Clean Your House, Lose Weight!
Like many fat people, I LOVE abundance. I lust for plenty: fat Christmas trees, big houses, nice cars, and, above all, many many many books. Books! I love 'em! They line the walls of my living room, den, bedrooms, basement. They lurk in attic boxes.
So I’m a bit alarmed to learn that household clutter might inhibit weight loss. Yet Deanie at my weight clinic says that when patients announce they’ve spent the week cleaning, they likely spent the week dropping pounds as well.
"Your home is a metaphor for your soul,” Deanie explains. “Cleaning your house is a metaphor for dropping weight."
In April, I try this theory out. I start with the fridge. I toss every box and bottle that is past its “use by” date. Out goes the sour cream (not so hard), peanut butter (beloved friend), and refrigerator cookies (my lovers!). I pour out an entire $15 bottle of wine (ouch)!
It makes an immediate difference. I am astonished to total my calorie balance for the day: 1,129—the lowest in months. The next morning, I hop on the scale. Holy Moly! After four months of hanging onto 200 pounds, I’ve dropped five pounds in a week: 195. The next day, I see 193 for the first time.
So what’s that all about? Can cleaning actually help you lose weight? If is true, why aren’t all overweight Americans whirling around their houses with vacuum cleaners?
Well, for one thing, the idea of decluttering is exhausting.
When my husband politely suggests that I might, possibly, sometime, on a good day, sort through a stack, I roll my eyes.
His request is more than reasonable given the stack stalagmites growing in the cave once known as our basement.
But it makes me feel unaccountably weak. I can’t breathe.
"Hold on there!" I tell him. "I am busy, busy, busy!" I have to go to work, to the gym. Nothing can come between me and weight loss, remember?
Other tasks claim priority. In fact, ALL other tasks claim priority. Filing health-insurance forms. Changing the cat litter.
Why are you rushing me? I whine. What difference does it make when I do it? I’ll get to it when I have time. Which will be approximately never.
Yet, for the past few months, I've been stuck on a weight plateau. Could clearing clutter really help me break out of this rut? I surf the internet in search of more information.
I can’t find any empirical research on connections between clutter and pounds, cleaning and weight loss. But weight-loss clinicians, professional organizers, and even weight-losers themselves have all noticed links.
One clinician, Diane Petrella, a psychotherapist who writes for the blog Dieting and You, describes throwing stuff away as “the best-kept secret of weight-loss success."
"I have observed that clients who live in cluttered and disorganized homes often struggle with weight issues as well," she writes. "The heaviness of their homes mirrors the heaviness of their bodies and the heaviness of their spirit. Their stuff is like a protective security blanket in the same way that excess weight provides protection."
"Releasing unnecessary stuff emotionally frees you to release unnecessary weight," she explains.
The Jacksonville Weight Loss Center in Florida recommends that patients thoroughly clean their homes before even beginning a weight-loss attempt. A cluttered home can make you feel psychologically disorganized and out of control, the site notes. "A clean, organized home that you feel comfortable in and in control of will take you far in creating the psychological state you need to lose weight."
Professional organizers agree.
The organizing website Unclutterer.com devotes a whole forum to the topic of Clutter and Weight. "I've done some decluttering, and weight I struggled to lose has seemed to magically disappear without my doing anything different," notes RJ. “One friend said she got rid of 27 pounds of clutter and also 27 pounds off of her body."
Body fat and clutter are both forms of self-protection, suggests Karen Kingston, author of Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. "By building layers of fat or clutter around yourself, you hope to cushion yourself against the shocks of life, and particularly against emotions you have difficulty handling," she writes. "It gives you the illusion of being able to control things and prevent them from affecting you too deeply."
Cleaning house and losing weight both involve learning better ways to take care or oneself, says Peter Walsh, an organizer on the TLC television show Clean Sweep. As Walsh led teams to declutter hoarders’ homes, he noticed that many hoarders are overweight. Weight and clutter are both aspects of the American urge to consume, Walsh thinks. “We spend too much, we buy too much, and we eat too much,” Walsh writes. He has written an entire diet manual on the topic: Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?: An Easy Plan for Losing Weight and Living More.
Melting Mama, who blogs about life after weight-loss surgery, notes that some patients begin hoarding possessions after the procedure. "People feel compelled to go and get THINGS to fulfill a void where the food used to go," she writes, adding, "The post weight-loss surgery patient wants to fill something... a need, a want, a loss... over and over."
Melting Mama sees similarities in public reactions to both hoarders and the morbidly obese. As evidence, she offers this sampling of Facebook reactions to the television show Hoarders:
• "How can people live like that, it's disgusting!"
• "Why can't you just stop?"
• "Why can't you just clean up your house? Your life?"
Hoarding is like inside-out obesity, she muses. With hoarding, as with morbid obesity, your issues are given a tangible presence, she notes. "You can see, feel, and touch your emotional problems."
"For hoarders, the problems are all stacked up, thrown about, discarded around the house, or bought from the Home Shopping Network. With morbid obesity, not only can you see your issues, you wear them."
Enough! I’m sold. I rush out to my side porch, one of several dumping grounds around our home, to take inventory. If it helps me lose weight, I’ll throw out the whole house!