It's True: Clutter and Obesity Share a Direct Link

Back in 2012, researchers at UCLA found that women who live in cluttered homes have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Yep.  Living with and managing a large volume of possessions, not to mention a jam-packed schedule, is stressful.  Who knew?

The thing is, the families in this study were identified as typical two-income families, not people with a hoarding disorder.  So a cluttered home isn't rare; in fact, it's pretty mainstream.

cluttered kitchen shelves

They're calling it an epidemic.

There's another situation that's also becoming mainstream, not only in the U.S. but around the world.  According to the World Health Organization, its occurrence has more than tripled in the last 40 years.  It now affects nearly 2 billion adults, including me.

Maybe you've guessed that I'm talking about obesity.  Believe me, any snippet of information that might motivate or help me succeed at losing weight catches my attention.

Well, guess what?  There's scientific evidence that clutter and obesity have more of a direct connection than the fact that they're both common conditions.

Let me explain.

I'll boil down the explanation given by Jonathan Bailor, author of The Setpoint Diet.

  • Stress hormones are involved in weight and hunger signals.  One of the most influential on weight is cortisol.

  • One of cortisol's many functions is to trigger the release of insulin, which then delivers glucose to cells so you have the energy to deal with short-term stress.  It's part of your body's natural survival response.  

  • If a predator starts chasing you (the typical sort of short-term stress faced by humans for the majority of our history), you need fuel fast.  Then the crisis ends, the glucose is burned off, and a relaxation response gradually returns the body's systems to normal.

  • The trouble is that your body responds to all stresses in the same way.  If you experience marital problems, financial difficulties, job stress, an argument, worry, or guilt and shame over your weight or your clutter, it's all "a lion is chasing you right now" as far as your body is concerned.  

This is a problem.

adult lion
If you're living a typical modern life, filled with busyness and clutter, your body keeps churning out cortisol as if you were always in mortal danger.  Because cortisol stimulates the release of insulin, that hormone also stays elevated.  

When insulin is elevated 24/7, insulin receptors in your cells get so used to it they stop responding.  They just ignore it.

This condition, known as insulin resistance, means that cells don't accept the glucose that insulin is trying to deliver to them.  The cells remain starved for energy, and the glucose remains in the bloodstream.  Glucose has to go somewhere, so it winds up in your fat cells, because fat cells will always accept more energy for storage.

The result?  In response to elevated cortisol, you have high insulin, high blood glucose levels, and increased fat storage.  In other words, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

As if that weren't bad enough, the insulin resistance caused by elevated cortisol sends a message to the brain that your cells aren't getting the glucose they need.  

So not only do you lack energy and stamina, you also crave glucose.  Guess where you can find the most?  That's right – in sugars and starches.  And what makes weight loss nearly impossible?  Intense cravings for sugar and starches.

Well isn't that great.

Clutter hurts everyone who lives with it.

pile of plush animals
Those 2012 researchers found elevated cortisol in women who live in cluttered homes (men were less affected).

But when Mama ain't happy, no one else is either.  That means family relationships are more stressful, which is bad for everyone's health and really detrimental to happiness.  

Now imagine what these typical cluttered homes are doing to the kids who grow up in them.  At the very least, the study reported that:

  • the children rarely go outside
  • the families relied heavily on convenience foods (i.e. highly processed salt, fat, and sugar-laden crud)
  • family members typically ate at different times and in different rooms
  • stockpiling of food and toilet paper was common
  • entire walls would be devoted to displays of Barbie dolls, Beanie Babies, Legos, superhero action figures, and other toys.

OMG!  This sounds like a recipe for bad health, weight problems, disconnection from other people, mindless collecting, and hoarding.  This is "normal" for these kids.

Ready to clear some clutter?

You'll love my book Uncluttered: How Minimalism Helps You Create the Life of Your DreamsUncluttered is a comprehensive handbook for a simpler life – not a one-size-fits-all approach, but a creative, encouraging, multi-faceted guide to help you remove the stuff that's bogging you down, escape the consumer treadmill, find time for what you care about, and much more!

You can be happier with less, and this revised and expanded edition of Uncluttered will show you how.

Updated July 2022


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