Two out of three Americans are overweight, and many of us live in homes crammed with stuff—from gadgets to kitchen appliances to Grandma’s old quilts. Are those two problems related?
Yes, according to organizing—and now weight loss—guru Peter Walsh, who connects the dots in his new book, “Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight: the Six-Week Total-Life Slim Down.”
The SpareFoot Blog spoke with Walsh to get the skinny on how his program works. His responses were edited for clarity.
How did you first make a connection between cluttered homes and overweight people?
First, I didn’t want to write in this space. I’m not an exercise physiologist, and I’m not a nutritionist. I’m the guy who goes in and helps people declutter their homes and their heads.
But I started getting a deluge of emails saying, “After I followed your plan, after I decluttered my home, after I started focusing on the basic question you have—which is, ‘What is the vision you have for the home you want?’—I started making better health choices, my outlook got better and my weight improved dramatically.”
That was the genesis of my first book, “Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?,” which was a New York Times bestseller.
Why a second book on clutter and weight loss? Why now?
There has been a steady and increasing amount of research in this area, so I decided it time for another book building on the science that is increasingly pointing in the direction that our homes, our hearts, our heads and our hips are all connected.
What does this new science show about the link between too much stuff and too much body fat?
Research shows that when people are in a cluttered home, their level of stress dramatically increases and stays very high. The body releases a hormone called cortisol, which helps you react to stress and produces the fight-or-flight response. Consistently high levels of cortisol produce problems with sleep, focus and motivation, and can lead to heart damage, increased anxiety and weight gain.
Also, research shows people who are living in homes with a huge amount of clutter are 77 percent more likely to be overweight or obese. Clutter is a massive predictor of being overweight.
So, what does your six-week plan entail? Is it a complete overhaul of the home and eating habits?
I structured the book in four parts. The first part is a six-week decluttering program that helps people work sequentially and logically through each room in the home. Second, I worked with a dietitian to develop a simple, easy-to-follow meal plan—no gimmicks, it’s not a diet. Third, there’s an exercise program that starts slowly with simple walking and builds to greater activity. And fourth is a simple mindfulness piece. One thing I’ve noticed, which is supported by research, is that mindless eating really contributes to lack of health and wellness.
In your book, you have readers start by decluttering the kitchen. Is an organized kitchen important for weight loss?
Just from a logical point of view, if you’re looking at a book that helps people start to make healthier choices, it makes sense to start with the kitchen. It’s the room where we will be preparing our meals; it’s the room that will drive our food choices and where our families will share meals in a healthy and mindful way.
Do you have any easy tips for getting a kitchen in order?
Start with 10 minutes a day, working on a different cupboard or drawer each day. For your junk drawer, put all the gizmos into a cardboard box. Each time you use one of the items, wash it and put it back in the drawer.
At the end of one month, whatever’s still in box—with the exception of that turkey baster you use once a year—donate it to Goodwill. Any appliances you haven’t used in 12 months, mismatched plates and chipped glasses, you can donate. The idea is to open the space so it feels more welcoming and easy to use.
As a test, we ran 25 people through the program. The average weight loss in the six weeks was 10.1 pounds, and the most weight lost was 20 pounds. The average drop in waist size was 3 inches, and in hip measurement was 2½ inches. The star of the program has gone on to lose 50 pounds.
Does clutter cause people to be overweight?
It’s still a little early to know. There’s a chicken-and-egg thing here—which came first, the clutter or the weight? But there’s definitely a strong correlation.
Will decluttering automatically help you lose weight?
No. People are too invested in magic. They think that if they buy a treadmill that they magically will be thinner. You have to commit to a reasonable decluttering, eating, exercise and mindfulness program. The only way to make a change is to create a change, and that’s what this book is about.