What kind of language might you use if you took someone on a tour around your home? Adjectives like disorganised, restful, calming – cluttered? What other sorts of words? (Hopefully you wouldn’t use that word “should”).
This American study took a hard look at words used by thirty working parents, all heterosexual, describing their homes in video tours. The authors categorised these words into ‘restorative home words’ (eg. calming, soothing, peaceful, descriptions of gardens and plants) and ‘stressful home words’ (eg. disarray, disorganised, descriptions of repairs that need doing).
At the same time, the researchers measured the couples’ cortisol levels. (Hence my accountability partner always refers to this paper as ‘the spit one’). They revealed some interesting results that, in my opinion, are often mis-quoted and misunderstood; this is not an academic paper concluding that clutter causes depression.
The participants in this study who showed low mood, measured by their cortisol levels, were likely to use more ‘stressful home words’ describing their homes than ‘restorative home words’. Although ‘clutter’ would come under the stressful home word category, so did words like ‘messy’, ‘remodel’, ‘expansion’. Whilst there’s an indication of a relationship between stressful home words and low mood, to interpret a causal relationship between clutter and depression is an overstatement.
What’s interesting is that there was a difference between men and women. The men in this study didn’t have as strong relationships between low mood and stressful home words as the women.
“Ha!”, the confirmation biased among us might say, “I always knew men and women react differently to clutter and disorder at home”. And again, without more research in this specific area, we’d be over inferring. However, isn’t it interesting that these couples share the same home, yet respond differently? Surely an indication that people respond differently to their homes and what’s in them? Evidence that clutter is subjective perhaps?