The Broken Window Theory

The Broken Window Theory is a concept that was first introduced to me about a year and a half ago.  The idea was originally proposed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, linking disorder to crime.  When I heard about the theory, it was altered somewhat to apply to classroom management.  The example I heard put it this way: if you walk down a street and notice that the windows of the buildings are broken, there is trash scattered about, and shady deals going on in the alley, you are likely to feel unsafe.  You don’t want to be there.  If you are immersed in this scenario daily, you start to see the goings-on as normal occurrences.  Crimes are commonplace, and you know that most people will get away with them, as long as they aren’t extreme.

If, however, the city starts to take an interest not only in the major crimes, but in the everyday things — fixing the broken windows, picking up the trash, patrolling the alleys — maybe you’ll start to feel safer.  Maybe you’ll even start to take pride in your city.  Maybe you’ll be less likely to throw your trash on the ground if there is no longer any trash already on the ground.  Maybe, once the disorder is cured and the citizens realize that the little things matter and even the little rules will be enforced, serious crime rates will go down.  Pushing the boundaries for an ordinary citizen will no longer be committing a felony, but littering… because even that is taken seriously now.

This theory has logical implications on both city and classroom management, but I want to talk about how this theory can affect how you manage your house.

I am not naturally a very tidy person, and neither is my husband (but he is practically perfect in every other way).  When I cook, I tend to put off washing the dishes for as long as possible.  When my husband comes home from work, he tends to leave his socks on the living room floor.  When I am grading or lesson-planning at home, I tend to leave my things sprawled out wherever I was working until I absolutely NEED to move them elsewhere.  Our house is full of stuff, and that stuff is never where it should be.

All this disorder started changing when we decided to experiment with minimalism.  When we started getting rid of things, we noticed that all we had left were things we used.  All the things that we used now had a place, because all the excess was no longer taking up room.  When everything had a place, things started to look tidier and less stressful.  We realized that we actually enjoyed being at home, and we were proud of how our house looked.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, we became tidy people.  We took pride in the work we had put into de-cluttering our house, and we weren’t going to let that go to waste.  Now, all the big things we had been stressing about before our experiment — three baskets of laundry to fold, a bills and papers scattered everywhere, books and games wherever we had used them last — were gone.  We became focused on the little things — hanging up our jackets when we came home, paying our bills right away so we could file them and keep them off the table, putting the book on the nightstand so it doesn’t clutter the living room.  When we did the little, effortless things as they came up, the big problems became non-existent.

The hardest part is getting started.  If the big problems exist, they have to be addressed.  But once you take care of the big things and, from then on, deal with them while they’re still little things, then the “serious crimes” of household organization become virtually non-existent, and in their place you have order, peace, and sanity.  You’ll actually have more free time, you’ll enjoy being in your home, and you’ll sleep better.  From one recovering packrat to to another… it’s worth it!

How do you think the broken window theory will affect the way you see your home?


5 thoughts on “The Broken Window Theory

  1. My space is unorganized and cluttered. So I spent some time on cleaning and sorting to only keep things I need and simplify. Then, I am creating a habit to do it more often: so that cleaning is about regular maintenance and never a huge project because I control it before it gets to that point.


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