Is your 'stuff' weighing you down?

It’s no secret that we encourage space efficient design for its environmental and energy-efficiency benefits. But what a lot of people don’t realise is that we also love it for the effect it has on us mentally, socially and economically.

The economical point is fairly straight forward - if we were to assume that every square metre of house cost around $2000 to build, and that funds were sourced from a mortgage that charges around half that again over the life of the loan, then the extra six metres in that poorly laid out living room could cost the equivalent of a round-the-world holiday for the entire family.

The mental and social benefits can be harder to quantify, but we recently discovered research from the UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) which found that the amount of ‘stuff’ in our ever-growing homes is linked to depression and stress, especially for women. The more possessions the household had, the higher the levels of stress hormones in the women.

“Women who characterize their homes as restful, restorative, or tidy had lower stress levels. Fathers often omitted any mention of the same messy and unfinished spaces and were unaffected physiologically. Why? Likely because mothers still take on the lion’s share of responsibility for housework and because we still place value on tidiness. Our spreading possessions take oh so much time to organize and clean.
— Jeanne Arnold, UCLA Professor of Anthropology

The research also found that women tend to subconsciously associate the way they feel about their homes, with the way they feel about the relationships they have in them. In other words, more stuff equals not only more stress and depression for women, but is also damaging to relationships.

Sadly, this doesn’t surprise us, and it’s not the first time we’ve come across good evidence for decreasing the size of our homes and our collections of objects. Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, otherwise known as ‘The Minimalists’, have built a following of over a million people, teaching the value of reducing the number of objects in our lives.

We’re taught to work foolishly hard for a non-living entity, donating our most precious commodity—our time—for a paycheck … Ultimately most of us come to believe there’s more value in a paycheck—and all the stuff that paycheck can buy us—than there is in life itself.
— Joshua Fields Millburn, Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists

As we work with our clients, we encourage them to be wary of becoming too swept up in the 'once-in-a-lifetime-dream-home' frenzy.  Instead, we encourage people towards an ‘intentional home’ – a home that delivers the kind of family spaces they want to create, and a home that will house the amount of ‘stuff’ they choose to have.

Anyone wishing to explore this line of thought and interrogate their own individual circumstances may be interested in an event we are hosting in November as part of the Design Canberra Festival. We will be collaborating with inspirational Queensland architects and engagement specialists POD (People Oriented Design) to present POD’s trademarked innovative and educational workshop about sustainable housing design: The Least House Necessary. Tickets are available here.

Meanwhile, we encourage you to pass a critical eye over your home, and consider how much ‘space’ and how much ‘stuff’ is mentally, socially and economically optimal for you.