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Cleanliness Leads to… Healthy Eating?

healthy eating habitsI used to think I was a little crazy that a messy room would stress me out. Turns out I’m not alone.

I’m not a neat person by nature. There are certain things I like to be really, obsessively organized, but rooms are not one of them. I wish they were neat and tidy, but instead it’s a never ending battle of clutter. No matter how many times I vacuum, pick up toys, wash dishes, or scrub the tub, everything always seems to stay in a constant state of mess. While I don’t know how to master the art of cleanliness, I do know that the state of my house (or room or desk) directly reflects the state of my life. That sounds bold and over-analyzing, but it’s true. I’m just not sure which one affects the other: Do I let things get messy when I’m feeling stressed or frantic, or am I stressed and frantic because everything’s a mess?

Well, there’s a study for that. Researchers at the University of Minnesota looked at how mess and clutter affected different areas of life. I find the results fascinating: You’re more likely to be creative if you work at a messy desk; you’re more likely to be generous if you have a clean desk; and most interesting to me, you’re more likely to make healthy choices if you’re neat and tidy.

It makes sense. Think about it: When you’ve got your act together, it’s reflected in your home. Things are put away, you’re on top of the laundry, and everything is sparkly clean. When you feel in control, you’re empowered to make healthy choices. Stress can make us turn towards comfort food and bad habits. Or again, is it the other way around? If you eat healthy foods and exercise, are you more likely to be neat?

That’s just me thinking about it. Here’s what the actual researchers did:

Volunteers were put in 1 of 2 identical rooms, but one was cluttered and one was neat. They were asked to fill out a survey to keep their mind off what was really being studied. While they were there, they were also asked if they’d like to make a donation to charity or if they’d like to eat an apple or chocolate. The volunteers in the tidy room were more likely to make a donation and to choose the apple. Those in the messy room picked the chocolate.

A second scenario looked at creativity. Volunteers again sat in one of two rooms: one was bare and the other messy. They were asked to come up with 10 different uses for a ping pong table. While both groups came up with the same amount of ideas, the group in the messy room came out on top with more creative and interesting ideas. (The ideas were assessed by judges using a 3 point scale. They didn’t know what was being studied.)

What I suppose this really means is that it depends what kind of result you’re looking for: Do you need to jog your brain to bust through that writer’s block or help your daughter come up with a totally unique idea for the school science fair? Maybe it’s ok to slack on the cleaning routine. But if you’re trying to lose weight or teach your kids to think of others, you might want to think about getting that messy bedroom in order.

So maybe tackling two battles at the same time, mess and diet, is actually the way to go about it. But don’t fret if that’s just not going to work for you: “…many ultra high-achievers including, it is believed, Einstein liked to be surrounded by clutter, they say.” (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

If you’re trying to reign in the clutter (and help your eating habits at the same time) try some of these simple tips:

  • Place designating baskets or containers in every room that can serve as a “dump spot” or “catch all.” Then when it’s time to clean up, you can easily toss things in the basket, or take the basket to other rooms as you put things where they belong.
  • Spend 10 minutes picking up before you go to bed. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in such a short period of time, and how refreshing it will feel to wake up to a tidy house.
  • Make a cleaning schedule. Cleaning the whole house in one day can be overwhelming. Instead, pick a day for each activity. Organize the playroom on Monday, vacuum on Tuesday, clean the kitchen Wednesday, etc.
  • Recruit your kids to help. They help make the mess, they can help clean it up! Even my 19-month-old helps me pick up his toys (although many of them end up right back on the floor!).
  • Follow the “1 in, 1 out” rule: When you bring something new home, you have to get rid of something you already have. Make a donation pile and give things away once a month.

How do you keep tabs on clutter? Do you notice an effect on your eating habits?!

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