Health and Cooking

Your Personal Environment and Your Health

Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived…Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation…Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forget to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here. -Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.


Last year, at some point (before I separated blogs…and it’s way back there), I wrote how clutter adversely affects your health. Since then, I have had two conversations with author friends of mine on the subject. One has opted to aim for a minimalist lifestyle, which has some perks. There is a correlation between the amount of stuff you have in your house and weight gain. Ever seen Clean House? In my opinion, almost all those cases are 9-1-1 emergencies. The last time I watched the show was 2+ years ago (while on a treadmill in the gym–hey, I cannot, and do not, control what’s on the TV’s in gyms), and each show progressively got worse. Not the hostess. The sheer volume of stuff people buy!


The other conversation I had just the other day. A newer acquaintance of mine was on the verge of giving up on her writing altogether. There were things bleeding from her personal life into her work. She was trying to force something that she simply could not force. Yesterday, she went on a clean fest, tackling–I believe–the soul-sucking closet. I am really proud of her because, for whatever reason, she considered herself to have made progress.


And she has! This is very important. Sometimes, in order to clear the mind, we must clear out the clutter! In order to tackle what’s really bothering us (in my friend’s case, it is some private matters), we must throw out junk. Or donate it. A lot of the stuff we have lying around the house is perfectly good to be “reused.” (HAHA! One of the 3 R’s in the Recycle slogan!) Donate it to a charity or goodwill store, or take it to a thrift store.


Anne Lamott’s thoughts on clutter is also important. We must make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here. I remember those episodes of Clean House, where the show’s hostess talks with the parents, or the couple, sometimes one-on-one, other times together. She tackles the heart of their buying mania. (I have not watched it, but I think Hoarders is also along the same lines.) Why they think they need to have so much stuff. The answers vary, from grief over the loss of a loved one yet unexpressed, to an impoverished upbringing, to loss of self-identification.


The one show that stands out most vividly to me was a family of four, the parents of whom had called Clean House out of fear for the health of their whole family, particularly the children. They had seen the hoarding tendencies of their kids developing at startlingly young ages and it burdened them. They felt that if they did not take action now, their kids would end up grossly overweight and incapable of letting things go. It was a difficult process but they did it. And they felt much lighter. The burden had been lifted, and many of their goods went off to local goodwill stores to help those less fortunate.


In my own personal experience, I get a mad fever to toss stuff about once a year. As a military wife, I move a lot. I cannot stand packing up all the extra stuff. In fact, whenever I move, I locate new things that I haven’t used in more than two years. If it’s good and in useable condition, it gets donated. If not, it goes into the trash. I simply cannot stand to have extra stuff lying around.


This is not a post urging people to start chucking things into the garbage can. Rather, I encourage you to take a good, honest look at your environment, and at yourself. There are always things we’d like to change about ourselves. Could one such change begin by removing the extra stuff we have lying around the house from our homes? From my personal experience, I do not need at least 1/4 of the possessions I own.


Nor am I touting minimalism. It works for some people. For others, it doesn’t. Messes help define us. We ought to take the time to recognize our reasons for the mess–for me, my desk is the only place I allow a mess; as I’m a writer, I think it stimulates creativity, but should it extend too far across the office…after a certain amount of time has passed, I get grumpy.


However, if the “messes” are more than messes; if you look around you and see piles of unused stuff that you thought would make you happy, but isn’t; if you observe within yourself that another issue lies at the root of possession-gathering; there is hope for you. There are professionals out there willing to help you, and I’m not just talking about Clean House. I did a quick search on the web and businesses like Clutter Clearer, LLC (New Orleans) and Hoarding Help In Michigan popped up right away. If you know that you cannot tackle the issues alone, seek guidance, the help and support of family and friends, professionals in the clutter business, and (for deeper issues) perhaps a councilor, psychologist, or religious figure whom you respect and trust.


Clear out the clutter necessary for cleaner air, clearer minds, and better bodies. Have a garage sale (popular in my community before moves) and make a few extra dollars. Donate, sell, and toss. Everyone whom I’ve ever known whose dealt with passing relatives, their estate sales, or their possessions, say how much better they feel once the stuff is off their hands, no matter how hard it was to let it go.


Your physical, mental, and emotional (and, dare I say it, spiritual) health are affected by the external environment. Sometimes, your household environment reflects your internal state. All of these are within your control. They are worth taking the time to tackle, to understand. Because of messes, we find out who we are and why we are here. Never forget that what is on the inside radiates outside, and what is on the outside affects how we perceive our inside. It can be a vicious cycle, but it does not have to be. You, alone, have the power to help yourself.


9 thoughts on “Your Personal Environment and Your Health”

  1. Beautifully written words from a wise lady. I see your mother’s love of language and writing has been passed on. I like this and will “repost” it on my blog. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Sheree. You have a beautiful gift for words, also. It’s nice to see you on here. Hope you join Leah’s other blog, too. Miss you.

  2. The other side of the coin to clutter or cleanliness is storage… My house used to ‘look’ clean and uncluttered; until you looked in the cupboards, wardrobes or anywhere else I could ‘hide’ stuff. I figured out that I was ‘hiding my feelings and hiding my true self’. This took a long time to figure out, which I think is an important realization. To ‘clear out my life’ I went to the extreme and it took a sexual harassment case at work to purge it all. I sold everything, bought a caravan and travelled. It was the best thing I ever did, because now we have bought a house again, I have started from scratch. And all I’ve bought is the ‘necessities’. Stuff I use on a regular basis. I’ve found that when I go to buy something, I inevitably ask myself ‘do I NEED it, will I USE it REGULARLY’. If the answer is no to any of these, I walk out of the shop- it is soooo empowering…

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this! Yes, it is true. Storage can be another form of clutter! I find your story a true inspiration. Good for you for tackling the deep issues behind your clutter. I know it was hard but as you said, it was the best thing you ever did!

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