Podcast 46: Don’t Get Organized, Dealing with Sentimental Items, Dealing with Rewards and Treats–and We Hit Five Million!

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: Elizabeth reports on reader advice about how she can make an appointment to get her hair cut.

Try This at Home: Don’t get organized. If you get rid of that stuff, you don’t have to organize it!

Happiness Stumbling Block: It’s tough to let go of sentimental items, but they can become overwhelming.

I mention my post “What do you do with holiday cards? Keep, Toss, Store…” Fascinating answers.

Listener Question: “How do you distinguish between rewards and treats, and how do you decide when you should get one?”

BarnabyinConeGretchen’s Demerit: Barnaby had an operation, and I didn’t react in a calm way. Here he is in his cone, or “Elizabethan collar” as the vet called it, which he did not enjoy. Now he’s all healed and free!

Eleanor’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to the podcast Another Round. Note: they do use strong language, if that’s an issue.

Newsflash! We hit five million downloads! While we were recording. Thank you, listeners, and thanks for recommending it to other people!

Remember, if you live in the Bay area:  Elizabeth and I are doing our first live recording of the podcast! January 21, Brava Theater, we hope to see you. Info and tickets here.  We’ll have two outstanding guests, Nir Eyal and Jake Knapp. Plus Elizabeth and I have planned special little treats, and you also get a copy of Better Than Before with your ticket.


As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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1pixHappier Podcast #46

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Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

HAPPIER listening!

  • Carrie Kelleher

    Loved this episode! An idea for old xmas cards…our guest room has a bunch of picture frames of our good friends and their families. I actually use the photo (or photos) from the xmas cards and cut them out and frame them (if possible, some too small)!! So I still recycle/throw out the bulk of my xmas cards but I do keep some of them and use them to have current pics of my friends!!! 🙂

  • Wendy Litteral

    We staple our Christmas cards to a big ribbon we hang in the foyer. Once New Years has passed and we take down all the decorations, we take that down too and recycle the cards. It’s our “habit” to toss them after we’ve had them displayed. We also keep a stapler hidden in the foyer to hang them right away. They never make it into the actual living part of the house, but we still see them each day. Works out well!!

  • The One Best Thing… I had a 27 weeker preemie. I kept only one thing to remember that scary, difficult time when he spent 3 months in the NICU: his tiny preemie diaper. The size of a debit card, it was TOO big on him. I plan on showing it to his future wife, then throwing it away. In the meantime, I get a jolt of happiness when I see it in my top dresser drawer, it represents what my son and I got through.

  • Rachel Fiedler Anastasio

    Hi – Last year I took a photo of the holidays card and added it to the person’s contact info on my phone (only if it was a picture card). Every time that person called or emailed me the picture popped!

  • Mimi Gregor

    Regarding worrying over nothing: I, too, am guilty of excessive worrying over things that no one else seems to worry about or is beyond my control. Part of it, I think, is reverse magical thinking, i.e.: I’ve worried about things in the past and they’ve always turned out well. Therefore, if I worry about this, it, too, will turn out well.

    Regarding sentimental items: I’m not an extremely sentimental person, so it’s easy for me to get rid of stuff. I do, however, keep mementoes that are small enough to tape or tuck into my week-at-a-glance desk diary, and I keep the old ones in the attic (going back to 1986!) for an occasional blast from the past. For larger stuff, may I suggest that you take a picture of it and upload the pictures of sentimental items into a special folder on your computer. Then you can get rid of the actual item. Remember that you can keep the memories without keeping the mementoes!

    • gretchenrubin

      Great suggestions.

  • Christine K.

    I try very hard to let go of my daughters’ papers and artwork as new ones come in. I have a spot on the wall where we hang recent art, and then as I add new ones, I toss old ones. Once and a while I take one, date it, and put it in a small folder for me, but I keep very few. Spending too much time and energy worrying about all their papers and art takes away from the present moment. Worrying about loosing the art they did a month ago takes away energy I could be using to enjoy who they are today and the art they did today. I resist indulging in becoming too sentimental because that is time and energy spent not enjoying who my daughters are today.
    And please, if you’re a parent, don’t keep all this stuff thinking your kids will want it when they are older. They won’t. And it will become a burden for them to figure out what to do with it (if they aren’t strong enough to toss it right away). Save everyone the heartache later, release the stuff now.

  • Elizabeth

    I keep my holiday cards on my “happiness bulletin board,” which features a rotating selection of items that make me smile. The holiday cards will probably be up for a couple of more months and then recycled when I replace them with other items. I do have one shoebox of really special cards, but most get recycled.

    In regards to haircuts, what helps me is having a stylist with an online scheduling system. Then I can easily log in and schedule or reschedule my appointment as needed. I value this because I am always intimated talking to receptionists on the phone, which is silly but true.

    • Mimi Gregor

      I wish more places had online scheduling; it is awesome! I used to get massages at a place that had this system, and it totally eliminated the usual back and forth negotiating that usually goes along with making an appointment. I could see the schedule of my favorite masseuse, compare it to my schedule, and make the appointment. I think that what I really don’t like about making appointments with a receptionist is that I can’t see the person’s schedule, so that I’m not sure that I’m getting the optimum time for me.

      • Elizabeth

        Completely agree Mimi! Being able to see all of the available appointments and choose the best one for me is another huge perk of online scheduling.

  • Brianna

    An idea for those who want a compact way to keep their Christmas cards: my parents throw out some, but put the ones they want to save in an album. It’s really fun to flip through the album and see pictures of close friends and family through the years!

  • HEHink

    Here’s a suggestion for Elizabeth regarding children’s schoolwork: Don’t keep worksheets or workbook pages! As a second grade teacher as well as a mother, I can tell you that the majority of those are for practicing skills. And while that practice is valuable, it tends to be neither very original nor all that interesting to a second party (or even to the first party, often). If you keep any, choose only those that show your son’s original sentences, pictures, or stories that stand out to you, or those with meaningful comments from the teacher, or maybe some that show mastery of something important. Otherwise, look at them when they come home, validate Jack’s hard work, then quietly dispose of them. That will help keep the sheer volume of paper down, leaving you more energy to make decisions about work that gives you a better picture of who your son is at this time.

    • Molly

      Wow, thanks for this comment. I need to hear it to about worksheets! I keep a box that I dump everything into (except art I put on the door or a wall) and go through it 3 or 4 times per school year. It’s surprising how much less precious worksheets look even after 3 months. Makes it easier to pitch! Maybe Elizabeth could keep such a box (mine is about 6 inches deep and wide enough to fit even some art work) and schedule it in her calendar for, say, November, March, and June. Good luck to Elizabeth!

  • Molly

    We did just what you said in my son’s playroom after Christmas. He wanted to move stuff out b/f moving new toys in and came up with 3 piles that he labeled ‘Keep,’ ‘Donate,’ and ‘Store.’ I kept putting this off b/c I didn’t think he could part with toys he’s outgrown, but he did surprisingly well with the donation pile! When we looked at the pile to be donated and stored after sorting and even bringing in new toys (which are smaller now that he is getting older), I told my husband, “Look at this, we’ve been stuffing all this in a room made for so much less,” b/c even the new stuff just about fit with a bit of room left over. Talk about feng shui or whatever…I keep going to the playroom and looking in it just to admire how much better it looks, Before, I would stand at that door and get a stomach knot from the guilt of feeling we had let the playroom get away.

  • Molly

    Sorry for the overload of comments…I am posting and listening today 🙂 For holiday cards…I actually just continually add holiday cards to my Christmas storage boxes and I look at the older ones each year when I get out the Christmas decorations. I don’t keep everyone and we don’t get as many cards anymore so they haven’t taken up too much space at all. Fun to look back as I decorate for a new year and even to get ideas for our own cards. Mostly I just put them right back in the boxes after I decorate and add new ones when I put my decorations away.

  • Toni Planinsek

    Sorry I am not quite up to date. I read original happiness book ages ago and lost touch (mind you I introduced lots of Gretchen’s ideas into my life particularly the 1 or 2 minute rule) until I bought your newest book on Audible for my Christmas break at the beach three weeks ago in Sydney (Australia) with My Small Tribe (stole that name from Isabelle Allende) .

    I loved it, and then I
    found the podcasts (I am an about to launch pod-caster as well) and I have been listening to several of yours a day to try and get up to the current ones. I was walking through a bookshop listening a couple of hours ago and it was the interview with Tom Rath. I loved his ‘Eat Move Sleep’ on Audible so I found ‘Are You Fully Charged’ in the store and bought it on the spot. Isn’t this new digital age just fantastic!!!

    I enjoy you both I think because I recognise a bit of me in each of you. I think it is fascinating how sisters can be so different coming from same ‘nature’ with predominately the same ‘nurture’. I have two natural girls and two adopted boys and my sons have taken on family characteristics so much that people who don’t know will comment on how much like so and so they are. I am fascinated to now watch my grandchildren who are spread across the world developing mixtures of characteristics. I think Gretchen’s categories are very helpful in building tolerance of the ways of others.

  • Brooke

    Elizabeth- THANK YOU for recommending Another Round! I immediately downloaded the Lena Dunham episode and was laughing out loud in my car in the way to work. I’ve since listened to a few more episodes and am hooked.

  • Jason S Andrews

    Another great podcast. As a writer, researcher and declutterer, what do you do with project notebooks, old notebooks, journals… ?? As for rewards, I have a lot of trouble thinking of satisfying ones as an adult. A bag of sweets, a day of TV, a period of doing nothing was the greatest thing as a kid; now after a hard slog of work, i think, ‘I deserve a good… hmmm’

    • gretchenrubin

      I do keep all old notebooks, blank books, etc. They’re so precious to me. I don’t really read through them much, but I love seeing them on the shelf. They not used but they’re certainly not USELESS! They make me so happy.

  • Mama_Skywalker

    Regarding holiday cards, I put them in my yearly paperwork (taxes, pay stubs, etc). When I go through my papers in 7 years, I have a lot less sentimental attachment to them OR inadvertently I have saved the last one from a relative who has passed away. At that point, if I still want to save it (my last card from my grandma, for example), I move it to my lockbox with my really important documents. I think I only have 3 or 4 that have made the cut, but those are extremely meaningful.

  • Jessica Locke

    Thanks for the suggestion to try out the podcast: Another Round. I listened today and as you both described – I was smiling all the way through!
    And thanks too for YOUR podcast. I enjoy it immensely and have my girlfriends at work hooked as well. Your work has positively affected my life in more ways than I can count!

    Random suggestion – in terms of memory keeping and all the artwork, schoolwork, etc we struggle with how to keep and toss. I have used Plum Print in the past. It’s an online service that puts all of your child’s precious work into books. You send them the original pieces or scanned images and they will print up books in a variety of sizes and color schemes. Mine turned out great! Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

    Thanks again- Jessica Locke


    • gretchenrubin


  • A Lai

    Thank you for the recommendation to Another Round. It is wholly irreverent, smart and funny as heck!

  • KariCarlson

    I have a suggestion regarding those Holiday cards. This is what I do: When I open the card I take a photo of it and add it to the contact in my contacts list in my phone. I make sure their address information in my contacts phone list is the same as listed on the envelope and update or add if necessary. I hang the card until the season is over and don’t feel guilty about tossing them because I have a photo of it in my contacts list. When they call or text or e-mail their photo pops up and I can appreciate their card all year long.

  • Tobi

    Elizabeth-on scheduling with your hair stylist. Do it, before you leave, when you pay. Even though you don’t want to commit. Just try it. Be reasonable about how often you want your hair done. I have short hair, so I go every 4 weeks, which is a huge commitment. You could try something like 12 weeks, or 8, or whatever works. I’m totally a type O, but somehow, I do it. I have told myself, I feel better when I feel confident (and hair is a huge part of that), and it’s my “treat” to myself for being (trying) to be a great mom all the time.

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