People who live in messy surroundings are more likely to be overweight, stressed and depressed, claim some studies
Clutter makes you fat. This hair-raising claim may be the single most powerful motivator for getting our homes in order. Even if it’s not precisely true. Fatness is actually caused by eating too much and by eating the wrong sorts of food.
But, according to a study – ‘Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption’ – conducted at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab in 2016, the state of our homes does have a part to play.
For the study, 98 female participants were placed between two kitchens. One kitchen was neat and orderly. The other was a mess of unwashed dishes, cluttered surfaces, and noisy appliances.
The people in both kitchens were asked to write either about a time when they felt in control of their lives or a time when they didn’t. Then, they were offered cookies, crackers, and carrots.
Guess who ate the most cookies? The people in the messy kitchen who were primed to feel out-of-control ate almost twice as many cookies as those in the clean kitchen who also wrote about feeling out-of-control.
So living in chaos and feeling helpless can trigger a biscuit binge? Who knew…
Many interior design problems are expensive to fix. This one isn’t. Tidy your kitchen and hide the biscuits. The 15 seconds that it takes to find them may be long enough to change your mind.
That’s the tip from Emma Webb, an interior designer and a passionate advocate for design that helps us to feel better.
“People in cluttered spaces are 77 pc more likely to be overweight,” she says. “They’re also more likely to be stressed and depressed.” On the flip side, people who live amidst clutter are also more likely to be creative. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
But let’s deal with those who find clutter problematic. As Webb explains it, clutter is something that you know needs to move somewhere else.
“Every time you pass a pile of clutter it puts pressure on the brain, causing small but regular doses of stress.”
Clutter is the sock that belongs in an upstairs drawer but has been on the kitchen radiator for two weeks because you’re waiting to see if the second sock turns up.
Every time you see it, something inside you groans. That’s your brain, having a stress episode. Tidy the sock and your brain will find something else to stress about.
The trouble with thinking about healthy homes is that it’s overwhelming. Take chemicals, for example. They’re everywhere.
Stain-resistant carpets, anti-stick cookware, composite flooring and surfaces, flame-retardant plastics, glue, and paint all emit potentially harmful chemicals. Some of these are linked to cancer. Others, including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) mess with our endocrine system.
“When you start talking about toxins in the environment, people glaze over,” Webb admits. The problem is too big and, because we can’t fix it, we tend to switch off. Her solution is to take the incremental approach. We can’t eliminate all harmful chemicals from our homes, but there many small things that we can do to make our homes healthier. Use natural materials where possible. Reduce cleaning chemicals. And open the windows (ventilation is key).
The obvious solution to improving air purity is to use plants. Lots and lots of plants.
The current recommendation from NASA, the organisation who first publicised the air-purifying qualities of plants in the late 1980s, is to have one plant per square metre of living space. That would be 16 plants in an average (4 x 4 metre) living room. If that sounds excessive, there are also gadgets.
Ikea has recently introduced the Starkvind air purifier which comes as a floor-standing piece (€129) – it looks a bit like a fancy speaker – or disguised as a side table (€179).
It’s a clever design with the cable concealed within the leg of the table and a double filter system. One captures larger particles like hair and dust. The other is claimed to filter out “approximately 99.5pc of smaller airborne particles” including dust and pollen.
You can also buy a carbon gas filter add-on to absorb “various gaseous pollutants such as formaldehyde and other VOCs.” How many spider plants does it take to beat a Starkvind air purifier? The jury’s still out on that.
One thing’s for certain though. No air purifying gadget, however nifty in design, will lift the spirits like a living plant.
Humans respond to nature in a positive way and design that acknowledges and seeks to harness that is known as biophilic design. Webb’s own living room is case in point, with views into the garden and doors that fold away to open up the space to the outdoors in the summer months. Full height glazing throws light deeper into the room and the 2.8m ceiling is higher than the standard 2.4m.
“It feels more comfortable and allows better views of the stars at night.” The porcelain tiles have a biomorphic pattern that mimics natural stone.
“Because we have underfloor heating we can wander around happily barefoot. All the materials are natural – leathers, skins, wood – which age gracefully and have different textures that enhance our sensory enjoyment of the space.” And there are plants everywhere.
Then, there’s movement. The temptation, when designing a home, is to make everything as convenient as possible. But spending too much time sitting still is unhealthy. People have described sitting as “the new smoking”. It’s not. Smoking is much worse than sitting. But it’s good to get up and move around.
“Lack of movement and exercise have been linked to the decline of the brain,” Webb says. “So consider making your home a little less convenient.”
Hiding the remote control from your elderly parents will keep them mobile (but may not be a popular move). Situating a laundry room at the top of the house will make you climb the stairs more often. Try and do this barefoot. Banning shoes from the house will create a cleaner, quieter living space. It may also help us think better.
A decade-long study at Bournemouth University showed that school children who wore no shoes in the classroom engaged better with their studies than those who wore shoes. That could be a useful one when working from home. Another consideration is seating.
The Danish company, Vluv, have issued a range of “healthy seating” which works very much like a Swiss ball, upholstered in soft fabric in muted Scandi colours, with a base ridge ring (so that it doesn’t roll away). They cost €139. If you already have a Swiss ball, a fabric cover from Decathlon costs €20.
See webb.ie, ikea.com, meadowsandbyrne.com