The connection between wellness and your physical environment
By Emily Campbell, Yorabode
Going to sleep on a crisp bed or making my morning coffee without last night’s dishes lingering keeps me at ease. A workspace clear of clutter helps me focus. Each spring when I open the windows, I feel an energetic boost. Most of us inherently understand the benefits of a great space, but it’s only recently that the connection between wellness and our physical environment has gained wide attention. A 2009 study measured how people describe their homes in relation to their stress levels. It found that women who live in more stressful (cluttered, unfinished) environments have poorer mental, physical, and emotional health than those who live in a restorative environment (one that is restful and natural). (1)
So what elements in your physical environment affect well-being? How? And what can we do to make sure our space supports us?
Natural light and ventilation make a home feel cleaner and inhibit mould growth. Keeping in tune with the sun also helps you sleep. Open your curtains, clean your windows, and consider a lighter colour or more reflective material next time you renovate.
Imagine not being in a scramble when guests are coming over, or asking the delivery person to excuse the mess. Removing clutter from your home can reduce anxiety and promote connectedness. (2) Turn all your hangers backwards. When you hang them up again, you’ll be able to tell what’s not getting worn. If you haven’t worn a shirt all season, put it in a give-away bag.
Bad air makes you sick—sneezing, coughing, lethargy, headaches. Those symptoms can take time to develop, and they’re subtle enough that it can be unclear why you’re feeling the way you do. Consider an air quality monitor and more plants; open your windows and make sure to use your heat recovery ventilator and the fans in your kitchen and bathroom.
In 2012, there were an estimated 84,000 chemicals in the US. (3) Many of these are unregulated and untested. It’s not possible to eliminate all toxins, so I aim for moderation. A multi-purpose cleaner with vinegar is a great replacement for “green” cleaners that often still contain toxins. (4)
How often can you find just what you’re looking for when you need it? Being organized saves time cleaning and searching. It also saves money, because you’re not buying duplicates. Group like with like, and store items in clear bins so you can see at a glance what you have.
Small changes can make a big impact on our space and consequently our well-being. Try cleaning the windows in one room or decluttering the junk drawer. Incorporate healthy home habits into your routine. Take five minutes before bed every night to clear off a table. Once you start, I’ll bet that the pep in your step will be just enough of a push to keep going.
April Miller, the professional organizer, and I developed a workshop that elaborates on these concepts. There’s another Healthy Home workshop happening on November 7; you can sign up at yorabode.ca/events.
(1) Mental, physical, and emotional health is assumed based on cortisol levels throughout the day. Poor health is associated with flatter diurnal cortisol slopes, and better health is associated with steeper cortisol slopes.
(2) The connection between clutter and mental health is now well documented. The New York Times published a feature on this topic in January 2019.
(3) We can assume we have many of the same products here in Canada. Data comes from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US. Reporting is required based on the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. More information can be found through this document produced by the Government Accountability Office.
(4) Check out Adria Vasil’s column Ecoholic, published by NOW, or her book, Ecoholic Home. She’s great at cutting through greenwashing.
Emily Campbell, Yorabode
Emily graduated from Dalhousie University with a Masters of Architecture in 2013. Her studies focused on urban housing and culminated in a thesis titled “Building a Neighbourhood.” She led two seasons of the Wandering Pavilion, a pop-up public space that incited positive and proactive conversation reimagining communities. After almost 7,000 hours of working as an intern architect, Emily started her own business, Yorabode, where she now helps homeowners take care of their homes. She walks her lovably crazy pup for two hours every day, prefers decaf coffee, and often feels the need to be in or around water.