What Are Your “Broken Windows”? Here’s a List of Mine.

The “broken windows theory” of policing holds that when a community tolerates minor examples of disorder and petty crime, such as broken windows, graffiti, turnstile-jumping, or drinking in public, people are more likely to commit more serious crimes.

As a law-enforcement theory, it’s controversial, but whether or not it’s true on a city-wide level, I think it’s true on a personal level.

My “broken windows” are the particular signs of disorder that make me feel out of control and overwhelmed.

  • Unsorted mail
  • Messy stacks of newspapers
  • Shoes in odd places
  • Cluttered counters
  • Dirty dishes scattered around the apartment (for my husband, as he often emphatically reminds me, dirty dishes left overnight are broken windows; for me, as long as the dishes make it into the sink, life feels under control)

From what I’ve observed, people’s other “broken windows” often include:

  • Staying in pajamas or sweats all day
  • Eating food straight from the container
  • Wearing stained or ripped clothes
  • Goofing off at work, even if no one notices
  • Piles of laundry or trash
  • An unmade bed

About the last item: surprisingly, whenever I ask people what resolutions they’ve tried, and that make them happier, “Make my bed” is the most common resolution that’s mentioned. It’s a very trivial thing, but it makes a big difference. (By the way, a survey by the National Sleep Foundation showed that people who make their bed are more likely to report a better night’s rest.)

Does fixing a broken window really matter? After all, in the context of a happy life, a pile of unsorted mail isn’t a big deal. In themselves, perhaps, these broken windows don’t matter much. But enforcing small signs of order make us feel more in control–and happier.

What are your “broken windows”? They’re different for different people. Do you agree that small signs of disorder can make you feel out of control, generally?

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • cjverb

    I agree with everything listed and add when my hamper is stuffed with too many dirty clothes.

  • dedpepl

    Have you read Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris. She talks a bit about the making of the bed thing and it finally made sense to me.

    • Carrie Willard

      Heard so many good things about this book, I’m putting it on my Amazon wish list right now…

    • gretchenrubin

      I read that a long time ago, and this makes me want to re-read it. Going on the library list now.

  • Have you heard of these people? http://www.flylady.net/ For them it is the sink full of dirty dishes :-))

    • I’ve read FlyLady’s book — very good re: dealing with clutter. “You can do *anything* for 15 minutes” is her motto and it works! I live alone and have no dishwasher, so I don’t do my dishes every day, but I *have* to rinse them and stack them neatly. And after the dishes are done, I *love* to shine my sinks!

    • peninith1

      I find FlyLady very helpful although the tone is a little too ‘cutesy’ for me. The advice is very helpful. The thing I learned from that site that has stuck with me for the most good is to use a timer–you can do anything for 15 minutes, and it is amazing what you can accomplish in a short amount of time. I try to do the shiny sink thing . . . but I’ll be darned if I am going to get dressed to shoes hair and makeup first thing in the morning.

      • Sera Mattson

        The timer! Such a fantastic tool that I always forget about.

    • gretchenrubin

      LOVE FlyLady! Yes, exactly! The shined sink.

  • Staying in pajamas or sweats all day? That sounds like heaven to me!

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, broken windows are different for different people. One person’s broken window is someone else’s treat!

  • Carrie Willard

    Oddly, if I brush my teeth *before* I have coffee and eat breakfast, my whole day goes better. I have no idea why, but it’s like the equivalent of the making your bed effect for me.

    • Marpet

      I find brushing my teeth even makes my coffee taste better,and really the key to a good start is a good cup’o’jo.

    • Carrie I agree with you about brushing your teeth making
      you feel more ready for your day (plus your mouth doesn’t taste crappy
      so you can really enjoy your coffee!). I make sure (at least I try)
      it’s the first thing my kids do when they get up.

    • Rachel

      What about brushing after breakfast to have a clean mouth to start the day without food remnants lingering for hours?

    • James

      I went through a phase where brushing after eating made me throw up, so I arrived at this by accident. It may be more effective than brushing after, because saliva degrades the left-over starch fairly quickly, but if it was degraded over un-removed bacteria then they’ve already done their damage.

  • peninith1

    Unmade bed; dirty dishes outside the kitchen (trying to make sure these are all in the DW before bedtime now); messy dining room table; shoes and / or jackets scattered in the living room; shaggy, unkempt yard; trash containers left at the curb side after they are emptied; towels or clothes on the bathroom floor. These are all things I try to take care of for myself whether I expect company or not. When I have company I also try to tidy the coffee table and remove sewing projects from the living room and pick up any clothes not put away in the bedroom.

  • Not only do I love this idea but our “broken windows” lists are very, very similar.

  • Byron Katie Fan

    For me. it’s (also) doing my hair and putting on a little makeup. Although I’m not vain, I just feel brighter and happier. Otherwise, I want to be invisible and hide from people I know when I see them. I also feel a bit like I’ve “given up”.

    • Brittany

      I totally agree with this one. It’s not so much about the outcome, as the effort behind it (i.e. even though I prefer a mostly natural look, things must be pretty bad when I can’t even be bothered to spend a few minutes preparing to face the world in the morning). Another example is having my nails painted…at least my toenails. It not only makes me feel more presentable, but is a sign that I have at least stopped for an hour or so, at some point in the last two weeks, to take care of myself. When I would go to visit my long-distance boyfriend (whom I would see for one weekend each month), I could usually keep up the appearance that grad school life was not totally wearing my down by choosing a nice outfit, putting on makeup that day, and doing something with my hair.But if my toenails weren’t painted, it was a telltale sign that things were not going well. And, when he came to visit ME, all those other broken windows (in the form of my messy home) were much harder to conceal.

  • Debora

    Ah, well…dirty floors or dishes, eating unhealthily, 1/2 done craft projects gone awry, a purse/wallet full of old receipts, papers, business cards, a neglected blog.

    • Sera Mattson

      Ugh the receipts! And also the neglected blog. I’m doing this for me, so why do I find it so hard? But I guess that speaks to a larger problem.

  • Checking email or Facebook during homeschooling hours. A sure sign to the kids that it’s time to play hooky.

  • Fab

    For me, it’s mainly dirty dishes and pending ironing. Also, if I don’t exercise, I spend the whole day feeling guilty and as if something is amiss.

  • Elisabeth

    I can remember 2 times in the last 15 years where I’ve left my bed unmade. It always seems so strange to me that this could be someones resolution because it comes so naturally to me. I’d never think to NOT make my bed first thing.

    I feel really guilty about snacking – I tend to snack out of habit and boredom. Argh. Frustrates me to no end. Guess I should try just abstaining…but I’m definitely a moderator.

    • gretchenrubin

      If you’re very frustrated by moderation, give abstaining a try.

  • Lisa Youens

    In my experience working in juinior high and high schools, this theory is true. If administrators are tough on dress code and tardies, the students seem to understand that they’re not going to get away with the larger offenses.

    My grandfather was an extremely tidy man who made his bed every day. One day, when he was in his late 80’s, he decided he would NOT make his bed since no one would ever see it anyway. He sat in his living room and it bothered him and bothered him until he finally went and made it. Then he could happily carry on with his day.

    For me, it’s crumbs on the kitchen counters and clean laundry that hasn’t been put away.

    • maryqc

      I second the laundry!!

    • gs

      I am a teacher at a community college. I tend to be permissive about students arriving late to my class, so what you said about “dress code and tardies” is interesting to me. Is letting students walk into class late a “broken window” that I need to jump on or should I tell myself “I have to pick my battles, and there are bigger issues than this one”? I am not sure what to do but you have given me something to think about.

      • Jenna

        I personally think tardies in college are different than tardies in high school. I like the “pick your battles” philosophy. If the problem gets too bad, an occasional pop quiz in the first five minutes of class seems like it would cure the problem.

        • Judy

          Hi Jenna and Lisa,
          I’m a lecturer at a local university, and while I’m very strict about punctuality and not texting during class, I’m relaxed about other things (ie, I have assignments that are due on a revolving basis and students get pick their own due dates).

          Because tardiness is one of my broken windows, it is something I put a lot of emphasis on (and I agree that some pop quizzes at the start of class helps incentivize punctuality!).

          Seems to me that the best classroom situation for you would be to have one or two non-negotiable rules that set a standard for work and behavior.

          Thanks for the thought provoking discussion!

  • Stefanie

    Dirty dishes in the sink are worse than dirty dishes anywhere else, I swear.

    Maybe that’s because I live in a flatshare and it would be rude to do other people’s dishes (now here’s a problem no one else has ever had), but if the sink is full of them and I can’t use the sink properly for other purposes (such as washing my own dishes or filling the kettle with water) I feel my blood starting to boil.

    Staying in pyjamas all day is definitely another one. Or not having a shower in the morning.

    It’s interesting that goofing off at work is on so many people’s list. I recently moved into an open plan office, so I can kind of understand that. Another one of my broken windows is pointless meetings where everyone gets together to update the others on what they’ve been doing while my own works just sits there not getting done. If it goes over 15 minutes, I stop caring.

  • Deanne

    Dirty clothes that don’t make it to the hamper! Clearing up the errant socks and sweaters scattered around the apartment always makes me feel better and more in control.

  • Guest

    Goofing off at work, even if no one notices – made smile as I was reading this at work.

  • The broken mirror for me is harsh words with my family. Keeps me up at night…does that count?

  • Jennifer Watkiss

    All of the above are certainly frustrations, but nothing is more of a “broken window” for me than too much change in my wallet! I know I’m feeling rushed and overwhelmed when I find I’m paying for everything with bills (I live in the UK, cash-only is much more common here), instead of attempting to keep the coins at bay and counting out some change for a transaction.

    When the coin-compartment starts to have trouble closing, I know it’s a big sign I need to slow down a bit

  • Carrie

    I love this idea; very interesting way to think about it. I think my broken windows are quite similar, although I would also add stuff. Random stuff just lying around really bugs me because I know it means I have let things go/been gone too much/haven’t been able to take action or make a decision.

  • I might make my bed more often if my husband wasn’t still in it when I get up in the morning – that is one of my broken windows! We are not a house of bed makers but I can actually see the point i making your bed. No one wants to sleep in a mess – they want something that looks pleasant and organized which makes it seems cleaner. I will add cleaning my bedroom to the list!

    • Sera Mattson

      My husband is usually still in bed before I leave for work. We used to make the bed together. But now I leave earlier and so no made bed. I never notice how much it bothers mee until I make the bed on the weekend and feel so satisfied.

      • maryqc

        I might add that a properly made bed makes a big difference. My husband’s idea of a made bed (not retucking untucked sheets) and mine are very different and do impact a night’s sleep! … in my humble but correct opinion… 🙂

  • Conrad

    When I wear a tie and blazer with my jeans I feel more focused and I think I am received better. It gives me a boost throughout the day. Making the bed is practically a given.

  • Carly

    Dirty floors or dishes in the sink. I am pretty good about the dishes thing and keep my sink and dish drainer empty most of the time, but I have a hard time with the floors. We recently moved to a home with what seems like an acre of hardwood flooring. It’s a big job to keep clean – but when the floor is shining, the rest of the house stays tidier. When it is dirty, spotty, or full of crumbs and dust, we tend to let the clutter piles accumulate more.

  • Clutter is a big one – Delays work, stops progress, increases laziness. Clean environment is healthy, motivational, and contributes to overall satisfaction/happiness.

  • Megan Gordon

    Clutter makes me insane. I cannot concentrate. Also I hate unfinished business – I rarely try to tackle a big project in one sitting, but if I can do the increment I planned, it bothers me. I especially hate when I can’t get something done not because of me, but because of something out of my control.

  • peninth1

    p.s. I think that another ‘broken windows’ issue to notice is ‘how do you keep your car?’ I have not yet advanced to meticulous car care, and I know that when I do, it will be a powerful sign that I am taking care of my body as well as I can too.

    There’s a mysterious interaction, I believe, between how we take care of our exterior surroundings and important things like home and car, and how much we care for ourselves. The ‘broken windows’ neglect shows that we don’t care about ourselves fully, any more than we care to look after our territory.

    My significant other — a most confident person who admittedly has a full military career behind his good habits — takes meticulous care of his house, yard, and vehicles. It’s a pleasure to sit in his always-gleaming, nice-smelling, dust and trash free vehicle. It seems he is ALWAYS going to the carwash, and I just wait for rain!

    I’m more a devotee of ‘stuff’ related to my interests and projects, and find it harder to be tidy, and my car is the last thing to receive my TLC. But I still notice that as my life has improved, my care for home, yard and vehicle has increased. I’m not up to ‘gleaming’ and ‘detailed’ but I’m way beyond the ‘rolling dustbin’ era of 25 years ago.

    • LizZee30

      I didn’t even think about the car! However, before even reading the happiness project I decided to start taking better care. I used to leave water bottles and trash in the car forever before cleaning it out. Now I’ve made it a habit to take it out with me when I get home. I haven’t gone as far as to like vacuum it out and wipe it down regularly or even wash it…but at least there’s no trash in there, right? I feel like now I’m going to be even more aware of clutter in my car.

  • Sera Mattson

    The clutter of things that seem to have no place, worse, my husbands clutter that I don’t know what to do with. Dirty dishes, recyclables and compost piling up. I’m terribly guilty of relaxing in my pajamas too long and then getting irritated at myself for not being ready to go even if I don’t plan on going anywhere.

  • Kate

    For me, it’s when I have a weeknight where I literally do nothing aside from eat dinner and watch tv all night. There’s nothing wrong with watching tv (in my opinion!), but if I don’t do at least ONE productive thing (call a friend, knit, play vigorously with my pet, tidy up, clean out my purse, anything really), even just during a commercial break, I feel slothful and enervated and disgusted with myself …. and the effect lasts well into the next day.

    • Allison

      I’m with you Kate – I love doing nothing but watching tv in the moment, but then when I go to bed and see I accomplished nothing and my to do list is the same as it was in the morning, I get so aggravated with myself! Recently I started doing something I call “Commercial Cleaning”. As soon as a commercial comes on I go and do some kind of chore – wash six dishes, put a load in the dryer, dust the dining room, whatever. Once the commercials are over I come back and sit down. It’s amazing how you can get so much done in little spurts. Plus I don’t consider myself such a slug at the end of the day :o)

      • gretchenrubin

        I love this idea. Brilliant.

      • Kathryn

        I totally do this too but without the commercial television. I just break up leisure time with spurts here and there of getting things done, put away, cleaned off. Then you never feel like you have to dedicate a whole day to it. It just gets done bit by bit.

    • I completely agree! I have struggled with depression, and I always know that it is getting the better of me when I have a night like that. The one exception is that I do occasionally make a plan to order pizza and catch up on the shows I like to watch on demand. But, oddly, it took me a really long time to give myself “permission” to plan to relax.

  • Sue

    Did anyone notice, there is a difference between Gretchen’s list of “broken windows” and the list of other people’s?
    The first list are mostly cumulative things – eg the counter clutter starts out with one or two little things, but by the end of a week it could be a real mess. Likewise the unsorted mail, and the newspapers. You can leave these things until they reach a threshold when you have to sort them out.

    The second list are mostly things that you either do or don’t do – either you spend the day in your pyjamas, or you don’t. Either you make the bed or you don’t. You have a choice each day.
    Spending the day in pyjamas was something I always refused to do, even when my kids were small and demanding. Clutter on the counters is something I can ignore for a few days but then I have to clear it away completely.

    • LizZee30

      I didn’t really notice the difference between the two lists until you said something. It is true that eventually you have to sort certain things out once they reach a point…but at the same time they all involve a daily task that you either do or you don’t. For some of the people in my family though…the longer they let something accumulate the more discouraging it becomes to deal with. A huge pile of laundry is way more intimidating than a small pile so sometimes it just really never gets taken care of because mentally it’s just too much. I’ve seen people ignore a cluttered counter top or kitchen table for more than just a few days. My broken windows are a combination of things that accumulate and things that just happen or they don’t like making the bed or wearing pjs all day.

  • LizZee30

    I can’t figure out if small signs of disorder make me feel out of control or if feeling out of control is what causes the disorder. However, when I get really stressed out and feel out of control that’s when I get extremely anxious and feel the need need to take care of those broken windows….even if it’s like 1 in the morning. My broken windows are shoes never put away, cluttered desk, cups left everywhere, piles of laundry, staying in my pjs all day and an unmade bed. I never had to make the bed when I was a kid. I just finished reading The Happiness Project yesterday! A friend and I started a happiness group and in January my resolutions involved decluttering my life…physically, mentally and emotionally. Putting my shoes away, not letting dishes accumulate, making the bed and putting my laundry away as soon as it comes out of the dryer were all part of my resolutions. The one I’ve stuck to the most has been making the bed…it’s crazy how much better it really does make me feel. I’ve also done pretty well with the laundry… especially since I really can’t stand doing laundry. Whatever the cause is of the disorder…I definitely feel like taking care of it makes me feel better over all. When I was a kid my mom would tell my sister and I that we’d sleep better if we had a clean room. Then one day after cleaning our room I realized it did feel better to climb into bed knowing the rest of the room was picked up and then waking up to the clean room was nice too. Even though I don’t always take care of my broken windows I do know that when I pick up the clutter and climb into a bed that was made rather than having to straighten out the blankets and sheets before I can even get into it, I do feel better. I feel happier and more clear.

    • Peninith1

      I think that this whole subject connects to another of Gretchen’s ‘commandments”: ACT THE WAY YOU WANT TO FEEL. It seems to be powerful. You are onto something important!

      • LizZee30

        You’re so right! act the way you want to feel… I hadn’t even made that connection yet! So much to think about.

        • Angelina

          «I can’t figure out if small signs of disorder make me feel out of control or if feeling out of control is what causes the disorder.»
          Yes, I think this observation nails it. It precisely captures the nature of “escalation” that was observed in the original broken windows theory (vis a vis crime).

  • This makes sense to me. Letting a personal broken window go signifies to yourself that you don’t care, aren’t worth it, or just don’t have the time/energy to take care of yourself. Fixing it signals the opposite.

    My broken windows are an unmade bed, laundry that hasn’t been put away, and read-but-not-handled emails in my inbox.

    • LizZee30

      Oh I didn’t even consider the emails! My inbox is completely out of control not to mention the other types of electronic/digital clutter. I take so many pictures…I keep the good ones and the bad ones. There’s no need to keep the bad ones, but I won’t go through them all to deal with it now…

  • maryqc

    My broken windows have been challenged due to ever increasing destructive forces my 17-month old daughter brings home with her. Sooo… I have sidelined most of my “at home” broken windows for this season and have moved out of the house to the gym. Making it to the gym, with a gym bag and the opportunity to take an uninterrupted shower is my new broken window. It gets my days off to a good start. Makes me feel like I have already accomplished something before my work day even starts.

  • kittykill

    Dirty dishes and everything piled on the dining room table are my broken windows. Also, the bed thing. I love having a nice decorated bedroom where I can go and relax, lay in bed and read or cross stitch.My husband does not understand this at all. To him, the bedroom is a bed that you sleep in a leave. It totally bums me out because the way I get a good nights sleep and lose stress is to see happy and comforting things before bed. I finally just took it upon myself to make the bedroom the way I wanted it. He will sleep there regardless….LOL!

  • JC

    Not exercising for more than 2-days.

    Not putting my clothing away.
    Dirty dishes in sink.
    Not having eggs avail in the morning for breakfast.

  • Clark Troy

    Differing fonts or font sizes when not mandated by the structure of the document

  • molly

    I’ve always found the broken window theory fascinating and glad to see it here on the blog. I’m also glad to see the comments affirming at least some grain of truth in it. I’m a compulsive bed maker. I like that if I have to go upstairs during the day, there is order in the bedrooms. The ahhhh moment I might need if I’m busy working on something difficult in the office, and happen to go up there. I must confess that I’m not the best sleeper so I’m unsure about the connection between making the bed and sleeping well. I wish it were true for me!

  • Look at the garages in your neighborhood. They swell with unfinished projects and “I’ll find a place for that stuff later” such that they’re not able to park their own cars in the garage. Happiness is being able to park your own cars in the garage.

    • Kelly K


  • Prettygirl1920

    I have a cleaning ocd….i like to think a clean house is a happy house….but i like to find happiness everyday….

  • As a Carer, a Broken window would cause one to become unsettled..Is it Safe?..Safely Broken? it may allow a gentle careering breeze to enter or cut an artery with its jagged edge..You decide

  • Ugh, I can’t say I’m fond of any of the above (although pajamas on the weekends are totally fine). I love order of all kinds, and find it pretty indispensable. It’s just distracting when things are out of place, and stressful.

  • My biggest broken window is most definitely staying in pajamas any longer than I need to! I absolute cannot take it, not even at the weekends. I’m also really annoyed by not showering, messy desks, eating at weird hours and bent book covers. It’s so interesting to reflect on these things, I didn’t even realize how many broken windows I actually have.

  • Dorothee

    Cluttered surfaces are my broken window. But I hardly reach a state, where I have all the empty surfaces I’d like. Too much stuff in my tiny flat, I guess 😀

  • YES! This very much resonates with me. The scattered shoes and stacks of papers, I know, are some of mine. Now, I realize that what you list — staying in PJs or sweats all day — is definitely one of mine! On days off when I lounge around and don’t get out, I often feel anxious in the evening and regret my lack of productivity, EVEN if I actually have gotten some things done. I think I need to get dressed and get OUT to feel like I’ve done something. Mental clarity.

    I’ve been making my bed every morning for 2 years strong 🙂 Big difference!

  • Douglas Peacock

    There is a school of thought that we go off to another place in our sleep. Perhaps making our bed gives closure to wherever we have been. Wherever it is that I go, I sometimes go fully clothed. I am just going to lye down and think about something and next thing I know it is 2.00am. Now wide awake to close my day, or should I say my yesterday!

  • This led me to a new secret of adulthood for myself,”Take a holiday.”

  • fab40foibles

    Making your bed is not always possible when you’re the first one up! As i’m also the last one to bed I’ve no idea what happens to it in between!

  • Mine are clean clothes that need to be folded and put away and the lure of the Interwebs whilst at work.

  • Staying in pyjamas all day means something completely different to me. My son was a ‘hard to place older boy’ adoptee. When he started lounging round all day in his jimjams I knew he was really home. 🙂

  • Audra Houston

    I tend to believe in the broken window theory as well. What a great idea to connect the concept of how disorder in our personal lives may impact happiness. One of our family’s broken windows is toys scattered around the house. Not sure if so related, but I have noticed that kids are usually not interested in a toy once it has been left out of place (the floor, bathroom counter, etc) but often almost immediately after the toys have been restored to order in their proper place, it recaptures the child’s interest. I tend to find that true for myself as well, especially sorting through drawers with forgotten knick-knacks. Even just starting the exercise can release some dormant connection with a piece and it can go from forgotten to the perfect piece for a spot needing some brightening up. On the other hand, I really appreciated how Gretchen showed such sensitivity to her daughter’s need for special imagination places in her Happiness At Home book. I was very touched how a Mom could see through the eyes of a child to appreciate the inherent order in what might look first like disorder.

  • Ellen

    A messy kitchen. One coffe mug in the sink leads to two, then a plate, etc …

  • LOVE running across this. I was just discussing the Broken Windows Theory with a friend last week, so this is so timely. I first read about it in a book called Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. I’m betting you’ve read it – good stuff!

    I’m also so excited to have started The Happiness Project today. It’s like a gift to myself – I’ve had it on my list for ages but sort of selfishly held off until the right time. Today, I started a little list of small tips and changes I’d like to try to better my life in the upcoming month. Then I started the book, and couldn’t believe it – the thought process in my head was right there in your book, but you did all the homework for me! Perfect!

    Realizing I’m a giant nerd (and recognize it in you), needless to say I am SO excited! Love your work and can’t wait to read more on move on to Happier At Home. Big fan. 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! Good luck with YOUR happiness project!

  • Serenity

    Making the beds, clean laundry put away, organization-all musts for me. My broken windows are staying in the comfy clothes way too far into the day, mindlessly facebooking or zoning out on the net, procrastinating or ditching my exercise for the day. Then the guilt follows for allowing my days to flutter away. Great post! Got me thinking.

  • Jane Doe

    All seems like people have a lot more time on their hands to worry about this stuff endlessly than I do.

  • mellen

    One time after a really busy day, my husband and I walked into our bedroom to go to bed and realized that the bed had never been made. I insisted that we make it then. How much better we slept!

  • Janean

    I thought everyone, except kids, made their bed when they got out of it. Silly me, what an eyeopener.

  • Kathryn

    My broken windows are an unmade bed (the worst), pillows not straightened on the couch after we go to bed, little odds and ends scattered on the coffee table, the kitchen counters not cleared off (dishes in the sink are ok though, as long as it hasn’t been more than 12 hrs or so). For me it’s really all about the clutter and cleared, smoothed surfaces. Huh.

  • Cindy

    so funny…this make the bed thing just makes me grit my teeth. When I was a teen, I was grounded from car, friends, and phone one night for every morning I did not make my bed. I was at school every morning by 6:30 because I had before school activities. I left school as late as 8 because of after school activities. I was a straight A student, a state scholar, a national scholar, an honor student, and never had a study hall. I made dinner for my family 2 nights a week, and worked 2 and three jobs all summer. I am now 47 years old. I refuse to make a bed and do not require my children to make one. It is my symbol of freedom. I simply shut the door or tell folks my life is too big to worry about sheets.

  • B

    things not sorted generally. i have a drawer for papers/writing equeipment, a drawer for make up/jewelry i use a lot and one for other things (wallets, cards, keychains). when i find papers in my make up drawer, i know it’s an alarm sign

  • Courtney

    a full inbox of unread emails! (yes, i realize this is just a variation of unsorted mail)

  • Kate Selner

    I used to never make my bed until I got married; my husband would always do it and I thought it ridiculous until I realized how settling it feels. Now I make the bed as soon as I get out of it. Other broken windows for me are dirty dishes, clothes scattered about, unfolded napkins on the table, and kitchen items that are put back in the wrong place. I tend to tolerate piles of things much more than I should because I’m a ‘piles’ person. I always know what’s in those piles, even if they’re untidy. But for me, it’s more about general disorder, and things not being where they’re supposed to be.

  • CoastRanger

    Putting something in order and cleaning it (two different things) makes me happy.

    Case in point, I bought a set of electric clippers with all the attachments that come with it to cut my sons’ hair. The black case his always been crammed full with the tool and attachments, an extension cord, lots and lots of hair, and oil which leaks from the little bottle. I recently cleaned eveything, including taking the clippers apart. Then I repacked the case with all the attachments in a plastic ziplock bag. It makes me happy just to look at it! This is the virtue of orderliness. With seven kids, one can only achieve islands of order here and there.

  • BKgirl

    I definitely feel the urge to constantly fix broken windows – for me it’s picking up the house, dusting, organizing my inbox & mail. However, I tend to feel like this is something that should be overcome, not encouraged. I’m a perfectionist, and I’m trying to stop being one. It takes so much time and energy to try to get everything right, and its scary to think you can only “feel right” or “move on with your day” when all the details are in order. And they rarely are perfectly in order and often out of your control. The more you fix broken windows, the more the behavior enforces itself. I’m trying to create more balance. For example, if I “fix broken windows” for 15 minutes per day instead of an hour per day I have 45 minutes to do something that can make more of an emotional/happiness impact – like spending quality time with my kids or exercising. I always feel the urge to fix broken windows and maybe I always will. It’s a challenge!

    • gretchenrubin

      This is a great point. I suffer from this a bit too – feeling uneasy and restless until things are in a certain order, but that may eat up so much time that there’s no time left for things that are actually more important. That’s a good solution, to restrict the time spent on it.

  • Dorothyjp

    I feel like I have a lot more control over my life when I open my closet doors and see my clothes lined up in an orderly fashion. So I guess a messy closet is one of my broken windows.

  • Lori

    Unfinished projects, things left unsaid, a messy entranceway, dishes around the house, clutter on the kitchen table and counters, unsorted mail. I think that does it. When these things exist, everything else feels out of control too.

  • Laura

    Chairs that don’t get pushed back under the table make me crazy. Our employee cafe has a very high turnover rate and people tend to stand up and walk away leaving their chairs sometimes feet from the tables. Beyond the visual clutter, it leaves an obstacle course for us to negotiate. I find myself pushing in chairs as I make my way to and from my own seat. Even at home, the small kitchen table belongs to my roommate who insists on having more chairs than can fit under the table.

  • Vali Heist

    Hello! Just ran across your blog and love it! I just wrote a book entitled “Organize This! Practical Tips, Green Ideas, and Ruminations about your CRAP”. It’s available on Amazon.com, Kindle, Nook and other eReaders. I think you would enjoy it! Thanks. Vali Heist

  • Carol

    I would say on the top of my list would be reading/writing anythings that comes to me instead of doing dishes or other domestic-related tasks. They still get done but I can’t help indulging in posts like these, checking email with more posts like these, reading magazines with stuff I like and working on my writing projects…

  • Mine are not wearing makeup and not making my lunch for work.
    Thanks for the suggestion of looking for other people’s “broken windows.” I sadly have never thought of that.

  • I have too many to list!

  • Yes, I agree totally but my husband doesn’t at all.

  • Dry dishes left on the drainboard – unrecorded/unfiled business receipts – last Sunday’s already-read newspaper all over the place – a purse jammed with receipts / notes / lists – scattered about gloves/hats/scarves – a messy car – my watch / rings / bracelets on tables, desk, counters (shed because they bothered me when at keyboard) – shoes anywhere but the mudroom – work stuff anywhere but my desk (b/c I carry it around during the day if I’m trying to work while also doing something else).

    I bring order by jumping up during TV commercials at the end of the day to tackle one *broken window* at a time. Even if watching from DVR – those 4 minutes are just enough time to get one simple thing done, but not so long that I feel like I’m in housework mode.

  • NewcastleDailyPhoto

    I think a light bulb may have just gone on in my brain. I need to figure out what mine are and remember to keep them under control. Thanks for this post!

  • Lisa Ham

    Clutter on the dining room table is a broken window for me.

  • Kelly Russell

    I find this to be very true! When I’m feeling overwhelmed by life, the universe and everything the first thing I do is make beds. I look around the house and when there aren’t beds made it makes me feel disorganised and out of control. As soon as I’ve made my kids beds, things feel better. It’s sometimes a springboard for getting to a lot of other things done. It’s like that baby step and gets me moving forward!

  • Caroline

    We call this “Poisoned Arrows” in our household. I think it comes from the Feng Shui principle that sharp angles throw poisoned arrows at you and contaminate you life, your mood or your happiness. But we just use the expression to mean any kind of visual clutter (mail on the table or counter, dirty dishes in the sink on on the counter, etc.), annoying things we don’t want to fix (creaking door) or things we feel aren’t in their right place. These things get us down without our noticing it. When we clean up, we feel much better! It feels like a weight has been removed form our chests. No more poisoned arrows

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  • Mine: unmade bed, food crumbs ANYWHERE, ripped clothing. My husband’s: drip-drying handwashed dishes on the countertop, clanging noises of any kind. Yet we are both guilty of creating each other’s “broken windows” every day!

  • I’ve never thought of my habits this way but it makes perfect sense — that to “fix the broken windows” other things will fall into place. Thanks for sharing this analogy, Gretchen!

  • I agree totally … all of the above plus fluffy floors (I have 3 black Cocker Spaniels!), unwashed hair, unvarnished nails, no make up (I’ve tried natural, really I have!) and so many more!