// Lose the clutter: Lose weight & health problems!
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« on: Jan 03, 2008 09:38 PM »


A Clutter Too Deep for Mere Bins and Shelves
NYT

After the holidays, many shoppers load up their carts with storage bins, shelving systems and color-coded containers, all in a resolute quest to get organized for the new year.

The country’s collective desire to clean up is evident in the proliferation of organization-oriented businesses like the Container Store and California Closets. Reality shows like “Mission Organization” on HGTV and “How Clean is Your House?” on Lifetime feed a national obsession to declutter. The magazine Real Simple has even created a $13 special issue on cleaning house.

Getting organized is unquestionably good for both mind and body — reducing risks for falls, helping eliminate germs and making it easier to find things like medicine and exercise gear.

“If you can’t find your sneakers, you aren’t taking a walk,” said Dr. Pamela Peeke, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and the author of “Fit to Live” (Rodale, 2007), which devotes a section to the link between health and organization. “How are you going to shoot a couple of hoops with your son if you can’t even find the basketball?”

But experts say the problem with all this is that many people are going about it in the wrong way. Too often they approach clutter and disorganization as a space problem that can be solved by acquiring bins and organizers.

Measures like these “are based on the concept that this is a house problem,” said David F. Tolin, director of the anxiety disorders center at the Institute of Living in Hartford and an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Yale.

“It isn’t a house problem,” he went on. “It’s a person problem. The person needs to fundamentally change their behavior.”

Excessive clutter and disorganization are often symptoms of a bigger health problem. People who have suffered an emotional trauma or a brain injury often find housecleaning an insurmountable task. Attention deficit disorder, depression, chronic pain and grief can prevent people from getting organized or lead to a buildup of clutter. At its most extreme, chronic disorganization is called hoarding, a condition many experts believe is a mental illness in its own right, although psychiatrists have yet to formally recognize it.

Compulsive hoarding is defined, in part, by clutter that so overtakes living, dining and sleeping spaces that it harms the person’s quality of life. A compulsive hoarder finds it impossible, even painful, to part with possessions. It’s not clear how many people suffer from compulsive hoarding, but estimates start at about 1.5 million Americans.

Dr. Tolin recently studied compulsive hoarders using brain-scan technology. While in the scanner, hoarders looked at various possessions and made decisions about whether to keep them or throw them away. The items were shredded in front of them, so they knew the decision was irreversible. When a hoarder was making decisions about throwing away items, the researchers saw increased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the brain involved in decision-making and planning.

“That part of the brain seemed to be stressed to the max,” Dr. Tolin said. By comparison, people who didn’t hoard showed no extra brain activity.

While hoarders are a minority, many psychologists and organization experts say the rest of us can learn from them. The spectrum from cleanliness to messiness includes large numbers of people who are chronically disorganized and suffering either emotionally, physically or socially. Cognitive behavioral therapy may help: a recent study of hoarders showed that six months’ therapy resulted in a marked decline in clutter in the patient’s living space.

Although chronic disorganization is not a medical diagnosis, therapists and doctors sometimes call on professional organizers to help patients. One of them is Lynne Johnson, a professional organizer from Quincy, Mass., who is president of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization.

Ms. Johnson explains that some people look at a shelf stacked with coffee mugs and see only mugs. But people with serious disorganization problems might see each one as a unique item — a souvenir from Yellowstone or a treasured gift from Grandma.

Many clients have already accumulated numerous storage bins and other such items in a futile attempt to get organized. Usually the home space is adequate, she says, but the challenge is in teaching them how to group, sort, set priorities and discard.

Ms. Johnson says she often sees a link between her client’s efforts to get organized and weight loss. “I think someone decides, ‘I’m not going to live like this anymore. I’m not going to hold onto my stuff, I’m not going to hold onto my weight,’” she said. “I don’t know that one comes before the other. It’s part of that same life-change decision.”

On its Web site, www.nsgcd.org, the group offers a scale to help people gauge the seriousness of their clutter problem. It also includes a referral tool for finding a professional organizer. But since the hourly fees can range from $60 to $100 or more, it may be worth consulting a new book by Dr. Tolin, “Buried in Treasures” (Oxford, 2007), which offers self-assessments and advice for people with hoarding tendencies.

Dr. Peeke says she often instructs patients trying to lose weight to at least create one clean and uncluttered place in their home. She also suggests keeping a gym bag with workout clothes and sneakers in an uncluttered area to make it easier to exercise. She recalls one patient whose garage was “a solid cube of clutter.” The woman cleaned up her home and also lost about 50 pounds.

“It wasn’t, at the end of the day, about her weight,” Dr. Peeke said. “It was about uncluttering at multiple levels of her life.”

M.F.
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« Reply #1 on: Jan 07, 2008 11:30 PM »

I'm a little skeptical about how directly clutter affects weight loss and exercise (other than being able to find your sneakers), but I can definitely see how the two would correlate as a result of a complete attitude and lifestyle change: a resolution to clean up and shape up, start anew.
My mom always used to tell me I don't "see" the mess.  I admit it does take a little more than a few papers out of place to get to me, but once the mess does get to me, I get an urge to clean and can't relax until it's completely neat.  In fact I have to get up right now because there's a bunch of crayons spilled under the table and paper and pens scattered randomly accross the room!!  aaaaack!
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« Reply #2 on: Jan 08, 2008 12:24 AM »

I can't believe research time and money was spent on trying to understand why some people are "pack rats" when those resources could best be used on more important issues such as cures for diseases.   As a society we are obssessed with the acquisition of material possessions and for people who aren't of vast financial means they must often hold on to what they have until they can get something else or get more of something.  Getting and staying organized takes time and energy and for those who lead a busy lifestyle - work, school, children's extra curricular activities, etc. - time is limited unless one is willing to give up sleeping and eating.

It is hard to give up items that have sentimental value, especially when those items were given to you by a relative now deceased or hold memories of places visited or accomplishments.  For me, books are another thing hard to give up.  I've gotten better and have given away a lot of children's books during community-based book drives but there are some I won't since they have inscriptions to my children.

The one thing I've learned is that if I haven't worn a clothing item in more than 3 years, it has to go.  No more holding on to things that I know I'll never fit into again either - except maybe in my dreams.

Fa'izah
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