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the dark side of home: assessing possession ‘clutter’ on subjective wellbeing: roster et al, 2016

When I stumbled on this paper in 2016 it was like striking gold. Finally, I’d found some robust research on the topic of clutter.

Immediately I wondered if this might be something I could replicate, build on and examine from a positive psychology perspective.

I’ll always be grateful to Catherine Roster and Joseph Ferrari for the attention they and their colleagues have paid to clutter as a research topic. Also, they’ve both shown me great academic kindness, and they introduced me to the concept of Psychological Home.

What is Psychological Home?

Psychological home is a wonderful concept. If I had to illustrate it, it would be a photograph I didn’t take from the top of a bus. A currently homeless person had occupied a small walled area, off a pavement. They had made their bed immaculately and placed a few items neatly by its side. It looked inviting. Psychological Home is about how much effort we place into homemaking, wherever we are.

This quantitative piece of work examines the data from 1,394 subscribers to the ICD website. ICD is the Institute for Challenging Disorganisation, based in Canada and the US. It’s run by some wonderful people I’ve been privileged to meet and work with, and has a great relationship with APDO, my own professional body in the UK.

The data analysis showed that home isn’t always where the heart is. Study participants scoring high on the Clutter Quality of Life Scale (a negative experience of clutter at home) also showed a low life satisfaction and lower scores on the Psychological Home scale.

That wasn’t their only result – but it got me thinking. What would people who are on top of things clutter wise score for psychological home? What about wellbeing? It was some valuable thinking, as I was to discover later.

This paper is worth a thorough read – as are Roster and Ferrari’s other papers on clutter at home and at work.

Sadly, not open access, but you can find it on ResearchGate.

Here’s the abstract:
This research investigates a “dark side of home,” created when the experiential quality of home is compromised by ‘clutter,’ defined as an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces.

Based on relationships among constructs largely developed by phenomenologists, we conceptualize psychological home as a reflection of one’s need to identify self with a physical environment. Clutter was proposed as an antagonist to the normally positive benefits and consequences of home for subjective well-being. An online survey was conducted with a population of U.S. and Canadian adults.

A structural equation model was used to test hypotheses. Findings reveal that place attachment and self-extension tendencies toward possessions positively contribute to psychological home. Clutter had a negative impact on psychological home and subjective well-being. These findings contribute to a broader understanding of how meanings of home are both cultivated and undermined by individuals’ place-making efforts.

“I thoroughly recommend anyone to do this – I felt so much better afterwards. It was something I had meant to do for ages but couldn’t ever find the time and felt so disheartened when I tried to do it alone.”

– t, bristol

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