"If you're anything like me, you do more than passively observe the surroundings when you enter someone's living space for the first time. My research focuses on how people's possessions can tell us even more about their personalities than face-to-face meetings or, sometimes, what their best friends say about them."
Dr. Gosling has been looking under beds, peering into closets & rifling through music collections, all in the name of research, for almost 10 years. He claims he can figure out a lot about you, especially by looking at your bedroom.
At first this made me kind of uneasy. Uh, what would the piles of books and magazines all over my house say about me? And what about my choice of pictures on my book shelves, the open bottle of wine, the bowls of fruit and vegetables, the bottles of vitamins, receipts, and other junk on top of my kitchen counters?
I heard Sam on NPR on the way home from Chicago & yesterday I read all I could about his research. His new book, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, is about to hit the bookstore shelves. I'm a sucker for personality profiles, so I had to know more.
The good news, at least for me: Clutter isn't so bad! It can mean you're creative & open to new ideas & experiences!
Sam can typecast you by your taste in music, what your office looks like, what's in your bedroom, what's on your walls, and what kind of junk just happens to be lying around your house.
"My research team went into bedrooms and offices and recorded their impressions in standard personality tests. We then compared what they thought about the occupants with what the occupants thought about themselves and what their friends thought about them."
What our "stuff" is telling the world:
- Gosling says that the more he peers into people's personal spaces -their homes & offices- "The more I've come to believe that what's going on outside the mind, reflects what's going on inside the mind."
- Our living spaces shout to the world who we are. They're an IDENTITY STATEMENT. We decorate to please ourselves. We pick colors, pictures, and memorabilia that give our space the "Stamp of Us". Our stuff shows what we value and how we view ourselves. What we hang on our walls, what books we prominently display, reflects how we want others to view us. We leave out what we don't want to show people. We hide the stuff we want hidden in our closets & drawers.
- Our "stuff" tells the world what we do in our homes. Whether we listen to folk music, garden, watch lots of TV, drink single malt Scotch, collect Israeli stamps, read World War II history or entertain others--it's in our "stuff".
- Our "stuff" also tells the world what we do outside of our homes. Check out the receipts for plane tickets, sports or concert programs, athletic shoes, garage sale finds, or the invitations & appointments hanging on the refrigerator.
- And then there's our character. Our "stuff" gives big clues as to how we rate in the "BIG FIVE" personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. But, in the final analysis, our "stuff" says more about how open we are to new experiences and how conscientious & organized we are, than it does about the other traits.
- Are you organized or on the messy side? This doesn't mean exactly what you might think it means. According to Gosling, "You may want your lawyer to be very organized and have a clean desk, but if you are meeting with someone in advertising, you would want their desk to be covered in papers and ideas that represent their ability to be creative."
- Are you open to new experiences or are you reserved and conventional? A diverse collection of books & magazines, original art, and souvenirs reflects someone who's open to new things. It's not the quantity that's important, but the diversity! Does your CD collection have rock, jazz & classical, or are you just collecting Country? Openness was correlated with curiosity, imagination, being unconventional and having a wide variety of interests.
- A labeled CD collection, books arranged by subject, & nothing on flat surfaces---of course this means organization, but it also means conscientiousness. To have an organized living space it's not sufficient to just organize it one time. It means consistently putting the phone book back on the shelf, throwing away the newspapers, and hanging up the clothes. Interestingly, the conscientious folks did not make particularly good use of the space in their offices. Go figure? Conscientiousness=order=efficiency=self-discipline.
- Are you an extrovert or an introvert? This trait is easiest to determine in an office, rather than a home. The extrovert wants to lure people into her office to chat & schmooze. She'll have a comfortable chair, an open door, maybe a jar of jelly beans, and the office will be decorated with pictures and lamps. The introvert's office will have subtle "no visitors please" clues. A hard chair, and no decorating to speak of. Forget about the candy.
- For the most part, our stuff will not show whether we are agreeable, good-natured, emotionally stable, neurotic or bad-tempered. But, some research indicates that agreeableness is associated with rooms that are cheerful, colorful, clean, organized, neat, comfortable, inviting, with no clothes strewn about! Folk wisdom holds that pleasant people occupy pleasant rooms, and agreeable people are concerned with the aesthetic comfort of their visitors. Sounds like the house of someone I'd want to visit!
- Lots of color, brightness and a well-lit room reflects someone who is kind, open and sympathetic.
- Lots of souvenirs & memorabilia? You're sentimental.
- Are you a collector or a hoarder? Hoarders collect everything, can't throw anything away, and this causes them much anxiety. Collectors, on the other hand, take much pleasure from what they collect. They also are much higher in the BIG FIVE TRAIT of conscientiousness. They're orderly, organized & on the ball!
- We are not very good judges of how organized we are. Everyone has different standards for organization & neatness. Did a friend ever tell you to please excuse the huge mess in her house, only to walk into a pristine showplace? For some people a glass in the sink is a mess. For another a mess looks like something "a cyclone just hit". Dr. Gosling suggests you ask your friends how organized you are, to learn the truth. "They know if you're someone who has a spare stamp, or if your someone that they need to preschedule 30 minutes ahead for a movie, because they're tired of always waiting for you.
What your music says about you:
- Jazz, classical or other "complex sounds"? They typically have a high IQ
- Country, Top 40, "easy listening"? They're conventional, honest, & conservative.
So what does all this have to do with being happy, healthy, and living a long life? Heck if I know. It's just fun & interesting to play detective, both in other people's houses and our own. I think we're all a little blind-sided about how we look to the world. A couple of months ago I was surprised to hear a friend describe me as someone who lives pretty modestly. Yes, I guess it's true, but I never thought it was noticeable.