Drowning in Clutter? No Time or Energy? Go Shelf by Shelf.

2011 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2011 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2011 a happier year — and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge — welcome! This month’s theme is Possessions, and last week’s resolution was to Cultivate a shrine. Did you try that resolution? Did it boost your happiness?

This week’s resolution is to Go shelf by shelf.

Go shelf by shelf.MP3 for Audio Podcasting

But wait, I made a mistake! I said that William Blake wrote that “Order is Heaven’s first law,” but actually it was ALEXANDER POPE. Which I know perfectly well! I don’t know how I made that error.

How about you? Do you agree that outer order contributes to inner calm, for you, or is that not the case? Have you found any good strategies for keeping clutter at bay?

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Fighting clutter? Go shelf by shelf.
10 tips to clear clutter…in less than 10 minutes.
Need a simple and effective way to get your life under control? Try the “one-minute” rule.

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2011 Happiness Challenge. It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For the Challenge, each week I’ll post a video suggesting a resolution for you to consider. For more ideas for resolutions to try, check out the archives of videos here.

* Please subscribe to my YouTube Channel. To get the weekly video by email, right in your email in-box, you can:
— On the GretchenRubin channel page, after you subscribe, click “Edit Subscription” and check the box, “Email me for new uploads.” Or…
— Go to your main drop-down box, click “Subscriptions,” find the GretchenRubin channel, click “Edit Subscriptions,” and check “Email me for new uploads” there.


To get the audio podcast of the video:
— Log in to iTunes
— Go to “Podcasts”
— Search for “The Happiness Project.” Free, of course.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Adrielle Stapleton

    Thanks Gretchen for the good advice.  Order is definitely something that influences my happiness, so I am learning that  spending time on making life more orderly is  a way of being kind to myself.  

    Since my husband and I are about to move, we’re taking the opportunity to reassess all of our belongings.   We donate, sell or recycle just one item a day to keep it from being overwhelming.  It hasn’t ended our clutter problem yet, but it’s helping.

  • Love your tips, Gretchen. I’ve found that cleaning at least once a week helps me keep more focused on work as compared to having a desk piled high with notebooks and pens. I definitely need to clean out and up some other areas though. 🙂

  • I’m that way too. I can even have something very important to do, but I wait until I have, say, my desk organized or something minor like that before I feel  really ready to tackle a more important issue.

  • i’m almost done reading your “the happiness project” book and thought i’d look up your blog too. our house has four levels and my decluttering tip is that i put stuff on the stairs so that i’ll remember to pick them up on the way up or down. this works somewhat but it has resulted in various stuff being stored on stairs. maybe i’ll go stair by stair this week and clear it all up. 🙂

  • annabarlowe

    I am not a clutter-monkey like my boyfriend (in fact I cannot be happy without extremely orderly and serene surroundings). But even I feel the urge to go through my things on a routine basis and make sure I don’t have more than I need, and I’ve been doing that recently, actually.

    In fact just this morning I went through my tea cupboard and cleared out the old tea I hadn’t been drinking, and re-organized (tea-organized?) the rest. Now I can actually see what I have, and remember to enjoy it! 🙂

  • Peninith1

    Again, I have to promote my trick learned from http://www.flylady.net to use a kitchen timer to keep me on task for periods of time as brief as 15 minutes and no longer than an hour. I have learned that using a timer (set it and then you can’t stop until it rings, but you MUST stop when it rings) is a great way to learn that you can get an incredible amount accomplished in small time periods. I also do focus on one area at a time–one shelf, one drawer, one closet, one room . . . . This has also taught me to shift my attention frequently so that I don’t burn out on a job or get overwhelmed. I use it even to put boundaries on things I LOVE to do . . . which I firmly believe is a big reason why I STILL love those activities. I never work myself to a frazzle of burnout, boredom or disgust, I stay pretty much in the moment, and I get loads more done than I ever did before I used this technique.

  • I just finised The Happiness Project  and I am so glad I stopped by this blog!
    Clutter, disorganization, and mess DRIVE ME NUTS! However, my life is still surrounded by all three of those things, all the time. My main excuse is that I live in a small apartment and so I don’t have space for everything to be organized. The truth is, that I probably don’t need many of the things that are cluttering up my life. I am incredibly clean, for example, the thought of leaving a dirty dish in the sink for mmore than 2 minutes makes me slightly ill. I even wash the dishes as I make dinner so that when I am done, hopefully all I have left after eating are the plates and utensils my husband and I used.  Being clean though, is a little different then being disorganized, so maybe I will try going shelf by shelf…

  • Rdjuntilla

    New to the site and the Happiness Project.  To be honest I am not sure I get it.  I understand simplification, I think it makes me happier.  But, I must just have a different kind of personality.  Scheduling everything and making lists just makes me anxious.   I need less scheduling, fewer lists.  I need to decide for myself what makes me happy and do more of it!

  • Michelle

    My tip is “one a day.”  This little resolution is helping me to accomplish so much!  For example, I have a lot of magazines to wade through.  I have been going through just one a day.  It’s a manageable amount, but day after day, it adds up.  I have been doing this for many projects in my life: weed one flower bed a day, organize one file folder a day, etc.  Little bits add up and make big projects much more doable! 

  • Leighvslaundry

    I just discovered you! I have a little project going on over at my blog that you might enjoy! Here is the link!

     http://leighvslaundry.blogspot.com/search/label/52%20weeks%20of%20happiness

  •  Thanks Gretchen of the this great post and loved it. I always keep things for the last minute and dont find time to complete them.  I will surely give a try to do it in a bettera way and manage my time.

  • Helen South

    I have a little shrine-shelf hidden in a cupboard. All my little keepsakes go in there. It does make me smile, when I open that door.

    For uncluttering, unclutterer.com is my go-to place – Erin is brilliant and the community in her forum are wonderful supportive people.

  • Bev

    I always remember my mother starting at the top of the house and working her way to the back door and everything was done, everything was kept up to every day. There were 7 of us living in a small house. We didnt have much but we had enough. I now live with my own adult children and i find myself constantly moving their things and restoring order to chaos. However for 5 weeks ive been laid up with a damaged knee and when i finally venture out of my room i just have to take a deep breath and tell myself that clearing the clutter right now is not important. Also I am a avid reader, but most books, novels, are read once and then left to gather dust. I have recently cleared a shelf and donated to charity about 50 books and it’s now full again, but they are not my books. Sometimes living with others is a greater challenge then clearing the clutter but i do like the idea of one shelf at a time at random, may try that.

  • Every now and then it can definitely be healthy to go through our belongings and determine what we really need or don’t need. I think being able to take these unused belongings and donating them to others is a win-win situation.

  • KSK

    I hate clutter. I attribute clutter to visual noise. I do spend 10 minutes everyday putting my house in order before I go to bed. Unfortunately for me, my husband doesn’t feel the same way. He’s also a night owl and goes to bed long after I do. So, when I awake in the morning, I have to spend 10 minutes undoing my husband’s clutter. It’s frustrating and makes me long for the days when I was single.

  • Davetrindle

    Regarding  ‘I did disagree strongly with Jung on one point—when he said, “The more you deliberately seek happiness the more sure you are not to find it.”’ I lean toward Jung. Why should effort be required? The stronger the seeking, the more one must be convinced they are not happy. The stronger the seeking, the stronger one’s sense of “doer-ship” and “control”–these are hallmarks of unhappiness. We do not control life, we are being lived, as is all of nature. The recognition we have no control, we are being lived is the key to happiness, peace, serenity. I am not a Jesus freak, or even a Christian, but he said it well,”The kingdom of heaven is laid out before you, only you [overlook] it.” Effort is anathema to happiness. What brings us joy and fulfillment is effortless. Happiness is already here, only we cloud it over with busy-ness and distraction…just one way of looking at it…Happiness is not hard work. Of course, this flies in the face of American Culture…yet, as Thoreau observed, “The great mass of men [and women] lead lives of quiet desperation.”–so maybe American Culture could use a do-over.

  • Gretchen: I love the shelf by shelf idea.  Making one small yet complete bit of headway does indeed bring a nice feeling.  And keeping clutter in check on an ongoing basis keeps me mindful of not acquiring more of it.  I’ve even gotten to where I decline free cosmetics samples – I can’t even see the labels anyway, they’re so small, so it’s just frustrating to have them around, taking up space.  I want less stuff, not more.  Life is sweeter that way, you’re right. Nice post/video.  Thanks.  Susan

  • Kthomas1

    I totally agree with your comments and suggestions.  I live in a smaller home with my family and the clutter has seemed to have over taken me.  It makes me feel depressed and anxious every time I walk in the door.  I know am so overwhelmed I don’t know where to start or how to dig myself out.  Thanks for the ideas and HOPE….

  • DLinBham

    How bizarre — we just threw away one of those shoe polish bottles from our daughter’s little white toddler shoes this weekend! (Um, she’s almost 9….)

  • GetOrganizedAlready

    Always.  Break up the task.