If you had the chance, would you have a nosy around someone’s bedroom before dating them? Well, that’s exactly what the daters on BBC Three’s new Hot Property series get the chance to do. But how much can a dirty sock here and a ‘Live Love Laugh’ poster there really tell you about your date?
“It’s very important,” says Sam Gosling, a Professor of Psychology at The University of Texas and author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You. “If I met you briefly for an hour, I just have a sample of your behaviour. Whereas if I go into your bedroom – that’s many weeks, months or years of accumulated information, which is often hard to fake, and can be a more reliable indicator of what someone is like.”
Through his research, Sam discovered three ways in which we leave clues about ourselves in a space, either deliberately or unconsciously. The first sets of clues are, what he calls, "identity claims". “These are deliberate statements we make to others about who we are,” Sam explains. “Maybe you use your space to tell someone about your culture, or the politics you believe in.”
Then there are the items that “make ourselves feel certain ways or think about certain things,” says Sam. “Many people have mementoes in their bedrooms – photos or objects that remind them of the people, places or things that are important to them. Unlike identity claims, they’re for the benefit of the occupant – not other people.”
The final way Sam says we leave traces of our personalities comes from ‘behavioural residue’. “If you are a chaotic person, you may end up with a messy room,” he explains. “If you love snowboarding or painting, there might be snowboarding equipment or art materials in your space.”
When analysing what all of these clues say about our personalities, many anthropologists like Sam base their research on the peak five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
“Everything we are talking about here is a generalisation, as there will always be exceptions,” says Sam. “But, on average, when it comes to, say, conscientiousness, we found people who think before they act, are task-orientated, punctual, and reliable tend to also have organised spaces.”
So, whether it is just for sleeping, a creative hub or a total mess, we asked Sam, along with two other human behaviour experts, what the following types of bedrooms could tell you about their inhabitants...
The mindful minimalist
What it (might) look like: “In my room, there is a bed, a bedside table and a lamp – that’s it,” says George, 23. “The walls are all painted white with one picture on the wall of Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland – and my happy place. I believe that your bedroom is for sleeping in. When I go in there, I don’t want any distractions. It means I can always fall straight to sleep.”
Does he think the room reflects personality? “I reckon so – simple, straight-forward, and no hidden surprises. In my life, I have friends to drink with, friends to play sports with, friends to get deep with. So I consider my flat like that: the living room is for relaxing, kitchen is for cooking – and bedroom is for sleeping.”
What it says: “A minimalist bedroom indicates that a person is likely to be introverted – that is, they are internally-focused and don't like to express positive emotions outwardly,” says Patrick Fagan, a behavioural psychologist. “There may also be an element of conscientiousness as it can require discipline to keep things minimal.”
But Sam says it all depends on the ‘brand’ of minimalism: “Those who don’t care, or who aren’t fussed about ‘filling’ their room, tends to indicate people who are more conventional and more traditional in their thinking.” If it’s more minimal by design – like Sam’s bedroom – then “that would indicate people who care about control - chaos would be disturbing to them,” he adds.
The sustainability supporter
What it (might) look like: “I live on a small boat and my sleeping ‘nook’ consists of a single berth, a drawer, a small hanging rack, two hooks, a teddy bear (nobody needs to know this) and a 12-volt light run off batteries, as well as a rechargeable radio run off solar power,” says Claire, 30.
“I painted the area dark blue but it works because I get so much natural light. Space is limited but this makes me more discerning. I rarely make a mistaken purchase as I really have to think carefully about where I put things. I enjoy the discipline. I also love boat life and try to live by environmental principles – I use the same water in my hot bottle for weeks, wash with a bar of soap, and have got used to cold water.”
What it says: “This person is likely to be socially liberal, with their standout character trait being agreeableness, meaning they are likely to be caring, altruistic and non-confrontational,” says Patrick. “Their concern for the future of the planet may suggest a little neuroticism, while the duty required to be environmental may belie a little conscientiousness.”
But psychotherapist Emma Azzopardi takes a different view: “This person likes a personal mission, and might be keen to let others know about it. They possibly see themselves in a one-up life position – as in, ‘I’m OK, you’re not OK.’”
The messy one
What it (might) look like: “My room is nearly always a mess,” says Ashley, 25. “I never make my bed and, despite having six drawers, a wardrobe and two shelves to myself, I still end up using the floor as storage space for my clothes. The clutter constantly builds up, whether it’s unopened mail, piles of laundry or stacks of unwashed glasses.”
But – he says – there’s a reason for the mess. “I get up at 4.30am every day for my job at the airport, which means I’m always too tired to keep my bedroom tidy. As for the rest of the time, in all honesty, I just can’t be bothered to put everything back in its place. Surprisingly, I’m actually quite organised and practical in other areas of my life, like work, and usually I know where everything is in my room, even if it looks jumbled up. So maybe there is such thing as an organised mess?”
What it says: “On average, we found people who have chaotic, messy or not-so-clean spaces tend to be less reliable and less task-orientated" says Sam. "So maybe they show up late or maybe they get halfway through a task and don’t finish it.”
But while this might suggest Ashley isn’t good at time keeping, it definitely doesn’t mean he lacks empathy. In Sam’s research, he found that when people walk into someone else’s bedroom and find it looking like a pig sty, they might assume the person is less agreeable, as in less kind, warm or sympathetic. “But that’s a false conclusion to jump to,” he says. “So, if you do have a messy space, people might come to wrong assumptions about your overall personality.” In other words, if you don’t want to come across as a slob to potential visitors (ok, dates), maybe have a tidy.
The glamour puss
What it (might) look like: “I inject character with colourful accessories: think lots of flowers, shiny ornaments, a glitzy chandelier and fluffy cushions,” says Linzi, 31. “It’s the bedroom I dreamed of when I was a little girl. I still love anything that sparkles!”
What it says: “Immaculate bedrooms indicate the person is highly conscientious,” says Sam. Where this look is quite a stylised one, the expert says that if it resembles an asesthetic from "Instagram or Pinterest, or they have the same wall prints (think the couple kissing on a bridge) lots of people have – that could indicate a lack of interest in different ideas and people. Crafting a nice, welcoming space is a signal that someone is an extrovert – most extroverts want you to come and spend time in their space.”
Emma adds that a perfectly-curated bedroom can indicate a trend follower and heavy Instagram user. It can also suggest that someone surrounds themselves with the latest fads and trends in order to feel OK, and to validate that others would see them as OK, too”. She adds: “They might be heavy on the ‘persona’ and controlling of what others see of them, as opposed to showing their true self.”
The arty creative
What it (might) look like: “Mostly, my bedroom is filled with things I love,” says Tink, 32. “Beyond the furniture, which isn’t really coordinated, it’s filled, and decorated, with fairy lights, candles and plenty of prints, colourful artwork, photos and cushions. It’s probably quite cluttered but it always feels cosy to me. As an artist, I’m a big day dreamer – so good lighting and comfy surroundings help me relax, while being surrounded by colour and images can inspire me creatively.
“I also spend a lot of time in different hotels travelling for work, so it’s really important for me to feel totally at home when I’m in my own space. Most items are things I’ve collected or bought on my travels. I don’t really care about being fashionable but I love having anything that evokes strong memories or nostalgia in my bedroom. So everything is a little mismatched but comforting. Living in a shared house also means my room is the one place I can fill with all my favourite things.”
What it says: “This person is likely to be open-minded and, to a lesser extent, disorganised,” says Patrick. “They are probably liberal, adventurous and bohemian – they have a wide variety of tastes.”
“They tend to have broader interests in the arts and other cultures, and might have unusual possessions,” says Sam of this bedroom-dweller. “Someone who, for example, might have a big mix of books, arts and belongings. In a study we did, someone had a bedside light that was made out of a vodka bottle filled with Prozac pills - that person would likely fit into this category.”
Some case study names and ages have been changed
Hot Property is available on iPlayer now.