A Little Happier: Outer Order Contributes to Inner Calm.

This is one of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood: Outer order contributes to inner calm.

One of the things about happiness that continually surprises me is the degree to which, for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm, and inner self-command. I write about this connection in Better Than Before, in The Happiness Project, and in Happier at Home.

This connection fascinates me; in the context of a happy life, a crowded coat closet or an overflowing in-box is trivial, and yet such things weigh us down more than they should.

That’s why I follow habits like making my bed and the one-minute rule, and why one of the most important strategies of habit formation is the Strategy of Foundation.

A friend once told me, “I finally cleaned out my fridge, and now I know I can switch careers” — and I knew exactly how that felt.

A good clutter-clearing makes me feel more energetic, more creative, and more in command of myself. And I know where my keys are!

Do you agree — that there’s a weirdly tight connection between getting control of the stuff of life and feeling in control of your life, generally?


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Happier listening!

  • Mimi Gregor

    Most definitely! Cleaning/tidying up an area, especially when I am feeling depressed at the start, can significantly make me feel better. And because I feel a sense of control over that one little area, it often snowballs into a sense of control over bigger things that are going on in my life. I know that control, per se, is an illusion. But it is important to have that sense of control to have the confidence to tackle larger things.

  • Yes, I completely agree! I can always sit and concentrate longer if there is outer order. When there is clutter around at home, I have trouble doing anything but taking care of it.

  • robotfieldday

    YES! Yes, yes, yes, yes.

  • e frowning

    What do you think of Mari Kondo (of the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up)? She has a really similar opinion, and I’m fascinated with her approach.

    • gretchenrubin

      I thought the book made some interesting, useful points.

  • HEHink

    In college, a friend once pointed out to me that if the universe is infinite, then theoretically, the center of the universe can be anywhere. So sometimes when I’m tidying up, say, my work table, or my sock drawer, I think of those tasks as
    “restoring order to the center of the universe.” It makes the work seem less mundane, for sure. But it also seems true that when the sock drawer is in chaos on a hurried morning, it becomes the center of my universe while I frantically search for a matching pair of socks. Do I really want my sock drawer to be the particular center of the universe that demands that much of my time and energy? Keeping it in order allows me to find what I need and calmly focus on moving forward into other parts of the universe that need my attention. So yes, outer order = inner calm.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love this way to think about creating order!

    • Kathy Richardson

      When the center of attention becomes the center of the universe. That’s great.

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