In this episode, I am speaking with Heather Aardema, who is a functional medicine certified health coach and the founder of Root of Wellbeing, a whole body wellness and weight loss coaching practice.
We’re talking about how becoming a minimalist can improve your health and energy.
Table of Contents
In this episode, Heather and I discuss:
- How ‘less is more’ leads to more energy
- How loss of community impacts our buying habits
- The 3 different types of clutter and their impact on mood, brain health, and energy
- The scientifically proven benefits of minimalism and reducing visual chaos
- 5 simple tips for decluttering (and boosting your energy levels)
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Ari: Hey, everyone, welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m your host, Ari Witten. And today I have with me, Heather Aardema, who is a board certified and functional medicine certified health coach and the founder of Root of Wellbeing, which is a whole body wellness and weight loss coaching boutique. She’s an aspiring minimalist, a real food advocate, and a big fan of living a lighter life. She guides people towards wellness breakthroughs by helping them clear the clutter in their heads, hearts, and kitchens, so that they can get to the root of living lives they love.
And in this presentation, that’s exactly what she’s going to be talking about, which is optimizing your energy levels, your physical health, achieving superhuman energy by using this minimalistic approach. And she’s going to be giving you not just a philosophy, but a set of practical strategies. Also showing you a bunch of fascinating research on this topic. And when she told me about this topic… you know, I had a ton of speakers who wanted to speak in this summit.
And I wanted to be very selective about who I included, and also making sure that I didn’t have lots of overlap, people talking about the same things. And this was a really novel topic with that, I think, it is a really important topic and there’s some fascinating research on it. And so when she mentioned that she wanted to talk on this topic, I said, “Yes, I definitely want to include that in the Superhuman Energy Summit.” So, welcome, Heather. Such a pleasure to have you.
Heather: Thank you so much and I’m so glad that this topic resonated with you. It’s so important, especially now, today. Yeah, thank you.
The less is more mentality
Ari: Yeah. 100%. So, tell me about your approach. And I know in your presentation you have on the slide, the ‘Less is More’ mentality. So, what is that all about?
Heather: Yeah, well, you know, forever I had this idea that less was less and more was more. And I didn’t realize that you could actually find the more in less or embrace the idea that less could be more. And it didn’t really happen until I left a corporate position. I had been in corporate for 20 years and I had a pretty good job. I traveled all around the world, the UAE, Amsterdam, Brazil. I got to present to some corporate executives and I liked that challenge.
And I also had a health challenge. And I had changed my diet and lifestyle, and kind of healed myself. And there came a time where this corporate job that I had, this job that everybody else told me, “Oh, Heather, you’re so lucky you have this job. You should really appreciate it,” this job felt like clutter to me, Ari; because I knew I needed to be doing something else. I knew I had a bigger impact to make in a totally different field. I wanted to get into the wellness field.
And so I left that corporate world and I left that corporate paycheck and I was the breadwinner, and we had to shuffle a bit at home. So, my husband, and we’ve got two boys, they’re eight and nine. And we went from a very comfortable living and all of a sudden it was this kind of like this forced minimalism. And I had to realize that no, I don’t get to buy everything I want to buy because I’m kind of automatic behavior, it’s somehow ending up in my car. I actually have to pull back and be more intentional. And Ari, this has been one of the greatest gifts of my adult life, is learning how to be intentional. Learning to find the beauty in this less is more mentality.
Ari: So tell me more about the less is more mentality and how this relates to health and energy.
Heather: Okay, super. Well, it totally relates to energy. It relates to so many different dimensions of wellbeing. And so how about we just dive in? So, what I’d like to share with you, with you all today, are these three main ideas. The first one is the story of stuff. Like, how the heck do we have so much stuff anyway? And this is stuff that’s clutter. And what all is clutter? Then we’re going to move into the research. So, Ari, as you mentioned, research is really important. And there are numerous research studies out there that talk about physical clutter, and the direct impact on health. So we’re going to dive into a few research studies there. And then we will conclude with some of my favorite tips. These are simple tips for superhuman energy. Sound like a plan?
Ari: That sounds great.
Heather: Okay, alright. So I want to start off with this quote. And this is by Peter Walsh. He wrote a book called Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight. He also is really good friends with Oprah and he’s done some clutter, hoarding type shows for her as well. And so what he says here is, “You can’t make your best choices, your healthiest, your most life affirming choices in a cluttered, messy, disorganized house.” Now I know that there are some people listening and watching, and saying, “But wait a second, my clutter, what? What are you saying about me? My clutter makes me interesting.” And we’ll definitely touch on that. But at the end of the day, if you want to make the best choices you can and show up as the best version of yourself, it’s so much easier, Ari, if you remove the clutter; at least remove some of that clutter.
Ari: Quick side point. I want to mention that I am also personally very close friends with Oprah.
Heather: Are you serious?
Ari: No, I’m absolutely not serious. That is totally made up for the purposes of this conversation. Anyway, carry on.
Heather: Well, I imagine her house is like so super clean and beautiful, and not cluttered.
Ari: I would imagine I would have a beautiful house like hers too if I had however many tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars she has.
Heather: Right. And side note, like as parents with little ones, you’re just overwhelmed with plastic in the beginning. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I question that. And so anyway, alright, so let’s go ahead and dive into this first component. So the story of stuff and the dimensions of clutter, because I think it’s helpful if we understand kind of how we got to where we are today. So I don’t know about you, Ari, but I look outside my office window and I see Amazon vans driving up and down the street every single day. And for the typical American, new items are coming in the home multiple times a week. And I am not immune, I mean, there are definitely things that I am buying and bringing into my house as well.
Ari: Just, it’s worth mentioning, actually at my house it’s multiple times a day, and I’ve now nickname my wife, her name is Marcela and her maiden name is Llodra. And so, whenever a package arrives, I do her theme song, which is her nickname, which is Marcela ‘the shopping machine’ Llodra! And I celebrate the arrival of new packages from being ordered by ‘the shopping machine’, my wife.
Heather: So, I mean, oh my gosh, UPS is driving by right this moment as we talk.
Ari: Probably heading towards my house.
Heather: They’re probably heading, yes, towards your house and making like a million stops on the way because we all are buying things. And yes, there are things that we definitely need but we are also buffering from our emotions as well. It just feels good to hit that button, ‘buy now’. It feels so good. We have that dopamine hit and for a brief moment, life is good. We’re always seeking that happiness and we think that these items can bring that happiness or they’ll make our life better. And maybe they do for a short time period but at the end of the day, they make our houses heavier, and they just make our houses more chaotic. And we still have to deal with the issues that we were trying to buffer ourselves from in the beginning.
So on average, we know that we have 300,000 items in our homes. Now these are things from pens and ironing boards, all the way to the earbuds and the smartphones. And those are things that are designed to become obsolete. There’s actually a term for this, Ari, and it’s called planned obsolescence. Something that I hadn’t heard before, but it’s like, “Oh, it makes so much sense,” right? You know, I get a new iPhone and all of a sudden I need new earbuds because the old ones won’t work. And so we end up collecting and collecting, and collecting so much that we’ve got this equation that’s out of balance.
So we have new things coming into the house daily. If you pause and you think, “Oh, wait a second, how often am I taking things to Goodwill?” Or, “How often am I throwing things away or giving things to others?” and it’s an equation that’s totally out of balance. So we used to talk about spring cleaning. And so you’d clean up the house and take a bunch of things to a Donation Center. But you’re talking about like, one time period of years that you’re moving things, but the whole rest of the year you’re bringing things in. And so that’s why our homes are so overstuffed.
So if you want to take a step back and say, “Well, has it always been this way? Maybe it’s always been this way. Maybe it’s not a big deal, right?” So no, it has not always been this way. So for eons and eons it was only… I mean, food, shelter, and sex. That’s all we were thinking about. And then we had the Industrial Revolution, which was a big deal because all of a sudden there was this mass production and mass consumption.
World War Two pulled us out of the Great Depression because all of a sudden, we were making all these war things. And so we had this humming economy. And when the war was over, there was a lot of fear of, “Oh my gosh, what are we going to do? How can we keep people employed? How can we keep this economy going?” And the answer… our modern day, big budget, multimedia advertising machine, this industry that’s designed to exploit our insecurities so that we buy more stuff in search of happiness.
And Ari, I can speak to this directly because when I was in corporate for 20 years, I worked for some of the largest advertising and media companies in the world. So it was my job to come up with the idea that we would then create in the advertisements and the TV ads. And so I would come up with the idea, the creative team would then make something cool and fun, and then we’d go test it. And then I would sit in focus groups and I would watch people react to my idea. And if we thought, “Oh, wow,” like it was a winner, and people were like, “Oh, yeah, I need that. I would buy that.” So it’s a big machine. So that is kind of how we got to where we are.
And so the stuff that we have now, like, really, again, is there a problem with it? So we have stuff, right? And it definitely depends on who you ask. There are people who think it’s not a problem at all. So these are some quotes that I pulled from a New York Times article and they were just so telling. A lot of people were saying, “Well, clutter means that you lead an interesting life and stuff is important to our species. The most interesting among us, oddly have the largest of the most eclectic collection.” Another person said, “Only boring people have neat houses.” And then another said, “Well, I understand that there’s a point at which one spends too much time looking for car keys, but I like a comfortable, slightly disheveled house. To me, it looks warm and inviting, and cozy.” I don’t know, Ari, do you see yourself in any of this?
Ari: I would say we are not in a horribly disheveled house. We are more on the side of minimalism already. But yes, it’s definitely, especially with kids around and always trying to keep your kids entertained with new toys, new games and things like that. Yes, you order a lot of stuff, you accumulate stuff very fast. And then, especially, you know, stuff is developmentally appropriate for a particular age. So, like the stuff you buy for your six month old and your one year old, you know, now my son is three and a half, all that stuff is just kind of sitting there, piling up, you know, all the stuff from one and two, and so on, and no longer gets used. So yeah, it’s very easy to accumulate a lot of stuff.
Heather: Right, it’s so easy. And you’re saying you’re kind of more on the minimalism side of things where I am now. But I was definitely on the maximum side of things for a long time. And so I wanted all those things that were age appropriate but then I also wanted like a hundred things on top of it. And I just thought, “Well, you know what…” I told myself all kinds of stories, like, “I’m helping the economy, and I’m doing my part and shopping is fun,” but at the end of the day, it just felt good, really. I mean, I just wanted that rush. And I would come home from the office and we’d have dinner, and then we’d have a big plan, I’d take the kids, take them to Target and be like, “Alright, kids. Whatever you want,” because I was kind of trying to buy their happiness in a sense. And I know I’m not the only one out there.
Ari: There’s a really interesting book, I think it’s called, Constructing the Self, Constructing America, by a guy named Philip Cushman, a psychologist who wrote about… there’s a lot of overlap with what you’re talking about here. Wrote about the rise of basically this machine that was designed, especially in the United States, but now it’s global, especially after World War Two, there was a dissolution of the family unit; there was a dissolution of community of tribe.
And also, to travel became easier, it became much more common for kids to go off to college and live in a different city, to live, to get a job in a different city. For siblings of an individual family to be living in different cities and just to see each other once or twice a year or something like that. So everybody became disconnected. We lost tribe, we lost community, that this style of living that humans had been living in for millions of years, that has just really happened; that dissolution of that has happened, really in the last hundred years.
And there’s been a certain emptiness, a hole that we all feel and a sort of void, a depression, a certain subtle level of depression, like something’s missing in our lives; that has come into the picture as a result of that loss of community, of tribe, of the family unit also. And this book tracks two things; that in conjunction with the rise of a materialistic culture, a maximalist culture. Where people have been entrained to try to fill that void with buying stuff, and it also tracks, with the rise of psychotherapy as a thing, as a profession.
So that’s really what the book’s focus on is the rise of clinical psychology, of psychotherapy as a profession. And basically he makes the argument that the vast majority of modern psychological illness is actually the result of loss of human connectedness, of tribe and community. And so all of these things are tied together, community, psychotherapy, and you know, mental health issues, and materialism.
Heather: I totally see that. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. And I mean, I think of my personal family, right? I have a sister in California. I’m in Colorado, another sister in Michigan. My parents are in Ohio. My parents, you know, were raised in Montana, Illinois but it’s one generation after the next and so we’re isolated, but it’s compounded, I think. So if our parents are isolated and now we feel isolated.
Ari: And we’re now, so many generations separate from this loss of real tribe and a real community, with a group of people who all come together with a shared set of values and common goals, and common traditions and you know, things of that nature. We’re several generations removed from that. So people don’t even realize that the void that they feel, we don’t even realize what’s missing. And that what’s needed to fix that is actually to connect with other human beings, for the most part. But certainly, the answer is not just buy more stuff.
Heather: No. And that’s why minimalism can be so powerful if you use it as a platform or a gateway to more intentionality. And so you can sit back and you can think about, “Okay, what really matters most to me?” because really at the end of the day, it’s choosing not everything, but the few things that matter the most. And then really rolling up your sleeves and throwing yourself at those things so that you can lead a more energetic and happier life. For sure. For sure.
Well, I will tell you, I was raised in a household, my dad’s a minimalist, my mom’s a maximalist. And we spend a lot of time looking for my mom’s car keys growing up. It was daily. I’m not joking. I mean, it was daily, or the wallet, the wallet was always missing as well. The sunglasses, the purse, everything. And I decided, I knew my tendency was to be the maximalist and kind of just set my things down wherever, and so, things didn’t have really a designated space. And then I said, “I have to pull back from that. Even though that’s my nature, I want to be intentional and I want to live differently. And I want to have a different outcome.” And I do because I’ve decided to embrace minimalism.
The effect of clutter
So you see here, Ari, we’ve got another person saying, “There comes a point where the interesting clutter becomes a problem under which my energy is buried.” And so it’s really true. And for those who think that clutter makes them interesting, listen, I’m not saying that you have to remove all clutter, have one room in your house, your office, maybe, that’s cluttered. If you want clutter, have one room, but the whole house doesn’t have to suffer nor do the other people living in the house need to suffer. Have your little spot that’s cluttered if you feel you want that, but then make sure the rest of the home or the rest of your working space, make sure that that is calming and peaceful, and serene, so that you can really show up the way you want to.
Alright, so we’re talking a lot about stuff and we’re talking a lot about physical stuff. And so really what is clutter exactly? So here’s a quote from Joseph Ferrari. He’s a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. He studies clutter and the connection it has to wellbeing in general. And he says, “Clutter is an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces.” So I look at that and say, “Yeah, that makes sense,” but clutter is not just tangible. It’s not just physical.
Here is another quote by Peter, again, so, host of Oprah’s Extreme Clutter and the book, Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight. “Clutter is anything that stands between you and the vision you have for your best life.” I think that’s incredibly powerful. And yes, clutter is so much more than the physical. So what I did is I reached out to my tribe, and I said, “What are the types of clutter that you’re dealing with? Physical, mental, emotional?” and here are some pretty big categories of what I got back. And so there’s a lot here.
Artificial ingredients, that’s clutter in your body. If you’ve got food that has a lot of ingredients, we look at that as clutter. And so, so many different things here and I’ll talk about just a handful of them. The golden handcuffs, so that’s a term for people that are in a job that they don’t love but they feel like they can’t leave, because their shopping behavior would not be supported if they did leave. And so they feel trapped. And that was me. I mean, for 20 years, I had this corporate position, and I did enjoy it. But I knew that there was something bigger for me and I really had to face the reality of, “Wow, what could life possibly be like if I decide to say goodbye to this security blanket?” And if you don’t ever leave, and you don’t ever follow your true path, Ari, it’s clutter. You’re doing a job that you don’t love. That’s clutter.
“Shoulds”. A lot of people say, “Oh, I should do this,” or, “I shouldn’t do that.” And that’s mental clutter in the head and we try and create these impossible situations, and then feel bad because we can’t achieve them. One woman said, “I should have done better so my husband went out and cheated on me.” That was a thought that was clutter in her world for 30 years. She moved through that thought and thank goodness, that clutter, that emotional clutter is no longer with her.
There’s also the idea of being too much. You have low self-worth and then you have the opposite end where you really, really like yourself and you’re really confident. And people are telling you, “Oh, you’re too much. You’re too loud, you’re just too much,” and if you believe them, that’s some more emotional clutter. And another, I have another client who actually told me she has decades of pictures in her basement and its physical clutter, because she wants to get rid of them. But it’s also emotional clutter because when she looks at those pictures, she feels betrayed by the lies that they tell. It looked like it was a happy family and she said, “We were anything but,” and so, she’s struggling. She’s like, “I know I want to get rid of these and I know that my life will feel lighter. I’ll be more energetic once I can.”
So these old wounds, you know, maybe a wound is somebody talked about your weight as a child or maybe a friend decided, you know, she or he no longer wanted to be friends with you. These are things that are all examples of clutter in our life, if we cannot address them and move through them, and realize that usually they have nothing to do with ourselves. I know the do over conversation. Ari, do you ever have those conversations in your head where you’re like, “Oh, if I’d only said this,” or, “If I only said that,”?
Ari: Oh, of course. Yes, actually, I just had very recently, a big ordeal in my life where I’m like, “Man, I really should have done that a bit differently, wished I would have done it this other way.” Too much to explain all the details of what went down but yeah, like some deals with family members. And I’m like, I definitely should have done a do over on that one.”
Heather: Yeah, for sure. Well, we all kind of carry the burden of these do over conversations. And one of my clients told me, her mom passed away 10 years ago and she’s still having do over conversations with her mom in her head. And the reason why I bring this up with you, is because we spend a lot of time in our head. And so according to researchers from Harvard, in a study published in Science, we learned that our mind wanders nearly half the time. So, if your mind is wandering to past trauma or future anxiety, you know, I mean, most likely it is wandering to those areas, and so we really want to try and get intentional and try and rein in our thoughts. Really understand what are we thinking and are they empowering thoughts or are they victimizing thoughts?
Ari, we also learned in this same study that people are most happy when they are fully participating in the moment. So you can guess, what are the moments that make people most happy? Having a conversation, exercising, having sex. It kind of goes back to where we were eons and eons ago, when people are thinking about, “Hmm, I need to have shelter, I need to have food, and I need to have sex.” Well, you know, that’s what makes us happy. Alright. So I wonder, Ari, where do you stand on clutter? So, is your calendar overflowing? Like, this is a person who has like, one meeting after the next, after the next. It’s a person that has trouble saying no. Is that you? You know, are you a junk food eater? Of course not, I know you’re not.
Ari: I have many… you know, when we look at clutter in this more loose way, rather than just sort of accumulation of belongings and home. But yes, like yes, there’s an accumulation of lots and lots of things, more work and more projects, and more things that I’m invited to participate in. And you know, be a speaker at certain things and collaborate on certain projects, way more than I can possibly do. And I even have way more emails that I get every day than I can possibly respond to. So yeah, I mean, I have to I have to hire somebody to go through my emails and filter out the most important, most urgent ones, and answer those on my behalf. So that I can try to not have so much clutter, but it still piles up.
Heather: Right. And if you tried to be everything for everybody, you’d have nothing left for yourself or your family.
Ari: Most definitely.
Heather: Right, right. So that’s kind of the emotional clutter or just the clutter in our calendars, the non-tangible. But then we also have people clinging to things, so not only buying a lot of things, but then once they have them, it’s really hard to let go of some of these things. And sometimes it’s for sentimental reasons, like, “Oh, so and so gave this to me and I would feel bad if I got rid of it.” Or sometimes people think like, “Well, I might need it someday. So I’d better keep it.” But those again, are all just stories that we’re telling ourselves.
So I have to remind myself, sometimes when my mom comes out to visit, she wants to give me a lot of things and there are things that I definitely like but I don’t like everything. And it’s one of those where it’s like, okay, if you have things coming into your house, it does not make you a better daughter, a better sister, a better son, or friend if you keep things. It doesn’t, things don’t have any meaning whatsoever. And the only things I have meaning are people. And so be careful, I would just say be careful of the meaning that you give to things because if you start to give them a lot of meaning, they will start to control you and control your life.
Ari: Well said.
Heather: So the second area that I want to dive into is really what the research says about physical clutter and its impact on our health. So we’re looking more at the physical, not the emotional and the mental ideas of clutter, but there are definitely emotional ramifications. We know from research that a cluttered home can be a stressful home. Clutter raises levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. And I’ll talk a little bit more about that study in a moment. Clutter is distracting and it decreases our productivity, and it overwhelms our brains. So we’re more likely to resort to coping mechanisms, such as seeking comfort foods or overeating.
So, Ari, if I come home and my house is a mess, I will tell you, I’m going to walk into the house, take my shoes off because we’re a shoe free house, and then I’m going to go straight into the kitchen. I’m going to find some plantain chips, I’m going to go sit on the couch and I’m going to eat those plantain chips. However, if I walk into the house and it’s clean and it’s serene, I am going to be like, “Oh, this is beautiful. It feels light. I have energy. I’m going to go take a walk. I’m gonna go take a long walk.” And so this clutter, when you see it, there absolutely is a physiological response, like, “Agh, it just feels heavy.”
And so I want to talk about this first study. And so this is a study that was in the Personality and Social Psychology bulletin. And what they did in this study is that they talked to families that had dual income earners, so a mom and a dad. They all had kids, two or three kids, and everybody had a mortgage. And they went into these homes and it was a large California city. And they basically went into those homes and observed how people were living. And the people in this study, they’re filling out questionnaires and they were having a saliva test to see their cortisol levels.
And what we found is that women in this study, who described their homes as cluttered or full of unfinished projects, were more depressed, fatigued, and had higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, than women who felt their homes were restful and restorative. So we’re looking at a comparison of women to women, right? Now, the men in this study, there wasn’t that impact on cortisol for them and I found that pretty interesting. But what we learned is that whoever felt more responsibility for the cleanliness of the house, that is who got impacted. And so now, this is also just for eons, women have felt more responsibility in making sure the house looks nice. And socially, if somebody comes over, we want it to look good. And the men generally are like, “Nah, it’s all good.” And so that’s why I wanted to show you that the difference between women and women here.
There were some men that were impacted by clutter but not nearly to the extent that the women were. And also, one more note here. The women who were more depressed and fatigued, and impacted by the clutter, also talked about the impact clutter had on their relationship with their spouses. So there’s also a spousal relationship. And I’ve had numerous clients tell me as well… now this is not a longitudinal study or anything like that, but just in terms of just their words to me, saying, “Oh my gosh, if I can adjust my clutter problem, my husband is… it’s gonna be a really big deal. It’s gonna improve our relationships so much.” And so that’s where we start is with the clutter.
Now, I’ll tell you, Ari, I think I mentioned before, my dad was a minimalist and my mom was maximalist. So my dad is definitely… I think his cortisol would be impacted more than my mom’s. So it’s not just, you know, black or white, one way or another. But if you’re feeling that responsibility, and typically women are, this is what happens. In a study in the Journal of Neuroscience, we found that looking at too many things at once will overload your visual cortex and interferes with your brain’s ability to process information.
So this idea that there’s just too much coming in, too much chaos. And so how can you think straight? How can you be calm when the environment around you is not calm? Web MD will say like, “Well, yeah, of course.” So getting organized. If you’ve got this mess, getting organized has the ability to give you that much needed energy boost. So if you’re feeling sluggish and you’re like, “I still have four hours’ of work, but I’m just not feeling it,” if you pick up a few things in your immediate surrounding, that could be just what you need for an energy boost to get you through the rest of the day.
Ari: On a side note, you know, as we’re recording this, we’re in the midst of the early Coronavirus panic. And I just read a report of a guy who went to like all of the grocery stores and you know, Targets and Walmarts in his city and basically snatched up all of the hand sanitizer that was there. And I think something like 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer that he purchased, and had this all stored in his house. And he was planning, I think, on selling it online; selling it on Amazon, but then I think he got stopped from selling it online somehow. So he’s got 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer in his house, which, you know, you want to talk about clutter, that’s a pretty extreme example of it.
Heather: Oh my gosh, that is so extreme, and then guess what’s going to happen because he’s not going to be allowed to sell it. And he can’t use all of that clutter, you know, through the rest of his life and so his kids are going to have to deal with his clutter. And that’s what happens so often, Ari, is that if you have a lot of things, it’s hard to go through them, so you don’t want to. And many people, they end up leaving it for their children to figure out, which is a big bummer. Like, a really big bummer. If you don’t want to figure out your clutter, nobody else wants to go through your clutter either.
So with this third study, this is one of my favorite studies, and it’s from Psychological Science. And what they found was that being organized can actually have a positive impact on what you’re eating. So what they did is they split the respondents or the participants into two groups. I believe these were college age people, they split them into two groups, gave them a task, and half the group worked in a messy office and the other half worked in a very clean, pristine office. They gave them the same amount of time to do the work. So they were just filling out forms. And then upon leaving, they offered them an apple or a candy bar. Well, do you want to know what happened? So those who worked in the clean office were two times as likely to choose the apple over the candy bar. Your surroundings have such an impact, such an impact on your choices.
Ari: Yeah, and the crazy thing is this, is it’s so hard to notice because we don’t have the control experiment, the control group in our own lives, as individuals. So we live in the same cluttered space on a day to day basis. And it’s really hard for us to even notice how our behaviors differ or our energy levels differ, or our decisions about what to do or not do differ, if we were to be in a non-cluttered environment.
Heather: Yeah, yeah. But you know what’s interesting? You don’t see your own clutter, it’s harder to see your own clutter. But if you were to go to a friend’s house, it would be so much easier to identify, “Oh, that’s clutter, that’s clutter, that’s clutter,” and it’s because you have no meaning created for your friend’s belongings. You only have the meaning created for your own, which is why it’s so much harder to see it as clutter. But these things, they are our energy zappers. And so if you want to have superhuman energy, it starts with identifying like, “Okay, what are the things that are holding me back?” And often, it’s this physical, tangible clutter.
Ari: Yeah. So profound. I mean, we and when I say we, I mean me very much included; we’re so focused on the biochemical aspects and the physiological aspects of what’s going on in our body. Nutrition, lifestyle factors, how those are interplaying with our biochemistry in ways that contribute to optimal health or longevity, disease prevention, and energy levels. But we often don’t consider something like how just the physical clutter of our environment is affecting our brain function, our mood, our energy levels.
Heather: Right. It’s something we overlook and it’s so easy to overlook, but it’s one of the most simple things that you can address. It’s like, my husband likes to ride his bike. So he used to race professionally and it was always about, okay, well, if you can’t buy a lighter bike, because you bought the lightest bike possible, then you have to take off a pound or two. And that can be so hard. And well, actually, that’s so bizarre, I was thinking that totally related to this, and I guess it doesn’t relate as much as I thought it did. So funny, but it’s the idea of gosh, it might feel hard to get rid of some of that clutter, but it’s the easiest thing to do.
And that’s where the bike comes in. It’s like, you can’t buy another bike, so the easiest thing to do is lose that pound and a half, you know, for bike racers. And for your house, you want more energy. Okay, there are definitely important things to do but some of that low hanging fruit is to adjust that physical clutter. At least in your entrance way, right? Like just have that area be calm and serene, and then move from there.
How to remove clutter from your life
Ari: Absolutely. So, I think the research is profound on this topic. I think it’s clear that clutter is clearly damaging our health, our mood, our brain function, our ability to make good decisions about, for example, what to eat, or you know, whether we should go for a walk or consume a candy bar. All of these things, our ability to be productive, our energy levels, and so on. What should we do with this information as far as practical strategies to clean up our lives of clutter
Heather: Okay. Well, that’s the good news because we can do something. Have you heard of the Blue Zones?
Heather: Okay. So, these are certain areas around the globe where people live longer than expected and there are certain commonalities. They exercise more, they eat better, they have community; they’re not socially isolated. Well, Dan Buettner, I think that’s how you pronounce his last name, he says that your environment, so where you live or how you shape your surroundings is the biggest, most important, and most impactful thing you can do to favor your own happiness, your own energy, because I equate happiness, if I’m happy, I’ve got energy. Most people do.
Ari: yeah, they’re very much intertwined and that’s a good point that maybe is not understood well, but mood and energy are two variables that are very, very strongly overlap and interrelate.
Heather: Yes, the domino that I see is, clean up your environment and then you’re happy, and then you have energy. And then you go conquer the world. It just makes so much sense. The good news here is, you know, you might not be able to change where you live, but you can focus on how to… you have the ability to manipulate your environment and to shape your surroundings, so that you can have this happiness, so that you can have this energy.
And so let’s dive into these steps. So I prepared five simple tips for you. And embracing these tips, even embracing like three of the five will start to make a difference in energy levels. So the first tip is all about clearing away the physical clutter. So what I would like people to do is actually leave the house and then open the front door and walk through the house as if it weren’t yours. Ask yourself, “Okay, does my house feel light and airy? Does it feel heavy? Does it feel like there’s an uncomfortable amount of stuff?” And when I say uncomfortable, it’s like, you’ve got clothes in the shower. You’ve got so much stuff on your countertops that you can’t cook or your dining room table is full of papers that you can’t sit down to eat together. That’s uncomfortable.
So you want to find out like, where are you at in terms of this continuum? Is it pretty uncomfortable? And if so, the way to add energy and happiness, and a sense of peace and feeling calm is to subtract. This is kind of more is less here. What can you subtract visually? What are the things that you could say, “Well, alright, maybe we’ll go through 10 things.” What are 10 things that you can remove? And then when you do so, it’s like, “Oh, wow, gosh, I think I just added square footage to my house,” because it feels so calm.
And I mentioned this earlier but for those who have trouble removing things because of sentimental reasons, or maybe because they’ll need them someday, it’s so important to understand that these things are meaningless, unless you give them meaning. So you’re not going to be a better person if you choose to store things that somebody gave you, in your house, versus storing them at the dump or storing them at a Donation Center. It does not make you a better person to keep things.
So that’s tip number one. Start by clearing away your physical clutter. Yes,
Ari, it goes so much deeper, the whole emotional and mental components. But I’d like people to get some quick wins. And so if you can go through your entranceway, maybe your living room and your kitchen, and find 10 things in each one of those areas, ah, the house is going to feel so much lighter. And you’re going to feel more energetic.
Alright, the second tip is to create whitespace in your daily schedule. So the way I like to define whitespace is this quiet stillness between all of the business and all of the chaos. And we all have a lot of business going on, we are living in this addicted to busy society. It’s something where it’s like, you see somebody and say, “Oh, how are you doing?” more often than not, what comes out of the mouth of the other person? “Oh, I’m busy. I’m really busy.” And so I’m personally trying not to say that I’m busy anymore because I don’t want to fall into that trap.
And so what I want people to do is figure out how they can carve out some of this quiet stillness. And when you do that, ask yourself, what led your home and body to become overstuffed? Because usually the two go together. And so the home is stuffed with too many things. The body is stuffed with too much food or too many negative thoughts. And so you kind of want to understand, what the heck is going on? What have you been buffering yourself from? And then think about what matters most. So not everything has to matter. We just want the few things that matter most. And so the idea of getting to the root of how you want to eat, love, move, sleep, spend your time, spend your money, so that you feel like an energetic person.
So for me, I get up pretty early, my household is asleep, and I put the tea kettle on the stove. I have like an old fashioned tea kettle so it’s not just plug it in, and the water is hot. And so I put it on the stove and then I have 15 minutes before the water is hot. I sit on the couch and I don’t journal, I really sit there with nothing, no electronics, just myself. And it’s a time where I think about nothing at all or I think about these things. How am I showing up? How am I doing? And this time is precious, it’s sacred. I won’t give it up for anything because it helps me connect into what really matters. Where do you find your whitespace?
Ari: Just prior to this interview, I was out in the yard with my son, who was playing with the hose and watering in our backyard, and I was getting some much needed sun, which we haven’t had much of in the last couple of weeks, and sunbathing and reading. So, yeah, just, I would say, I actually block out the middle of the day every day, during the day. I prioritize sun a lot, so getting adequate sun exposure, and so I’ll take that time to be outdoors. Either just like what I was doing today or on a hike in a canyon, or at the beach, walking my dog.
Heather: Oh, I think that’s so fantastic. So in Colorado, we have a lot of sun. We’re very blessed for that. What I like to do, I definitely have my white space in the morning but in the afternoon, if I feel like there’s too much clutter in my head, and I’m not being very productive… I have a pretty clean office but there could be clutter in the head, I will go outside and I know I probably look silly. I go out to the front yard, stand outside, put my my face towards the sun, and I just soak it in. And it’s so calming. And I’ll stand there for seven, eight minutes. Come back in, come back into my office, and it’s like, everything is so much more clear.
Ari: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Heather: What a gift. Okay, so this third tip is all about mindset. It’s your mentality. And so it’s flipping your FOMO to JOMO. So if you have not heard of FOMO before, that stands for Fear Of Missing Out. And many of us want it to be included in everything because well, we have an appetite for everything, and because it’s fun. Why not? And so what I want people to do is flip that FOMO to something called JOMO. Have you heard of that one before?
Ari: I haven’t heard of it but I’m guessing Joy Of Missing Out.
Heather: Totally. It’s the joy of missing out. And this is how we see the more in less This is how we make these lifestyle changes sustainable, is because we know, “Well, if I spread myself too thin, if I try and be everything to everybody, if I eat everything, if I don’t treat myself well, things aren’t going to go very well.” And you know what? For example, I personally don’t eat gluten, and sometimes people will say to me, “Oh, don’t you miss this? Don’t you miss that?” And I don’t, not at all, Ari because it’s a joy of missing out. I know what those types of foods will do to my body. So there’s no sadness, no nothing.
Ari: Not since the invention of gluten free paleo bread, you’re covered.
Heather: Oh my gosh. And at our home, our boys are eight and nine, and once a month we do a bake off. And last month it was bread, so we made four different breads, and everybody made their own bread. We do a lot of baking. So, right, I don’t miss the good stuff because I have better. Actually that’s the next point. Go for less but better. So it’s quality or quantity. So I’m still eating bread, I’m still eating those types of things but they’re so much better. There are fewer things, but there are better things. And all of these are fueling me with tremendous energy. I don’t drink caffeine. I’m not against caffeine but I am pretty energetic naturally and it’s a lot about how I fuel myself. I always choose less but better.
Ari: Your energy is a testament to your minimalist philosophy.
Heather: Yes because before, I felt so bogged down, and I was hiding behind all the clutter. And now I don’t have anything to hide behind. And so it’s like, “Well, better make some really great choices that are going to make me feel great.” And so this third point, so this is something that I’m still learning. It’s called the slow yes and the quick no. I am somebody who does have that tendency to have FOMO, wanting to be involved. You know, if there’s party, I want to go. People are eating cake, I want to eat cake, as long as its gluten free and so forth.
But anyway, what I realized is that I was burning the candle at both ends and I was spreading myself too thin. And that I could channel my energy in a much more productive, meaningful way if I didn’t say yes to everything and if I got really selective. So it goes back to intentionality. And so now I say yes, but only to those things that really matter. And that way, my calendar isn’t heavy with too many engagements. And it’s also the same with my body because I’m selective with my menu. My body doesn’t feel heavy with all of these cheap, sluggish ingredients. My body feels light and strong, and lean. And so all this has been able to happen because I have adjusted my mindset and said, “You know what? I’m going to see the more in less. I am going to flip my FOMO to JOMO.” Alright, the fourth tip here is to do 1% better today than you did yesterday. Have you read the book, Atomic Habits?
Heather: Okay. So you’ll know in the beginning of the book, what the author talks about is this example where there’s a pilot who’s in LA and he sets his coordinates of the plane for New York. And if you change those coordinates by only one degree, you’ll end up in Washington, DC. And I thought that it was a brilliant example because sometimes we have this mindset, it’s all or nothing, “I have to go all in,” or, “If I can’t get an A+, then why should I even try?” And so I think there’s really a huge amount of power in these micro steps. And so what I like to say with the people that I work is that, “Listen, what you’ve been doing is like a seat. And you do not need to get an A+ to make lifestyle change. You just have to do 1% better today than you did yesterday.” And so what does that look like? It’s like a B-, that’s all, a B-. And you’re going to end up with more energy, more happiness, and life is going to be better.
And so, try to do just a little bit better today than you did yesterday and you’ll get to accomplish your goals and that vision you have of wellbeing and wellness, and energy can really come to life. I also like to say don’t white knuckle change. So this is part of that B-. So if you’re trying to do things perfectly, that’s not sustainable, you have to build in your splurges or your exceptions in life. And so I like to tell people, yeah, it’s a lot better if you can go to bed early every single day, but if you want to stay up every once in a while and watch a movie with your husband or your wife and you’re going to bond and it’s going to feel good, like, yeah, build in that kind of splurge. Build in, you know, a healthier ice cream every once in a while. That’s something that can help you I keep focused on your goals.
And then I say, watch out for the mental and emotional clutter. So there’s a lot of self-inflicted drama that happens and we have old stories that will come up. So anytime we’re trying to make changes for the better, you’ve got that inner critic inside that is going to be saying, “Ah, yeah, but you failed before.” Or, “Ah, I don’t know, is it really worth it?” I mean, really, that critic is that primitive brain. But we’re so fortunate, we’ve got that prefrontal cortex and so we can say, “Oh, hush, hush. And you know what, I’m not gonna listen to you, mental and emotional clutter, and I’m going to keep my eye on the prize.” And again, it’s just 1%. So we don’t have to make it heavier than it needs to be. This can be really light and really fun.
My last tip is to keep things simple. So when in doubt, always try and simplify. So embrace this less is more mentality. More stuff won’t make you happy. But what will make you happy? More energy, better relationships with others, a more intentional life; those are the things that will make you happy. Also know that your freedom, your energy, your happiness, all those things really, truly are buried underneath the clutter, the physical clutter and the emotional, and mental.
And then the third aspect is that know that you’ll have so much more energy, if you do make that course correct. And so the challenge is, gosh, go find those 10 items, put them in a garbage bag, and get it into your garage. That’s it. That’s all we’re asking for right now. And then maybe in the next day, carve out a little bit of that white space. And really think about, “Okay, you know what? I’m going to make a change. The time is right, and here’s what I’m going to start doing.” Make sure you take that mindset and you flip it because if you have that fear of missing out, you’re not going to last very long. You have to have that joy, you have to find that joy of missing out, but we can all find it. And then just a little better than you did yesterday. And keep things simple and you will be set.
Ari: Beautiful. I love this message. Heather, this is awesome. You’ve also inspired me to step up my own minimalism game here in my own home, even on my own desk. I tend to accumulate a little clutter around me. So, thank you for this. Thank you for sharing this information. I think it’s so important and stuff that is just not talked about. And people really don’t understand the connection of this stuff to physical health and energy levels, and mood. And it’s just critically important information. Thank you so much for coming on the summit and sharing this information with all of the listeners. If somebody is interested in working with you or following your work, where should they do that?
Heather: Absolutely. Well, it’s been my pleasure. I’ve enjoyed this conversation, Ari. It is so much fun, so, thank you for having me. And people can go to Root of Wellbeing, so, rootofwellbeing.com is my website and all my social media handles are the same. And I do Facebook and Instagram, those are the two that I’m on. And yeah, that’s where I am. So I would love to share more energy tips and minimalism tips, and I do so in those social media places.
Ari: Beautiful. Thank you so much, Heather. Really such a pleasure. And to everybody listening, hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did. Personally, I think it’s just fascinating information and I truly, genuinely feel inspired. I’m going to go clean up some of my clutter in my house right now actually. So, hope you enjoyed this interview and I will see you in the next one.