I first heard about the Broken Window Theory in one of Malcolm Gladwell’s many amazing books. The basic idea being that if there is one person with a broken window in a neighborhood, slowly the rest of the neighborhood will start to shift and deteriorate. In other words, our surroundings dictate our behaviors. In my almost a decade of practicing minimalism, I can see more and more how we can apply the Broken Window Theory to our lives and homes. You know, less clutter = more peace of mind and all that jazz. However, there is a fine line to walk between fixing a few broken windows in your home and buying an entirely new furniture set. How the heck do ya tell the difference between these two? Well, here’s what I’m thinkin’…
How exactly does the Broken Window Theory work?
The idea for the Broken Window Theory was first presented by social scientists, James Q. Wilson and Greg Kelling in 1982 and simply states that signs of disorder or neglect in a neighborhood is correlated with petty crime that can lead to worsening crime.
Unfortunately, this theory lead to something called broken windows policing where many communities of color were negatively impacted as their communities were seen as potential breeding grounds for crime.
Further more, no conclusive results have been shown to prove that this type of policing was even effective.
That being said, I do believe that our surroundings and how they are up-kept have an impact on our mental and physical wellbeing.
Their grass is greener, I’d better water mine…
My biggest evidence for the belief in my own version of the Broken Window Theory is my own lived experience. For example, when I first moved in with my husband, Tom, I was a bit of a clutter bug. His minimalist, routine way of living rubbed off and me and I benefited from it greatly.
On top of that, Tom has confessed that when we moved into our “big house,” before we decided to sell it and downsize, he struggled with what we’ll call the Greener Grass Theory.
Because we had moved into a neighborhood with larger, more expensive homes, Tom felt a need to keep up with the maintenance of our homes exterior and lawn care. A natural product of both his Minnesota Friendly tendencies and the Broken Window Theory in reverse.
Exterior can effect interior
Most of us can say with a certain level of confidence that our external environment does have an impact on how we feel internally.
If our parents are always yelling and screaming, we may begin to live our lives in a state of survival mode.
When we take the time to fix our hair or dress nicely, we walk a little taller and feel more confident.
A clean and tidy house, naturally makes us feel more at peace and has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression.
There is really no denying that things outside of ourselves can have a major impact on how we feel internally. However, this can often lead us to depend on things outside of ourselves too frequently in an attempt to shift our internal world.
Fake it til you make it and dress the part
We have all heard the phrases, fake it til you make it and dress for the job you want.
In many ways, I still agree with both of these mindsets, however, we can very easily slip up and begin faking it or dressing the part without ever actually doing anything of value.
We buy the suit, but the confidence doesn’t come with it.
We scoop up the latest workout gear but the habit of working out isn’t kicking in.
We makeover the house and give it a fresh coat of paint, but the arguments that happened there still linger in the air.
So what gives? How the hell are we supposed to apply this Broken Window Theory to our lives and know that it is actually going to work!? More importantly, how can we learn what will and won’t work before we break the bank trying to buy everything we need to look the part?
Here are some ideas.
Start with what you have
When you find yourself faced with those icky, uncomfortable feelings of believing you’re not good enough or even feelings of frustration that you can’t quite identify, start with what you have.
Take a walk.
Wash the dishes.
Make your bed.
Comb your hair.
If there is some area of your personal appearance or your home that you have been neglecting, take the time to one act of kindness toward yourself or your space. Just one. See if it helps.
Make sure you give yourself credit for whatever small thing you do. If you make your bed, be proud of yourself for making the bed even if the floor is covered in laundry and leftovers.
So many of us struggle with this false idea of perfection, that it’s all or nothing, go hard or go home.
In reality, small wins have continuously been proven to be the most effective for long term results. If you had a small win, you had better celebrate it because you just might find yourself in the midst of a ripple effect.
Be ok with sitting in the ick
One thing most of us tend to do is run away from any negative feeling we experience. We don’t want to face it, we don’t want to feel it and in doing so…we keep it instead of release it.
Think about that. Those stressed out, bad thoughts we have…when we suppress them, we SUPPRESS them. They stay bottled up in us, they didn’t go anywhere! If you actually want these nasty feelings to get out of your life, you have got to be willing to walk them out the door.
Of course, releasing pent up emotions and frustrations might require some help. A therapist, a trusted friend, a journal session, or even a screaming curse words into a pillow session. I personally have always found music to be extremely theraputic.
When my high school boyfriend stopped talking to me, a few rounds of Hilary Duff’s, “So Yesterday,” at the top of my lungs did the trick.
When I found out my soon-to-be future husband (now ex husband) had slept with someone else, a couple laugh/cry sessions with Avril Lavigne’s “So Much for My Happy Ending,” was the key to getting out all of my frustrations. Although, I should confess I think I still suppressed some of that anger after I believed him when he said I had no reason to be mad. Ah emotional manipulation at its finest.
Oofta! Where were we at? Did this just turn into my own personal therapy session?
Oh yeah…feel the emotions, even the crappy ones. Let yourself naturally find ways to uplift your mood without feeling the need to make any major changes. When your mood lifts you are going to be more likely to make aligned, intelligent decisions.
Don’t mistake mania for high vibe
I am not diagnosed bipolar or ADHD (although ADHD seems a reliable diagnosis), however, one of the biggest lessons I have come to learn in my life is that me in a manic state is not actually me in a high vibe state.
Those times when I had a plastered smile on my face, prancing through the Mall of America, acting like I was on Cloud 9 usually ended in buyer’s remorse meltdowns in my bedroom later that night.
While I can’t say I’ve totally conquered this state, I can say, I have learned to use it to my advantage.
Take a run, go to the gym, dance around your house, type out a long blog post (don’t publish it yet). Do something to put this energy to good use, or at least not self destructive use.
Get to know the 2 voices in your head
Maybe you are someone who has voices in your head, or someone who thinks in pictures…I myself feel like I fall somewhere in between these two. Nonetheless, get good at translating the messages that are coming through your brain so that you can filter out what is helpful and what is absolute sabatoge.
Voice #1: You don’t deserve a fixed window
Voice number one will be the voice in your head telling you things like, “you don’t deserve nice things,” or “you can’t afford fresh paint.”
While this voice might be accurate in the sense that you may not have $50 laying around to buy some fresh paint right now, it’s important to recognize that this voice is simply trying to keep you down.
You do deserve things that bring you contentment and peace. You do deserve to feel at home in your house and in your own skin.
You might not be able to afford fresh paint right now, but you can set some aside, it doesn’t cost too much. Yes, there might be other pressing financial matters, but remember self care, home care have a ripple effect and you might feel more energized to tackle the bigger things if you allow yourself one small act of kindness. In other words, fix one window at a time.
Voice #2: You totally deserve everything you want
Voice number 2 is way sneaker because she acts like a BFF but she’s really not. –Think Kady giving Regina a Kalteen bar. — Do I use too many Mean Girls references?
This voice will tell you things like, “You deserve a pick me up,” or “When you only have a dime in your pocket, get your shoes shined.” That last one was a go-to line I stuck with. I heard it on a movie once and I loved the mindset behind it at the time, even though that mindset left me broke and stressed every day for years.
Just like the other voice will keep you living in a state of depression and a state of sadness this one tricks you into thinking you’ve fixed all your problems, when in reality, you probably just created more.
–> Neither of these voices leads to internal change <—
Make changes that cost you nothing
The best way to outsmart these voices and make better financial and external decisions is by starting with changes that don’t cost you anything.
Declutter some excess stuff that you’re tired of dusting.
Vacuum the floors.
Curl your hair.
Take a shower.
Wear an outfit that feels good.
It is possible to “fix a window” without buying a whole new one right away.
When you are in a higher state of self love and nurturing, then ask yourself what other changes might be beneficial to you. Make a list, and start with the things that are the most manageable and easiest to start. As you go, you might cross some things off your list, that’s cool, you’re simply learning how to discern what matters to you and what doesn’t, which is the entire point of a more minimalist lifestyle.