Caroline Rogers set up Room to Think in 2013. She recently achieved a masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology where she completed research into the association between clutter and wellbeing. We hope to announce publication of her research in the coming months.
I believe that home could be given far more attention than it currently receives in its contribution to wellbeing. Psychologists continue to debate exactly what ‘wellbeing’ is, but they do agree it’s much more than just feeling a bit chipper. It’s about having meaning and purpose in life, good relationships, health and a sense of achievement and belonging. How – and where – we live is rarely a consideration.
Yet if you trawl through the scholarly literature on home, there are constant references to home as a place of sanctuary. It’s the one place where we can really be ourselves and – hopefully – feel safe. One scholar used words like ‘womb’, ‘nest’ and ‘cradle’1, almost as if home (could) provide a sense of being perfectly parented. Where else can we feel secure enough to dance like nobody’s watching, behave badly, get naked, be private or say things we wouldn’t put on Twitter?
There is one predominant, permeating component within all the home literature. Home’s connection with – and expression of – self-identity: who we are, what we do and where we’re going. That quote above attributed to Oprah Winfrey nailed it in a sentence. She’s absolutely right. Consider the background in our Zoom calls. Google is full of endless debate on what messages are being delivered and received about us. Such messages are interpreted based on choices to show things like bookshelves, ironing, clutter, or the use of virtual pictures and video off. There’s a reason that TV programme “Through the Keyhole” had such a long run. (The host Lloyd Grossman would invite panels to guess the celebrity owners of specific homes). We’re good at making those guesses – and more often than not we’re correct.
Whether it’s through the keyhole or on Zoom, the message that our homes portray us is backed up in scholarly study. Imagine how much fun it would have been to be one of researcher Sam Gosling’s study participants. You’d have been asked to make inferences about people’s personalities based on looking at photos of their rooms. It’s notable that Goslings’ participants not only made inferences consistent with each other, but that their inferences were “often accurate”.2
In the 1980s Russell Belk wrote a seminal academic paper about possessions being ‘extensions of the self’3. I’d join Oprah in going as far as saying that homes are extensions of the self – they represent who we are, where we’re going, what we’re like and, possibly most importantly, they deliver that message to the rest of the world – and to ourselves.
Whatever that message is, it’s either helpful or unhelpful to our wellbeing. And the good thing is that when it’s unhelpful, there’s something we can do about it. And if it’s too overwhelming to do it alone, then there are hundreds of APDO members out there who can help.
When we can look around our homes and feel they communicate who we are, chances are that our wellbeing will be higher than it is for people who feel their homes are “not me” or “not how I want to be”. A US research study about to be published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology4 backs this up. These researchers collected data from people at early stages of the pandemic lockdown and found ‘a clear relationship between an individual’s attachment to home and positive mental health’. Those who have created homes that express who they are exhibited higher wellbeing than those who haven’t.
I’m disturbed that the same researchers found “considerable variability” in home attachment among their respondents. It feels wrong when people don’t live in homes that express their identity, especially when curating a home in line with self-identity is so possible. In the professional organising industry, we witness change. And yes, the changes can be seen in clients’ homes being less cluttered and more organised. However, the more meaningful change is in the homeowners themselves. I’ve worked with people who start new careers, take up exercise, change their relationships, socialise more, communicate better with their housemates, eat better, sleep better and have richer, fuller lives. All of them would attribute this to having a home that’s more them.
Creating a home that is ‘more me’ is a fruitful – and essential – thing to do. And perhaps that’s more important than ever during this time when we’re at home more than usual. I know this in my heart, I see it in my work, and it’s verified in the research I carried out into the association between clutter and wellbeing. I hope to share these results soon (it’s in final stages of peer review). Meanwhile, please let me share the last sentence of my research with you:
Home is a platform for wellbeing.