat.
Let’s begin with your kitchen counter. In one study, Wansink found that people who kept clutter on their counters were more likely to mindlessly snack than people who kept clean counters. In another, he found that people who kept fruit on their counters weighed less than those who didn’t—and, on the flip side, people who kept cereal on their counters weighed 20 more pounds, on average, than those who kept it in cabinets. And people who kept soft drinks out on their counters weighed the most of all, about 24 to 26 more pounds than those who stored it away. The reason for all of this is sort of obvious, when you think about it: Seeing junk food reminds you that it exists, and may make you want to mindlessly eat it even when you’re not hungry. When you can’t see it, however, you’re less likely to randomly munch on it simply because it’s there. But make no mistake: Just because these findings are sort of obvious doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to them! The truth is that, obvious or not, these findings confirm what you likely intuitively know already: Where you keep your food matters. And it just may be time for a little kitchen makeover.
Wansink’s also studied other aspects of the kitchen experience, too. When you’re organizing your fridge, for example, his advice is to put your veggies in the front—so you see them and are more likely to reach for them over the processed foods. Next, when you’re buying dinnerware, Wansink suggests going for slightly smaller plates, around 10 inches in diameter instead of 12 inches. That’s because you can trick yourself into eating less, as the same portion of food appears bigger on smaller plates than it does on slightly larger plates. (Seriously: In one of his studies, people consumed 18% less food when they ate from a smaller plate.) Color even matters, too. Wansink also found that if your plate is the same color as your food, you’ll likely eat more overall–because you’ll probably end up overserving yourself, as the colors all blend into one and you can’t really tell how much you’re putting on your plate. The fix: Invest in different colored plates, so that you can always make sure there’s a stark contrast between your meal and your plate.
What all of this comes down to is that if you are trying to live as healthy a life as possible, it’s not just about your typical diet, fitness, and meditation advice. You need to factor your home environment into the mix, too! As you now see, keeping your home clean isn’t just about reeling in those #organizationalporn likes on Instagram. Our society has become obsessed with cleanliness because we need to be. Marie Kondo is super popular because we need her right now; it is a woman-meets-moment situation. In a world filled with an abnormal amount of distractions—distractions that are only going to increase with time, by the way—it’s more important than ever to find inner peace among the chaos. And one very doable way to do that is to make your home work with you, and for you.
So this month, in the name of all things Spring cleaning, up your wellness game by turning your home into your sanctuary. Your retreat. Toss away the stuff that doesn’t “spark joy.” Bring in tons of green, earthy plants. Invest in a trickling, zen waterfall. Burn all of the palo santo and the smudge sticks and the incense. Re-organize your kitchen so that you are a person who keeps apples on the counter. Do whatever you need to do to make your home feel relaxing, like your own personal boutique wellness hotel. Strive to be one of those people who describes your home as a restorative place, a zen place. In the end, remember, a healthy home really does lead to a healthy mind and body—so in the name of all things healthy living, please go tackle that sock drawer.