Video: Plagued by Clutter? Clear a Surface.

2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year – and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge — this month’s focus is Clutter. Last week’s resolution was to Find an exact place for things. Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness?

This week’s resolution is to Clear a surface.

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Clear a surface.
Why clearing clutter isn’t as frivolous an occupation as it seems.
11 myths of de-cluttering.

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2010 Happiness Challenge (or watch the intro video). It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For more ideas, check out the Happiness Project site on Woman’s Day.

* I frequently see references to research indicating the children don’t add to parents’ happiness — but I believe they DO! So I was very interested to read Bryan Caplan’s Wall Street Journal piece, The Breeders’ Cup.

* Please subscribe to my YouTube Channel. Check out the new design! Also, if you’d like to get the weekly video by email, right in your email in-box, you can can sign up in two ways. On the GretchenRubin channel page, after you subscribe, click “Edit Subscription” and check the box, “Email me for new uploads.” Or you can go to your main drop-down box, click “Subscriptions,” find the GretchenRubin channel, click “Edit Subscriptions,” and check “Email me for new uploads” there.

  • I’ve noticed that I keep justifying that it’s okay to put one thing on my chair is okay. But then once I’ve noticed I secretly feel like I’m giving myself permission to be messy, but then I end up frustrating a few days later.

    I feel that this is a great resolution for myself. I’m thinking of trying to keep my recliner clear of clothes.

  • De-cluttered surfaces certainly make me feel happier, Gretchen – especially first thing in the morning. Opening my eyes to visual chaos = instant bad mood!

    I thought you might like this post from my 52 Organizing Missions program:

    Organizing Mission #39: De-clutter Your Surfaces

    M 🙂

  • Rose Ann

    “A place for every thing & every thing in it’s place”
    It’s a terrific motto to live by 🙂 I’ve always felt that my husband & I are lucky enough to have two desks, one for him & one for me. Because of this, there is no excuse to leave papers on kitchen counter tops, kitchen tables, dinning room tables etc. As you say Gretchen, it’s so freeing ! Thanks again for your great Wed. tip.
    And by the way, I know that you love children’s stories, have you ever seen the movie of Beatrix Potter?

    • gretchenrubin


      I didn’t see that movie — is it worth a watch?

      • Rose Ann

        Hope you received my post about the “Beatrix Potter” movie w/ Renee Zellweger playing the lead 🙂 Please rent it, you won’t be sorry.

  • Rose Ann

    Yes, It’s a beautiful movie about the author of all the “Peter Rabbit” books. Beatrix Potter is played by :Renee Zellweger. To my surprise, it was a lovely old fashioned love story. It was made in 2006, & it must have been a sleeper because I don’t remember hearing about it at that time. You will enjoy, not only the true story of Beatix Potter’s life, but also seeing her beautiful art work from her books come to life !

    • Lovesblue

      YES that was a good movie! I LOVED it, I got it on Netflix and my DH sort of had the oh well I’m stuck watching this tonight on his face and even days afterwards he was commenting on how much he enjoyed the movie. From him that is a 10 star rating!

  • nickdico

    I’ve always felt de-cluttering a surface to be very relieving to the soul. It just makes you feel better about yourself and the order in your life. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Just took care of my purse and my desk — feeling much better! A trick: calendar a 20 minute appointment weekly to do this, and pick a time of day when you’re typically looking to procrastinate on other work. One stone, two birds.

  • JenDC

    I really need to get a handle on this. We are probably moving this summer so I have put it off a bit, saying that I will deal with it as we pack to move and then keep it going once we unpack in our new house. I know this transition will be easier if I get to it now. My problem: I have too many books. And I keep ordering more to read…I know I need to stop.

  • pamwalter

    I totally agree! A clean surface is calming both mentally and emotionally, as well as inviting to creativity.

  • Rachel

    It’s funny that you posted this because I just did this in my bathroom. For the past 5 years I’ve always kept most of the things I use daily out on the counter around the sink. As you might imagine, this eventually grows to things I don’t use daily and leads not only to items getting knocked over but also makes it difficult to clean.

    I had to clean out my bathroom closet to fit everything and boy was it a project, but I got rid of a lot! Now after I take something out and am finished with it I actually have somewhere to put it back! I love seeing a clear counter too. Hopefully this will stick, then maybe I can start applying this to other places like the dining room table of doom, that thing is like a magnet.

  • ALibera

    2:30 Watched the video.
    2:31 Looked at the little desk to the left of where I do my writing – always covered with magazines, papers,bills, and crap. Decided to run a quick test of the theory.
    2:38 Finished clearing off the desk
    2:39 Posting this. And yes, it really does feel better.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yay! Glad it felt good!

  • howtoplaza

    My mother always had a fixed place for different things even at a time when there was not much interaction and self-help literature. I am often amazed at how quickly she can retrieve those old documents, forgotten keys and diaries that haven’t been seen for years :-).

  • Hi Gretchen!
    This one made me smile, as my desk is always clear. I work in my own home office now, but when I was in a corporate environment, people used to walk by my cube, see my clear desk, and say to me in a very quiet, discreet voice: “Oh. Are you leaving?”
    Ha! I need my desk clear so that I can simply focus on one thing at a time. It really helps!

  • Lovesblue

    Ah to me no
    To me I’m not of the “average person” status I fall into the kid, sick, or elderly category and how I function as an artist.

    My mother and sister have the clear, clean sterile homes and create NOTHING. I learned it was hard for me to learn, NOT to clean up all of my supplies etc, or I spent more time looking for them! Then I had people amazed at a clean house but with some STUFF OUT and they said wow this is not only not messy but it ADDS to the home as in lived in and they started leaving somet hings out too. LOL Then I got sick, when you have medical equipment, medications, aids etc that take up SO MUCH room there is no way to even think of cleaning that up. My pills or my nebulizer are not going to do me much good put away somewhere.
    Or my oxygen machine, the exercise bike they made me get and I was not old! Then we had a realism period and it only made sense to move my things to where I could get to them, and use them!
    I still have a lovely home with stuff around, clutter, mess, whatever. The support group and my doctors thougth this was GREAT and not feeling guilty about not having a typical clean sterile environment so I could LIVE and it has not affected our family at all other than having to move a few things now and then. They are VERY HAPPY when my meds or nebulizer is RIGHT on the vanity, ( clutter oh no) and they can get to it FAST and not be hunting for it put away somewhere. My desk has competely disappeared with 2 computers on it and about 20 bottles of pills and inhalers etc. I did get a computer phone, that ws good! The pick it up tool I am always hunting for, I think I need another one. My typically judgemental mother said why do you have your art supplies out, you could get rid of some you have so many. F for mom, but that is nothing new. At this point if anything gets lifted or hauled my DH who has ver little time has to do it, or I do it and pay for it with pain and breathing problems for days, so it depends on what population you are speaking of, there are MANY who do not fit the 20 to 60 working and healthy bracket.
    So am I happy? Not all of the time, at times I hide from it at other times I glorify in it, that it, the CLUTTER, MESS whatever are here. It’s been a challenge for me but I am making it okay! One does what one has to do. It’s better than sitting in an uncluttered room with nothing and no one and crying or taking a nap. I don’t want to know what I am going to be like if I survive this disease long enough to BE old, OUCH!

  • Gretchen, what a great vlog! Looks like you have quite a tidy office, too.

    We couldn’t agree more with you that “outer order contributes to inner calm,” and that’s why clearing the clutter is an important element to our own “Small” philosophy. While we were writing our book, we interviewed a professional organizer who taught us this great tip:

    When you’re trying to tackle a big mess, start by zeroing in on one small area. Close one eye and make a “magnifying glass” with the other. Then, set to work on the section of the room you see and get it as clean as you can in 15 minutes. Then, if you still have time, move on to the next area. If not, pick up where you left off the next day.

    Another tip we like–which is particularly useful if you’re feeling overwhelmed by papers, magazines, and bits of clutter–is to grab a leftover grocery bag and before you go to bed, pick up all the “throw-aways” and toss them in the bag. That way, you’ll wake up with an uncluttered room, and consequently, an uncluttered mind.

  • JST Books

    clutter clearing Keeping your surroundings tidy and organized might sound like a chore, but it’s actually one of the best ways to obtain peace of mind and a calmer outlook on life. Here’s how to make tidying and decluttering as painless as possible.

  • KATE

    What if you’re an artist? I have container’s and lazy susans, bead holders but it’s still a lot of stuff and I have no office of my own to put except a cabinet. How to fit it all in there?

  • KATE

    this helps me out alot thankyou

  • KATE

    This is actually the first step to Fung shui, clearing out things that aren’t of use to you anymore.