December 2019 · 1400 words · 7 minute read

Home is where the heart is, but it is also where our lives begin and end each day. Shelter is one of the core human requirements for life, right up there with food and water. Without shelter we are exposed to the elements, subject to the whims of nature. Our homes are where we spend a substantial portion of our lives.

They provide security, storage space, sustenance and a place to relax. They are where we sleep, where we go into our most vulnerable states, the environment where we can be truly ourselves. For many of us, the concept of home is tied right up into our personal identity and it’s sanctity has been enshrined in a number of laws around the world. It’s why law enforcement officers need probable cause and warrants to enter a home. Our homes are truly our own.

Our homes also reflect who we are as people. They are an outwards expression of our personalities. A messy, slovenly home tends to say something about the person who resides there. When we turn up to a space and it’s covered in rubbish and dirt we can see that they don’t respect their surroundings. We tend to assume that they don’t respect themselves as a result. Worse, we begin to denigrate to the same mental state, if they don’t take care of the space then why should I? A negative feedback loop eventuates.

Respecting ourselves starts at home, it is a positive self reinforcing cycle. A clean, tidy, comfortable home is a safe environment we can grow within. A dirty, shit hole is not. When I have a clean desk I like to work and write more. When I have a clean kitchen I cook more. When I have a clean bedroom it’s easier to get to sleep. When I have a clean bathroom it’s just genuinely less stressful. Having things thrown around my home, not being able to find things, not being able to find a clean surface. This is stressful.

This impacts me in a number of ways. These ways may be different to others but I would guess that they’re not too different from the conversations I have had with friends and family. When I’m stressed, anxious or bordering on depressive periods, the first thing that tends to go is my desire to do household chores. Likewise, when I’m coming out of the funks the first thing I tend to do is clean up my environment. Why?

At first, I believed that the arrow of causality ran from bad mental state -> messy house but now I’m not so sure. I am coming to understand that the relationship cannot be considered to be so linear. Instead, it must be considered to be a cyclic phenomenon which is triggered by an external cue.

This external cue, impulse or system disturbance can be anything. A bad day at work, poor sleep, a sore body, a bad breakup. Literally anything. There is no guarantee what the cause will be, only that there will be one.

This disturbance throws the standard system off. I feel a bit down so I let the house get messy, dishes don’t get put away and things begin to pile up. Now, I’m cooking around random pots and pans and dirty dishes. Going to sleep in an unmade bed with dirty sheets and stepping over piles of junk everywhere around my house to get out the door.

I hate the experience, it causes me even more stress. Then, it gets worse. I become sloppier and sloppier as this cycle plays itself out. The filth begins to stockpile. Why should I be cleaning up when the place is already dirty I ask myself? So I don’t. I don’t do basic life tasks. I don’t take care of myself. My sleep gets worse, I spend more time procrastinating and my health and diet tend to get worse. My body hurts more. I’m tardy to work. Life just gets worse in every dimension.

Then I snap, another system disturbance kicks in, this one being of a more positive fashion and I end up deep cleaning the whole house. Usually this emotion is self disgust or guilt to trigger the new cycle. I deep clean the entire house, things get put away, I do the groceries, I eat healthy food, I get outside, I go for a walk. My mood almost instantly improves with the return to cleanliness. I start to return to the things that I like to do, the things that make me happy. I cook healthier food, I exercise more, I go to bed at a reasonable hour and life gets incrementally better over time instead of worse.

There is a strong correlation between my internal mental state and the external environment that I find myself in. Initially, I thought that my external environment merely reflected the internal state of my mind. That is:

Naive representation of mental states and external states

But this is naive, it’s naive to think that our environments don’t influence our thinking patterns and naive to think that it is so linear. Why else are we more productive in some environments but not in others? Why do we go to a quiet spot and seek to avoid distractions when we want to get something done? Why are we in a happier mood when we’re away from our homes on holiday? Our emotional and internal states are intrinsically tied up in our environments.

Now, I am beginning to understand that inducing little stresses into my life from minor things such as dirty dishes, an untidy room or a messy desk is enough to throw me into a deeper funk. These little things make my internal state just ever so slightly worse. The problem compounds from here. It’s important for me to maintain the clean and tidy environment to ensure that my mental state remains positive and strong.

Our environments and our mental states form a complex feedback loop, a poor mental state leads to a bad environment. The bad environment impacts our mental states and so on and so forth. This representation looks more like this:

Cycle representation of mental state and home state

It is not that I wish to be a clean freak, nor do I wish to be anal retentive about cleanliness. Instead, it’s a recognition that letting the little things around the home pile up and up leads to further stress. It has a negative overall impact upon my quality of life.

I think I finally understand why some people are so particular about their homes. I think I finally understand the primal requirement for shelter and why many people are so obsessive about purchasing a home when the more economically rational decision is often to rent. I think I get it now. Or at least, I understand it at a more instinctual level outside of the cool, harsh, calculus of spreadsheets and forward projections.

Taking pride in our homes ultimately means taking pride in ourselves. The environment that we create around us reflects the things that we value and the things that we wish to showcase the world. Our homes are us and to think differently is to do a disservice to our base selves.

So, I’m going to try and focus on the little things in my home. Putting stuff away in its proper space, getting rid of things that I never use or have no value for. Making sure that various surfaces are clean and removing the visual clutter. I’m going to try this for the next few months and then I’ll write an update here regarding how it went.

I don’t think I’ll be perfect in this endeavour, but I do think that by staying on top of the little things that I’ll give myself more space to handle the big things in my life. I think that I’ll be able to reduce some of the negative repercussions from the impulses that will undoubtedly hit me and that I’ll be more resilient. I’ll also have a more beautiful home to spend time in.