What Makes a Healthy Home?

8 Principles from a Public Health Expert

If my public health school had offered a major in “healthy homes,” I would have been intrigued. Even back then, my love of organizing my dollhouse and closet was strong, but ultimately the infectious diseases track won my heart and sent me towards many years of leading discussions on sex and safety.  The importance of “home” got tucked away in the back of my mind while I spent most of my time focused on clinics and hospitals.

It’s hard to forget those early interests though, isn’t it? When I started working as a professional organizer, I thought I should put aside my public health training and concentrate on clutter but, surprise–as I leaned into the decluttering movement, I could no longer ignore the rampant signs of health issues I saw lurking beneath the piles. After over 20 years campaigning for and elevating global public health initiatives, I have witnessed how healthy homes can transform families, relationships, and lives. I no longer separate my experiences as a “public health expert” or “professional declutterer.”

Plus, why shouldn’t I bring my public health degree and experience working in health clinics to the homes of my clients?  If this angle helps explore the underlying conditions of where and how they live, won’t that knowledge make it easier for them to deal with clutter, and with other behavioral challenges that make them feel overwhelmed at home?

Decluttering Our Home with a Holistic Perspective

To be effective for long-term, sustained change, we need to approach decluttering from a more holistic health angle. Which is why I wrote a book about it, which debuts in May 2024. Decluttered: Mindful Organizing for Health, Home and Beyond is partly a “how come?” as much as it is a “how to.” I’m driven by the relationship between health and clutter, and when I say “clutter,” I mean clutter as it manifests mentally, emotionally, physically, and structurally.

It’s important for people to have the knowledge that they need to create spaces where they can thrive at home, at work, and anywhere else where they spend time.  As a former government public health official for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the US State Department, I started my research with what I knew best: government standards and regulations designed to help people live healthy lives. This brought me to the eight principles for organizing a home.

8 Home Organizing Principles to Consider

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a government agency that sets regulations for how Americans live.  Until I was doing research for my book I hadn’t thought of them as being relevant for home organizing, but when you step back and think about organizing through a public health lens, they actually matter a lot.  

In particular, I found these eight guiding principles from the HUD helpful for explaining what a healthy home has, structurally.

Here are the principles:

1. Keep it Dry (make sure there are no leaks inside or outside);

2. Keep it Clean (keep out dust and toxins);

3. Keep it Safe (anything poisonous or dangerous should be eliminated or contained);

4. Keep it Well-Ventilated (good flow of fresh air is vital);

5. Keep it Pest-free (keep out pests and vermin);

6. Keep it Contaminant-Free (figure out if the building materials in your home contain any toxic chemicals and mitigate them if so);

7. Keep your Home Maintained (keep up with basic maintenance issues before the problems grow worse); and

8. Keep it Thermally Controlled (make sure the temperature can be appropriately regulated).

We can look at these factors objectively too. For instance, with the first guideline, there either is or isn’t a leak in your home. To assess how your home meets or does not meet this principle, simply  explore your home and see if there are signs of any leaks that can  be addressed. This objective lens alleviates the subjective shame people occasionally feel about the state of their homes by offering a more straightforward, “yes or no” framework to address safety and sanitatation.

Learn More about Healthy Homes and How to Declutter Holistically

As HUD says, these principles give us guardrails to check whether or not we live in safe and sanitary housing–housing that helps prevent disease and injury to ourselves and people we love. Structural issues like the ones provided  offer a starting point to examine where we live and what steps are needed to make our homes as safe and healthy as possible.

Are you likely to walk around your home to check for these eight principles? What else would you like to learn about decluttering from a holistic perspective? Let me know in the comments.

For more resources to begin decluttering, review my four tips on how to reset your home.

back to resources