With the holiday season starting, you likely will have a lot more traffic through your home.  Prepare now to make room for all those shoes and boots!  It’s common practice in many countries (like Japan and Sweden) to remove your shoes when you enter a home.  Somehow this tradition has not become well rooted in American culture, but it should be.  One of the things I love about my girls Montessori school is that their outdoor shoes are removed at the entry to the classroom and only indoor shoes or slippers are worn while inside.  This is great re-enforcement of a habit we have for our own home.

As a child, my mother had a rule.  Shoes were not to be worn in the house.  We had a “mud room” at the back door entry – that was where they belonged.  If we came in the front door or through the shop, we were still supposed to remove them at the door.  Guests, who most commonly used the front entry, were also asked to remove their shoes there.  I don’t actually remember her specifically requesting people to take their shoes off, unless they asked if they should.  The pile of shoes was a pretty good indicator of the preference.  I remember as we got older, this rule became one that was more and more often broken by us kids, especially if no adult was present to make sure it was enforced.  Some how, Mom, still seemed to know we were not consistently removing our shoes.  Now, as a mother and homeowner, I know exactly how she knew.  Shoes are dirty!  Shocking revelation, I know.  Most of us probably think of “dirt” as fairly benign, however the world most of us walk around in is not just simple, good ol’ fashioned organic top soil consisting of disintegrated rock and decaying vegetation. Believe it or not, studies have actually been done to evaluate just what sorts of things are coming into your home via your shoes; it is not appealing.  Here is some of what they found:

1) Bacteria: a shoe company sponsored a very small study at the University of Arizona with the intention of determining if washing shoes as recommended by manufacturers would reduce the levels of bacteria on the shoes.  The study showed that bacteria were prolific after only 2 weeks of being worn and included such notable strains as “E. coli, known to cause intestinal and urinary tract infections, meningitis and diarrheal disease; Klebsiella pneumonia, a common source for wound and bloodstream infections as well as pneumonia; and Serratia ficaria, a rare cause of infections in the respiratory tract and wounds.”  E. coli was present in 96% of samples and is believed to have most likely been picked up in public restrooms or outdoors due to contact with animal feces. The study also revealed that those bacteria can be tracked by the shoes over long distances. It is re-assuring to note the study did show that washing reduced all bacteria by 90% or greater.

2) Toxins: Even the EPA recommends that door mats be used and shoes be removed at the door; specifically because of the lead dust that makes its way in from exposure to contaminated soil, older playground equipment, artificial turf and shredded rubber playground cover.  Then there is any number of chemicals from fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides, to oil spills, coal tar from asphalt and more.

3) Water & Snow: While unpleasant to step in a wet spot caused by tracked in water and snow, more concerning are the bacteria and toxins they too may carry in as well as the damage it may cause to flooring and possibility of leading to mold if it becomes a persistent condition that is never fully dried.

4) Cleaning: Even without wearing shoes in our home, I find that I should vacuum and sweep almost daily.  This isn’t just due to food, crayon bits, playdough, paper clippings and more general activity inherent to having creative and active children.  Dirt, grass, pebbles and all other sort of outdoor elements are still constantly being tracked in.  If I were having to clean up additional debris from shoes, cleaning the floor would become a full time job.  Removing your shoes also decreases the amount of dirt and residue then transferred to furniture or bedding as well.

5) Wear/Tear and Marking:  All that grime creates a significant amount of wear and tear on your flooring – no matter the quality.  We have a high grade all hardwood floor through most of our home and the bits of gravel that get carried in from the driveway have certainly left scratches.  This is especially noticeable when an errant pebble has become lodged on the bottom of a chair leg and been pulled across the floor.   The potential damage and marring is one reason basketball courts require gym shoes with non-marking soles.  Flooring is expensive to replace, so removing your shoes at the door is a simple way of saving you quite a bit of money.

6) Noise:  If you’ve ever lived below someone with hardwood, tile or similar flooring – you know that the sound of heels clicking and clacking as someone walks above you is annoying.  Be considerate of your neighbors if you happen to have the top floor, and simply remove your shoes at the door.

7) Infants on floors: Some health experts estimate that children under the age of two put their hands in their mouths on an average of 80 times an hour.  This makes this age group, who often sit, lay, crawl, and play on the floor much more vulnerable to exposure and ingestion of all the nasty grime we’ve talked about being tracked in on shoes.

8) Development and function of feet:  It is simply healthier for most people to be out of shoes the majority of the time if possible.  This is especially true for infants and children whose feet are still growing.  It remains true for most adults considering that many foot pain syndromes and disorders are caused or exacerbated by our footwear.  Being barefoot or in sock like slippers allows all the muscles and bones of the foot to move through their more full and natural motion.  Bare footedness also makes stimulation of the bottom of the foot by the ground or floor possible, encouraging a type of reflexology caused simply by the act of walking.  One of my very favorite biomechanist, Katy Bowman, M.S. at Nutritious Movement has a couple resources she has written that address the idea of freedom from footwear and the anatomy of a shoe.  The first one to read is her newly updated: Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet.  Sharing this woman’s work is the real health pearl in this article, so please make sure to look up her website and read through her work – it will dramatically challenge the way you think about your body shape and function in relation to movement or lack thereof.

9) Mental & Emotional Health: Lastly, I want to remind you that your home should be a haven for peace, especially around the holidays.  There is so much to the psychology of creating space for a healthy mindset by removing your shoes.  It can symbolize leaving your days troubles and embracing relaxation.  A dedicated area to neatly put them will help contribute to the zen that a less cluttered living area creates.

So consider taking the time to implement a new healthy home tradition this holiday.  Create the space and initiate the request that all who enter leave their shoes and their cares at the door. 

Dr. Summer Beattie,ND was born and grew up in Southeawst Alaska – it will always be home.  A 2004 graduate of Bastyr University, she served two terms on the board of directors for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians, and has worked in a variety of primary and specialty care settings.  This has given her a broad wealth of experience that she now uses in a unique clinical practice with a focus on rejuvenative physical and aesthetic medicine. Dr. Beattie,ND offers comprehensive care as it relates to physical rehabilitation from a Naturopathic Orthopedic perspective. You can find her and on-line patient programs at www.onehealingmedical.com