Podcast 57: Choose a Daily Mantra, Avoid the Awful Habit of “Awfulizing,” and the Problem of the “Chair” Where Clothes Collect.

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

Update: Elizabeth is still in New York City. She’s working so hard on a pilot (glamorous, right?) that I’ve hardly seen her.

We also share a before-and-after story from our listener Kate, who has used the knowledge that she’s an Obliger to great results — also Pairing.  She sent me this before and after photo to share. Congratulations, Kate!

1pixTry This at Home: Choose a mantra for the day. In episode 26 , we talked about picking a one-word or one-phrase theme for the year. (Elizabeth picked “Novel,” I picked “Vision.”) Picking one for the day works well, too — for instance, Elizabeth chose “I can” when she felt out of control. Listen to the end of the episode if you want to hear Joe Gideon say, “It’s showtime, folks.”

Happiness Stumbling Block: The awful habit of “awfulizing” — dwelling on the worst possible scenarios. I talk about my fear of driving, which I discuss at length in Happier at Home.

Listener Question: “Having a clean apartment makes me feel less stressed. But we have ‘the chair’ where once-worn clothes get stuck.” Listeners, do you have any other good solutions?

 Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth didn’t start packing for her long trip to New York City until the afternoon before she left.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I give a gold star to one of my favorite movies, All That Jazz.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #57

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  • meliors

    My mantra this week is meticulous. I’m painting a room in my house which is currently red, soon to be cream. Its a particularly demanding project and i want to do a really good job. I’d actually picked the word just a couple hours before listening to the podcast so i hadnt thought of it as a mantra but I’m glad it is.

  • Sydney

    “Having a clean apartment makes me feel less stressed. But we have ‘the chair’ where once-worn clothes get stuck.” Listeners, do you have any other good solutions?

    Could she purchase a perfume or body mist that smells laundry fresh, and give her once worn clothing a quick spray before hanging them back up with the laundry fresh clothes? I made a mist with lavender essential oil, and knowing I’ve done something to “freshen up” something that doesn’t need to be washed again before wearing has helped me get over the mental block of putting “less clean” jeans/sweaters/what have you back in with the “actually clean” clothing in my closet.

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting solution! I love anything that taps into the power of scent.

  • michelle m

    I use the mantra “forgive” a lot. I find I waste a ton of energy getting upset with myself for making a mistake or looking back and wishing I had done something differently. When my mind starts straying down that path, I take a deep breath and say to myself “forgive”.

    I actually got this idea by watching football. Quarterbacks can’t take back a decision they made if they messed up on a play. Their only option is to look forward and focus on the positive. This is an outlook I have been trying to apply to my life, and it really helps!

    Hope it helps you too!

  • Courtney Hunt

    I have four mantras that I use often.
    1) “The days are long but the years are short.” From Gretchen herself. I say this to remind myself to choose to spend time with my son while he’s young, rather than give in to the distractions of workaholism or my iPhone.
    2) “Make the best of it.” My dad always said this to me whenever I had to do some task I hated. Now, I catch myself saying it to my son.
    3) “Do your best.” The motto of the Boy Scouts for a reason.
    4) “The only way out is through.” To remind me to be persistent.
    Love this topic. Can’t wait to read other responses.

  • stephanie

    i have hooks on the back of our bedroom door for clothes in the ‘in-between’ stage. i can hang everything up out of the way, and it airs out a little. and when i run out of space on the hooks, i know it’s time to sort through the items and either put them away properly or toss them in the laundry.

  • Jennifer R. Bridge

    RE: awfulizing: my late mother was a plain-spoken, sarcastic soul, and whenever I started catastrophizing in conversation with her she would often say, “Well, you’d better get your panties in a knot about this potential problem right NOW, because there definitely won’t be time to worry about it if and when it actually happens.” It put things in perspective, and it makes me laugh now whenever I recall it. RE: the clothes on the chair–my husband has a piece of furniture called a valet next to his dresser that he uses for airing out (i.e. piling) clothes before they go back in the closet or get worn again. It’s still a pile, but because the piece of furniture in question is made for the purpose and keeps clothes off the floor, it seems tidier. For my not dirty/not clean clothes, like Stephanie, I hung a Command hook on the inside wall of our closet and on the side of a chest of drawers. The hooks can handle a few items like the jeans worn for an hour after work, but they naturally limit how many items can be in circulation at one time…. or at least that’s what I hoped would happen. Instead, after I run out of hooks, I end up piling clothes on the bench in our bedroom!

  • Cathryn

    I really enjoyed this podcast. All the parts were relevant to my thoughts. My slightly worn clothes get hung over a banister at the top of our stairs where they are sort of out of sight. Sometimes they get so creased though that I have to wash them anyway. Banisters are a luxury not found In apartments, I expect. I also have a pigeonhole in the wardrobe where I can put foldable things like jumpers.
    I am glad other people have trouble packing. I find it is the most stressful thing to do!

  • Elizabeth Matly

    The Chair
    My husband and I had this same issue, so interesting that so many others do this as well. Our solution is the top shelf of our closets which we refer to as “pending”. it’s easy to see what’s there, its separate from the “clean” clothes, and it works for us. So when it doubt, put it in pending. 🙂
    Gretchen and Elizabeth I love the Happier podcast. I love getting both of your perspectives on things. I’ve read the Happiness Project and I’m currently reading Better than Before. I have made fans of all my friends as well, we get a kick out of finding out people’s tendencies. Thanks for all that you do!

  • Amy Conroy

    Regarding The Chair; instead of piling my not quite clean, not quite dirty clothes on a chair, I have an over the door hook on the inside of my closet door. It has three substantial hooks on it, so I can hang plenty of clothes on it, but since it is on the inside of the door, I can also close the door and no guests have to know my secret. I’ve also used the back of my bedroom door for this – most of us don’t close other people’s bedroom doors even if we are overnight guests, so again, no one has to know. This also avoids my having to fold these clothes or put them on hangers, which I would never take the time to do.
    Thanks for the great podcast – I listen as soon as I see that a new episode has come out.

  • Rebecca

    The Chair: I got some bright red hangers and hung them at one end of the closet. Everything on a red hanger has been worn, but isn’t dirty enough to wash.

    Two packing strategies that have changed my life: 1) Start packing the night BEFORE the night before the trip. Just having that one extra day add so much sanity to the whole situation, and eliminates the late-night, last minute packing frenzy.

    2) Save old packing lists to Google Docs, then modify the list that most resembles the trip you are about to take. Over the years you’ll end up with a list for pretty much any trip.

  • Rachel

    I bought duplicates of many items that lived in my suitcase permanently (hairbrush, toothbrush, etc.) when I traveled almost weekly for work. It made packing so much easier since I just had to add clothes and pack my makeup after I used it in the morning. Now that we travel less, it’s still an awesome timesaver since the list of things I need to pack can stay pretty short.

  • Mimi Gregor

    If I’ve worn something and it isn’t dirty, so it doesn’t need washing, then it is clean and it goes back to its place in the closet. On occasion, when I’ve worn something all day and I’d wash it if I were doing a load of laundry just then… but I’m not, AND I’m going to be doing something the next day that is potentially dirty work, I will lay these clothing articles on the top shelf of my closet. That way, they are out of sight, and yet easy to get to the next day. Mind you, this is a once in a while thing, and not a massive pile of clothing. My husband does something similar with clothing he is working around the house in. He has hooks in his closet on which he hangs these things. We also have hooks on the back of the bedroom door for whatever “jammies” we are currently wearing.

    As to daily “mantras”, these are some of mine:

    “Do it now” (If a task only takes a couple minutes to do, I try to do it immediately. Then I don’t put it off until I have a whole list of these little tasks.)

    “Stay present” (When I’m thinking too much about something that happened or may happen, and missing what is right in front of me.)

    “Serenity now” (Thank you, Frank Costanza. For when I’m stressing.)

    ‘Let it go, Mimi” (When I’m still fuming about something or embarrassed about something that may have happened hours ago.)

    “Just slide” (My personal favorite, from my favorite movie, “Fight Club”. When I’m over-thinking or over-planning something, which is much too often. Spontaneity does not come naturally to me, and yet some of my very best experiences were totally unplanned.)

  • Natalie

    We moved four months ago and our new house has a lovely big master bedroom instead of a poky little one where you have to turn sideways to get past the bed. So I was finally able to buy a pretty little chair for the corner – specifically to put my once-worn clothes on! I knew that’s what it would end up being for. I sometimes squeeze onto the edge when I’m putting my shoes on, but usually I just sit on the bed for that. At night, my extra decorative pillow also goes on top.
    I have actually seen a (very ugly) chair specially designed for this purpose! It has no seat, just an edge all around to hang clothes on! You can’t actually sit on it.

  • vv

    One section of my closet rod is for hanging clothes-that-have-been-worn-but-are-clean-enough-to-wear-again (is there a word for that?). Even if they are not normally hung on hangers, after I wear them I hang them up. It’s the airiest part of the closet, so they get aired out a little, and they stay segregated from the really clean clothes. I do laundry every 2 weeks or so at a laundromat, and at that time I take most of the clothes from that section and wash them. That saves clothes from being washed too often, so they last longer. I don’t stick them back in with the general population once they’ve been worn, because any sweat or body oils or dust on them will wear out the fabric if it is left like that for months. If hanging clothes up is too much, how about having a place to stash them quickly: a mesh bag on a hanger, or a set of hanging fabric shelves, or a special hamper, a large pretty shopping bag, or a milk crate?

  • Melissa

    Re: The Chair

    I have a coat rack in my bedroom where I hang my “freshly dirty” clothes that will get worn again. It keeps them away from the fresh clothes and prevents them from getting dirtier on the floor.

  • Robin Preston

    Hi, I have been listening to your podcast since the very first week and I thoroughly enjoy it! Love the new Little addition too! I wanted to tell you my solution for the is-it-clean-is-it-dirty problem. If I have worn something only once or for just a short time and it really isn’t “dirty” enough to warrant laundering, I hang it back up in the closet, but I reverse the direction it is facing. Laundry fresh clothes hang with the front to my left, the once-worn items hang with the front to my right. That way I know immediately which is laundry fresh and which is not.
    I have a similar trick I do once a year to identify clothes I am not wearing. At the beginning of the year I put all the hangers in so the opening is towards the front instead of towards the back – so I hang them from the back of the rod coming towards me. As I wear things, I reverse the hanger to the normal position of the opening to the back. At the end of the year I can QUICKLY identify clothes I never wore once that entire year and assess if I want to keep them.
    Both solutions work really well for me.

  • Robin Preston

    I have several mantras that I rotate through depending on my need. Some of my favorites:
    I can do it! This stems from living alone and having no family in the area and not enough funds to hire someone anytime work is needed in my house. Over the years I have laid my own flooring (ceramic tile, vinyl tile, and laminate), rescreened and resided my back porch, installed ceiling fan/light fixtures, and this past weekend ripped out the old bathroom cabinet and sink and installed the new ones – all by myself.
    Focus only on this – this helps me focus on what is right in front of me and keeps me from getting overwhelmed. I compare it to moving a wood pile – focus on one log at a time, not the whole pile. One step at a time.
    Thank you – living in a state of gratitude calms me.
    This too shall pass – no matter what joy or sorrow I am experiencing, helps to remember it is transient.
    Years, they take so long, and they go so fast – a lyric from a song I love, helps me cherish the day to day moments and the people I love.

  • Darcy Levy

    Awfulizing – It seemed that most of the solutions or action items you gave related to awfulizing involved when you do it out loud to someone else (e.g., your spouse). I awfulize constantly (about things that will never happen and my in-laws visiting, which I loathe), but I don’t do it out loud. Instead, I’ll let my thoughts spiral out of control internally until I get upset, overwhelmed, annoyed, etc. Do you have any suggestions as to how to put a stop to this destructive mental behavior (other than telling my spouse, which I don’t want to do – they are his parents, after all).

    • Cindy May

      I can definitely sympathize with you on this one since I have been doing that probably since the day I was born. In fact, this might be the reason I have grinded my teeth for the past 46 years (and have had 3 expensive surgeries to repair the damage). Changing your way of thinking about things is really hard and something I am working on every day (with the help of Gretchen’s books & podcasts as well as advice from other sources). I can also relate about the in-laws visiting, especially as mine are elderly and prefer to just sit around our house all day rather than actually go anywhere, and it costs them lots of money to travel across the pond.

    • Andrea

      Cognitive behavioral therapy can provide tools to help unlearn this sort of habit. You might check out “Feeling Good” by Burns, which is a very interesting read about how our minds work (often against us).

  • Meagan Morrow Hanbury

    I tackled the “once worn clothes pile” by designating a drawer (mesh bin style) in my closet for this purpose. If I wear them again great and at the end of the week they all go in the hamper. Having a dedicated, non-clutter contributing spot for these items has made a surprisingly big difference in my happiness!

  • LaraSnows

    I can echo what robin wrote about changing the direction of the hanger, so she knows it has been worn once already. This is a tip suggested by Ms Smarty Pants at her website, http://www.missussmartypants.com/index.php?route=blog/blog
    I suppose you could also use a special color of ring or other doohickey hung on the hangers to signal that the item has been worn once already.

  • Megan R.

    I wear my pajamas, workout clothes, and after work clothes more than once, too. I have this hanging in my closet, and I use a couple of the spots for this type of used-but-not-dirty clothes. http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/90300037/

    This is great if you can spare an extra foot of closet rod in your closet. I have a very small dresser, so I actually use a few of the spaces for clean clothes as well — very handy.

    For workout clothes that may be a bit damp but not smelly, I have installed three 3M command hooks right outside of my closet and I hang my workout clothes there to dry.

  • Rachel

    The Chair

    Echoing what at least one person below said, over-the-door hooks! You can get them from target in a variety of finishes and they fit on almost any door. I have lived in very small apartments and don’t know where I would be without them. I have them in the bathroom for my bathrobe and towels and in the bedroom on both the bedroom and closet doors for regular clothes, workout clothes, and at-home sweats. Seriously, buy some of these they are cheap and will save your live! Bonus if you live in an apartment bc they won’t ruin the walls like installing hooks/drilling holes might plus you can take them with you! The chair is one habit that I have completely broken myself of and will never look back!

    Over-the-door hooks!

    OVER THE DOOR HOOKS changed my life!!!

    • Janet Hermann-Meh

      I tried those, but had problems with the door shutting, so I went to a behind-the-door hook rack. 🙂

  • We just moved The Chair out of the bedroom and into the living room for extra seating for a party and like its new home so much that we haven’t put it back! So now I have to deal with the not-quite-dirty clothes. I’ve just started putting them back with the clean ones, and it surprisingly hasn’t killed me.
    My mantras this week have come straight from Gretchen and Elizabeth — “better than before”, a reminder I absolutely love when I’m feeling down and un-upholdery for not upholding All The Rules; and “freedom from French fries”, which I use for unnecessary or habitual phone/email checking. I also borrowed the social media squat from a listener a couple of weeks ago, and now only check Instagram while doing plank. Ouch, and also way better phone habits!

  • Jenna Van Sickle

    My mantra: “It’s a good life.” I say this to myself when I am getting stressed about little things or even if something serious is bothering me. It’s a quote from John Green’s /The Fault in Our Stars/, and it has come to invoke contentment and gratitude.

  • Amy Sampson

    Re: The Chair

    I have a small shelf (20″w X 8″h X 12″ d) in my closet for clothes that have been worn, but aren’t “dirty”. Anything I plan to wear again before washing gets neatly folded and put on that shelf. To keep things from piling up, I look to that shelf for something (appropriate) to wear before I go looking in my “clean” wardrobe. Anything on that “in-between shelf” that hasn’t been worn again before my Saturday laundry session gets moved to the hamper and is laundered.

  • Monica

    As a few other commenters noted, my solution for what I call “half-dirty clothes” is a row of hooks next to my closet door. This keeps them from getting rumpled, trampled or musty feeling, and they’re close at hand when I’m looking for something to wear. I can’t stand the half-dirty clothes comingling with the freshly cleaned ones!

  • Critter No

    I was thinking about The Chair, and considered what would happen if “what happens if I ignore this” was facilitated. Either, choosing to not allow a few clothes on The Chair bother a person, or choosing not to allow “clerty” (clean/dirty) clothes refolded in the closed to be an issue. In this case would that be considered a negative loop hole?

  • clapac

    Two things for Elizabeth:

    I have a tendency to awfulize during stressful times as well, and have found it very helpful to think of the worst case scenario, which very often is not as bad as the feeling of anxiety would make you believe. You touched on this a bit in the podcast, but thinking of the worst case scenario and realizing it’s not actually that bad can stop me from the cycle of constant worrying about that thing. I think it’s also quite a relief for my husband, who is definitely not a worrier.

    Also, thank you for the Bitch Sesh recommendation. It’s hilarious and I’ve turned a number of friends on to it, and we’re all very happily hooked.

  • Janet Hermann-Meh

    Alas, THE CHAIR. I had a folding chair by my make-up table that served such a purpose. I couldn’t bring myself to put the clothes in the laundry if I’d only worn them a short time (sweater, robe, etc.), but I couldn’t put them in with the clean clothes. As a person with allergies, I’m careful about pollen, so if I have something I wear to take the dog out, putting it in with clean clothes is not a good idea.

    Your ideas of having to fold or “put away” in some fashion is too much effort for me. 🙂 Instead I put this behind my bathroom closet door, and this is where my “other category of clothes” live, until they go into the hamper.

    I hope this helps. Love your podcast SO MUCH; I feel like I have two MUCH wiser sisters. Thank you guys!

    • Janet Hermann-Meh

      …for some reason, the picture did not post in the comment. This is what I was talking about. 🙂

      • Katie Davis

        We have a version of this! It is on the back of our bedroom door. It is where my husband and I hang our worn jeans/hoodies, bathrobes and towels. It begins to pile up now and again when we forget to re-wear hoodies/jeans and have a few each hanging there… I go ahead and toss those in with the laundry when I don’t have enough for a full load. Then I don’t feel like I’m wasting water and it’s kind of a “reset” button getting everything back in the closet 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much for the kind words!

  • Andrea

    Re “The Chair” — I’m a fan of over the door hooks, where I hang up my “lounge around teh house clothes” that are covered in pet hair that I wouldn’t want back in my closet. Then, for nicer clothes, I use a special hanger to mark off a separate section at the end of my closet rod, and hang those “once worn” items on the other side of that hanger.

  • Linda Sue Brown

    The chair is the best. How sweet to talk about our simple lives of ones clothes.My mind goes to way back when life was in a wagon headed West. I must read a book about how “the chair” was placed in the many wagon trains with many families who washed their in between clothes and the very dirty laundry AT the nearest river!!!!!

  • Leslie

    Mantra: I have three mantras that I often use. One is “it’s no big deal” I say this to myself when things start feeling overwhelming or outloud to my kids when something goes wrong like a big spill. The other is “do it right, right now!” Kind of goes with your one minute rule. Reminds me that if I just do it right it will be done. (This also comes from “Frog and Toad: Tomorrow”) And the last one is “I can be the best me”. I can’t be someone else and only I can be me and I can be the best me possible. No comparing with others.
    I love your podcast! I started bing listening at the beginning of February and love finally being caught up but hate waiting until the next week to listen to a new one. Thank you!

  • Kate H

    I want to know what Kate watched on “Sweatflix”…I do the same thing. And it works – if I have something to watch!

  • Holly Koppel

    My mantra came to me last week while I was holding my little one who was suffering a stomach flu. “Calm, loving, grateful” It echoes my goals to be a more calm person, a more loving wife and mother, and grateful for the gifts I have been given in life. As I held her in my arms, I just kept repeating it over and over again. Now when I’m in the throes of stress from a toddler meltdown or sickness, I just repeat the phrase.

    Today, I just ordered a bracelet on Etsy with that phrase on it so I’ll have it on me all the time as a constant reminder.

  • statmam

    Wow, this was timely. When I first listened to this episode a week ago I had a good job in a stable company with a great group of co-workers. On Friday, I got the call that everyone dreads. There was a merger and a restructuring, and my entire division was eliminated effective immediately. Through the fog of shock clouding my brain, I heard Gretchen’s voice saying “How do you know (that this is a bad thing)?” Over the next couple of weeks as I enter the brave, new world of unemployment, I plan to try that daily mantra of “I can”. Thanks for the encouraging episode.

    • gretchenrubin

      A challenging time! Hang in there – and good luck!

  • michelle/nft

    I can totally relate to the concept of “awfulizing”. I was participating in a round of it this morning when I saw that my ‘Quote of the Day’ calendar provided these words for wisdom from Mark Twain: “I’ve seen a heap of trouble in my life and most of it never came to pass”. How perfect!! 🙂

  • Anki Larsen

    As I was listening to the discussion on awfulizing, I was reminded of a story my mother told me *years* ago, about “Borrowing Jacks” (a Google search on that phrase or “want to borrow a jack” will turn up a number of variations on this story).

    The basic gist of it is a guy is driving along a country road at night when one of his tires blows out (this is before the days of cell phones and AAA). He gets out of his car to look at the damage and discovers he has no jack in his trunk, so he goes walking toward a nearish farmhouse where he could hopefully borrow a jack. As he is walking along, he starts playing through the potential conversation he will have with the farmer. It starts out reasonably enough, but the man continues running through permutations. He sees the farmhouse light go out, so of course the farmer has gone to bed and will be annoyed. By the time the man gets up to the porch, he’s managed to work himself up so much that when the farmer asks “who’s there?” the man yells at him that he is an awful person and he can just keep his jack!

    Ever since my mom related that story to me I have had it in the back of my mind, and when I start to awfulize and borrow trouble, there’s a little voice that says to me “wanna borrow a jack?” which frequently helps me stop the unproductive train of thought.

  • Katie S

    I have three mantras: 1) Team Schultz. My husband and I came up with this one because it is easily to feel resentful and feel as though one person is doing/getting more than the other, and so we like to remind ourselves that we are working together even when it feels as if we are not. 2) Be better. This is sort of my yearly theme, reminding myself to take care of myself more and to work on myself. And finally, 3) the days are long but the years are short. One of yours!

    • gretchenrubin

      Love these!

  • Kate

    This was such a good one! I just wanted to chime in about “the chair” too – my thought was maybe she should just get rid of the chair? For me, my “chair” can’t stay piled up with clothes or tote bags because it’s just too much work to move all that stuff all the time, to enjoy it (creating a loophole like you said). So maybe getting rid of the chair (which is inviting the clutter) and then seeing what other natural spots they land, and going from there? Like maybe seeing her barely worn yoga pants on the floor will be too annoying and she’ll put them somewhere else? Or, alternate solution, my hubby keeps a basket in our closet for this exact purpose – it’s full of different choices of his “lounging” clothes, so they’re all sort of equally clean/not clean together and he just washes them all at the same time each week. Good luck!

  • TiffAnn

    Suggestion for ‘The Chair’… have the end of the closet rod as a designated space to hang the few items that have already been worn. They will be separate from the ‘clean’ clothes, and accessible to be worn again quickly when it’s time to lounge around for a couple hours in the sweats. Also, convenient to re-wear them so they are a day closer to ending up in the laundry hamper, instead of pulling out more clean clothes. Also – once you start hanging things in the designated space – MOVE THE CHAIR. Strategy of inconvenience and clean slate. “Now that the chair is in a new spot, I don’t put clothes on it in the new spot.” thinking.

  • Camille

    My solution to the problem of what to do with clothes that have been worn but are not dirty enough to wash is to turn them inside out. Once I’ve worn it, I turn it inside out and either fold back into my drawers or hang in the closet and I can quickly see when I’m getting dressed again how clean it really is. 🙂

  • mellen

    Our mantra when my husband and I are in the car: “We’re on vacation!” This reminds us that we are together, we are safe, and we are doing something we want to be doing. On our honeymoon we were in a somewhat bad, but not horrible auto accident, so it’s really become important to us that we remain calm and relaxed in the car. It’s easy for us to get stressed and to argue about which way to go or when we should have left — but really this is not very useful.