Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Clean Up the Clutter and Create Some Calmness

by Jason Caillier


Several months ago, we moved to a new city in a new house. Having lived in our previous house for about seven years, we became accustomed to everything having "its place." If I needed a hole punch, I knew exactly where to find it: second shelf on the lower left-hand side of the desk. If I needed an air pump to inflate a beach ball, I knew exactly where to look: office closet on the top shelf in a box labeled fun. If I felt like reliving the early nineties by wearing a shiny reflective shirt reminiscent of a disco ball, I knew exactly where to go: bedroom closet on the far left of the hanging rod.

Once we moved, all of our stuff had to find a new place to "live." (Fortunately, I was able to rescue my shiny disco ball shirt from the donate pile my wife had created.) While the new house has a bit more square footage, it's just laid out differently and is missing rooms or places to which we had become accustomed. The most noticeable missing space is a separate office. We have plans to do a small remodel in the dining room which will add built-in cabinets, a desk, and bookcases that will create a place for about a dozen boxes that are yet to be unpacked. It will turn our dining room into a multi-function room that with doors on the cabinets closed or open can make it formal or functional, respectively.

Well, in the rush of moving in and starting a new job, you can guess we left a small corner of the house a little cluttered with boxes. They landed there with all intentions of unpacking or moving them "next week." Well, any parent who has moved can attest to the fact that life gets busy and it's easy to forget something like these boxes for a month, or two, or three….or six.

We are approaching the install date of the new cabinets, so I stayed up late one night to clear out the corner. The next day, my wife woke up and was pleasantly surprised, but my real surprise came later in the day. My son did not notice the area until he came home from school, but once he did notice it, he couldn't stop commenting on how the room looked bigger and cleaner. While we ate dinner that night, no less than seven times did he comment on the uncluttered space. You could sense a positive vibe about him.

The Research

Little did I know, researchers, Carly M. Thornock, Larry J. Nelson, Clyde C. Robinson, and Craig H. Hart, had been studying The Direct and Indirect Effects of Home Clutter on Parenting. Their research indicates a connection between household clutter and maternal authoritarian parenting. Authoritarian parenting is characterized by strict rules, high expectations, little warmth, and fewer choices for children. The authors note that maternal authoritarian parenting is often related to "unfavorable outcomes for children" (786).

The study examined 177 mothers of children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old and found that home clutter was "strongly related to child emotionality" which influences a mother's "tenseness/nervousness" and leads to a connection to instances of a mother's higher level of authoritarian parenting. In short, the research suggests that a cluttered house influences the emotional stress level of children which can in turn influence how a mom relates to them. The authors say it this way, "mothers are most affected by the clutter of their homes if their children are fussy and reactive" (790). While moms are able to deal with the stress of clutter, when combined with the fussiness of a child, it can all add up to cause problems for the mom.

This is an interesting finding that helped me understand my situation. My wife is FAR from being an authoritarian parent, and she has been very patient with the clutter surrounding our move. She's been okay with it, knowing that we have a plan for what is being built this month. Our kids, however, do not process things the same. When I cleaned up that corner to prepare for the install, I anticipated my wife to be the one to comment the most about the cleanup, but was surprised that it was our kids who were more impacted. The pleasantness in our kids that seemed to result from a little clean up was great in that it took away a stress we really did not realize we were experiencing.

So, if you have a little clutter in your home, take a moment to clean it out. In so doing, you may help create a clear environment that leads to a little less stress for everyone. You might as well ask the kids to help. You can convince them by telling them that research says it's good for them.

In which area of your living space are you going to clear away the clutter?

Thornock, C. M., Nelson, L. J., Robinson, C. C., & Hart, C. H. (2013). The direct and indirect effects of home clutter on parenting. Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal for Applied Family Studies, 62(5), 783-794.

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