I’ve recently become semi-obsessed with the Broken Windows Theory.
In a nutshell, it is a fascinating criminology study that revolves around the idea that small public deviances (like a broken window), attracts further misbehavior and eventually escalates towards more serious crime.
It basically suggests that us humans tend to act in accordance to “clues” in our surroundings. If it looks like no one cares about a place, neither will we.
We tend to respect what is already being shown respect.
Ever since learning about this, I’ve been seeing so many more examples in everyday life. If the racks of a clothing store are already disheveled and the floor is strewn with random garments, I find myself guilty of feeling less-than-motivated to pick up a shirt that I accidentally knock off a hanger.
Similar with trash: only the most careless would feel comfortable leaving their crumpled wrappers and empty cans on the lawn of a beautiful manicured garden, while many of us would nonchalantly unburden ourselves of our litter if we were walking through an alley lined with rubble and graffiti.
And finally — and most eye-opening to me — I’ve observed it right in my own home.
I usually place empty cartons on the stove-top beside the trashcan. I noticed that if I don’t take them out to the recycling daily, they start to pile up. As the stack grows, the kitchen starts to look a little messy. Crumpled napkins and crumbs start to blend in more, and bits of food in the sink don’t seem to bother me as much. Within a week, the entire kitchen turns into a mess.
So I began an experiment: I would take ten minutes — that’s it — during the day to take out any trash, pick up whatever is on the floor, wiping around the counter top, and whatever else that stood out to me.
Once the stove-top was clear, I felt the need to throw away some of the irrelevant things we had pinned to the fridge door. The next day I thought it’d be great to properly organize the teas, and so on.
Now, most of the 10 minutes were being used to straighten up things around the house, organize a bin or two, or throw away some old clutter.
And there is something refreshing about coming home to a clean house after a crazy day. No matter how tired I am, it doesn’t feel acceptable to throw my stuff on the floor or pull things out without putting them back. I want to continue to respect the space that was obviously already so respected. It felt good.
It just gets easier and easier to maintain.
I’m seeing now that all these seemingly little innocuous things are subconscious messages to myself of how to treat my living space.
If it’s ok to keep useless objects and things in disarray, then what else am I subconsciously telling myself it’s ok to do?
And even further more — could all of that be contributing to the mess in my head… more than I realize?
Life is already difficult to deal with as it is, and when I see the same chaos reflected in my living space, it can prompt me to fall deeper into a mood. But when everything is orderly and mindful, it can actually help to alleviate much of the inner turmoil.
Just by looking at and fixing the broken windows in my life, I am already starting to willingly delve into the more intimidating parts of my organizational habits. It feels quite scary to face the huge task of doing an overhaul of a living space, but taking care of the little things may just start to unclog the bigger blockages.
So if you’re in the same situation and don’t know where to start, just start small. Start a daily mini-practice of working on bits of the clutter and making pilgrimages to the trash and donation bins.
Let’s see where this goes!