Clutter is a Magnet for Clutter


brokencarwindow“In the 1980’s, social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling proposed what they called the “broken windows theory” of urban crime.  They read about a famous study by psychologist Philip Zimbardo in which he left a car sitting in a nice neighborhood for 1 week.   The car went untouched until Zimbardo smashed one of the car’s windows. Within a day, the car had been completely stripped by thieves and vandals. Wilson and Kelling theorized that the presence of physical neglect or decay leads to a perception of disorder and chaos, leading people to behave accordingly.  So, when people see a broken window, they figure it’s okay to break more windows.  Then when lots of windows are broken, they figure that the area is rundown and therefore it’s okay to do all kinds of malicious acts.  The broken windows theory has since been applied in police work and urban development, most visibly in New York City, where attention to smaller, “quality of life” problems (such as repairing signs of urban decay and stopping low-level crimes) seems to have reduced the occurrence of more serious crimes.


paperpileWhat does the broken windows theory have to do with you?   Think about how your actions are influenced by clutter in your home.  Now think about how your actions are influenced by cleanliness.  When you have something in your hand-say, a piece of mail, it’s very easy to put that item on top of a heap of other papers. You might think, “It’s already such a mess; one more piece won’t make much of a difference.”  On the other hand, you’re less likely to put that item onto a clean surface.  In that case, you might think, “I’ve worked so hard to make this area neat, I don’t
want to mess it up now,” and you would be more likely to put the item where it belongs. This is another example of the broken windows principle – once clutter and disorganization start, we tend to add to it. Clutter is a magnet for clutter. This principle demonstrates that clear surfaces are one of your very best protections against future build up of clutter. If you notice some clutter piling up, don’t wait. Take care of it immediately.

Resource: Buried in Treasures, by David F. Tolin, Randy O. Frost, and Gail Steketee

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