Podcast 95: Practice Mise-En-Place, Pack a Canvas Tote Bag, and the Tragedy of the Messy Commons.

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

To start the new year in a happier way, we’re doing a fun project on Instagram. Every day, for the month of January, Elizabeth and I will post a photo on Instagram of something that makes us happier (by giving us a boost, helping us stick to good habits, reminding us to feel grateful, etc.).  Join in! Use the hashtag #Happier2017 and tag us — I’m @gretchenrubin and Elizabeth is @lizcraft.

Want the Spotify list of Happier 911 songs that I mention? It’s here.

Holidays are approaching! Want a Happier t-shirt? Email us if you want to get one. Or if you want to buy one of my books, journals, calendar, mug, etc., look here.

Try This at Home: Practice mise-en-place.  In cooking, cooks “put everything in its place” — the idea is to get all your tools and supplies together, so that once you start working, you can work easily and well. Preparation is a true stage of working.

As I mention, if you’d like some personalized, signed bookplates or signature cards for your copies of my books, e-books, or audio-books, you can sign up here (U.S. and Canada only, sorry; mailing costs).

Happiness Hack: Pack a canvas tote bag in your suitcase.

Happiness Stumbling Block: The tragedy of the messy commons — or, the problem of shared work. We mention the Four Tendencies; if you want to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, look here.

Listener Question: A while back, we asked for suggestions for wedding readings, and I collected them into a single document, which you can get when you click the button below.

Click here to get the Wedding Readings PDF now

Along the same lines, Sylvia asked for suggestion for funeral readings — such a great idea. I’ll make a collection of funeral readings, too. So please send in your suggestions. I’m sure it will be very helpful for people to have this resource, during a difficult time.

Demerit: Elizabeth forgot to check the school schedule before picking a date for her son Jack’s birthday.

Gold Star: I get half a gold star — a better-late-than-never gold star — for finally getting the flu vaccine for my daughters and me.

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #95

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  • Yuliya Gorlina

    Isn’t it spelled Mise en place?

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! thanks! fixed now.

  • Courtney Hunt

    Our pediatrician recommended getting the flu vaccine the week after Halloween, to provide effectiveness through March. Many people get the vaccine too early and the protection dwindles before the flu season is over. Using Gretchen’s habit strategies, I tied my annual vaccine reminder to Halloween and always make our appointment to get the shot that day.

  • LindaS

    I love mise en place but I use it in everyday situations like always putting my keys in the same place. It is a huge happiness drain when I have to search for something! My kitchen & pantry also, all the things are kept in the same ish place so when I’m cooking I know exactly which drawer/shelf/cupboard to go to. Does that count as an application of your mise en place idea?
    I totally agree with Gretchen about Elizabeth’s demerit. That is totally not your fault! Your kid wasn’t even in the program – that would have been a stretch for you to think about checking for something like that. Good save being able to change the date at this time of the year as well!

  • Toun

    Great podcast as ususal !
    I use mise en place for cooking but also when I have to host a party at home, do the garden, or repair something.

  • HoosierSeamstress

    Gretchen, is your birthday Dec. 14? That would make me happy, because that’s my birthday!

    Whenever it is, thanks for the happiness you’ve brought to my life. I’m glad you were born!

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, that’s my birthday too! Birthday buddies, as my nephew (also Dec. 14) says!

      • Tracy L Hayes

        Since I was in bed all day with Whooping cough or something like it and the 5 drugs they gave me weren’t yet working, I GOT TO LISTEN TO THIS and I loved it AND now I know we share a birthday! JOY! Happy Birthday!!

  • Marie

    I just practiced this the other day with wrapping Christmas presents! I gathered all of my wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, tags, tape, and scissors. I spread out on the floor with a mug of hot chocolate and a Christmas movie. It was a fun way to check off a to-do list item! Thanks for your podcast!

  • Sara Halgrimson

    This ties in nicely with my latest blog post of saving yourself time and money by creating a stain removal kit. Mise en place! http://www.organizeworkshop.com/home/2016/12/5/-requested-topic

  • Le Genou de Claire

    My “mise en place” is my makeup bag, of course! If I don’t have time, I just grab it with me & do it in the car (NOT while driving, but when parked & before going to the intended place). It has all my makeup essentials and the most important: sunscreen to be reapplied on the commute back home. If I can clean up my makeup bag, I’ll share it on Instagram.

    I also have a “mise en place” summer bag, filled with hats, sunscreens, flip flops, extra towels, underwear, waterproof bags, non-perishable snacks, water bottles, etc for me and my son. I stash it in my car during the summer and with that, we can go to beaches, lakes, wadding pool in a whim or as a detour from running errands, etc.

    Speaking of sunscreen, I have a sunscreen hack: stashing sunscreen in car dashboard. Sun exposure, at least for me, happens most frequently on commute back/forth in the car. The sunscreen protects not only my face but also my hands (the most exposed body parts during driving). Moreover, I use sunscreens that are “leftover” so to speak, from my son’s that he didn’t use up during the summer, or sunscreen that I bought for my face but for some reason I don’t like it. Instead of going to waste, these sunscreens are put to good use. One caveat: sunscreens break down under sunlight & heat exposure, the ones that don’t are the physical block (zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide — their function is simply as a physical barrier between skin and UV lights, unlike chemical sunscreen that must react with your screen and absorb UV lights). I only put those in car dashboards (such as the white, pasty Badger sunscreen that is v. effective for children but no grown-ups would use). I’ve also put powder sunscreen in the car with good result (since those do not break down/melt/leak, etc.)

  • Alexandra Ogilvie

    I practice Mise en place when I bake– but I make sure to un-mise en place as I go: as soon as I have used an ingredient, I put it back where it belongs. So when the mixture is complete– I have an empty counter as well!

  • Mimi Gregor

    I’ve always done the mise en place when cooking anything. Most of the time, it’s the preparation that is so time consuming, and the actual cooking is a breeze once everything is already measured, chopped, and lined up in order of use.

    I also have my makeup in my vanity drawer and my daily grooming items in my medicine cabinet lined up in the order that I use it. I don’t have to search for the next product, because it’s right there next to the one I just used.

  • Tracy L Hayes

    First off, although my husband says I’m slow, nothing makes me happier when I cook or bake than prepping mise-en-place. I love every spoon, and every prep bowl.

    My other mise-en-place hacks I wanted to share:
    – I finally decided to leave the tsp / tbsp I use to measure my morning smoothie ingredients IN the containers of protein, peanut butter powder, flax, etc. I know, it means I Have to get extras, but I got tired of finding them dirty or not finding them at all. Now all I have to do is gather my containers.

    – In my tote, I have a bag that contains my wallet, my pen *and extra pen*, power cords for phone and computer and kindle (GOD FORBID I CAN’T READ) as well as any necessary dongles for presenting from my laptop in strange places. It’s a BIT of extra weight, but WAY lighter than getting somewhere and not being able to recharge or fulfill my end of the bargain. BTW, this part of my tote lifts out, so on weekends when I don’t need any of it, I can just remove.

    – I just have too much going on to remember to unplug and pack a charger, so I have phone chargers in both cars, in my bedstand, at my desk at work, and in a pocket of my tote.

    – I have an outing bag of spares (clothes, diapers, underwear, whatever) for the kids in case they get wet, have an accident, or just change direction)

    This was a fun one! thanks!

    • Sutika

      These are great thanks!

  • Susan Murray

    Funeral reading/song suggestion: Forever Autumn sung by Hayward of the Moody Blues.

  • MerryMary

    I have always referred to the tragedy of the commons as the diffusion of responsibility. I have never heard of the tragedy of the commons but I’m glad there’s officially a name for this concept! My dad sold industrial equipment. When municipalities didn’t assign specific people to take care of the equipment and be responsible for it, the equipment was trashed VERY fast. Great for my dad’s business but not so great for those running the municipality.

  • Corrie Howard

    Great podcast! I try hard to do Mise-en-place each time I cook, not only because of the benefits of organization, but because I feel like it makes me a more competent and focused cook. Mise-en-place helps to put me in the right mental zone for cooking. I also find my food tastes better when I’ve this.

    I know everyone has different work styles and work habits, but I was surprised to hear that Liz uses her bedroom as a workspace. I remember learning that reserving the bedroom for sleep allows us to mentally connect it with a zone of relaxation and rest, which creates better sleep habits. What are your thoughts on this? Does it work?

    I’d love to join you on your instagram adventure, but sadly, like Liz and fries, I’ve realized that I have to abstain from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I’m okay with that though. I really enjoyed your discussion on what it means to abstain and moderate. I now feel like I’m free from mindless scrolling, FOMO, social pressures to conform, and information overload. More importantly, I no longer feel guilty for choosing to do this. Thank you!

  • Ruth Carter

    I practice mise en place when I put flat pack furniture together. I find the task runs more smoothly and I can enjoy it. I also use a hack my father taught me: empty all the little bags of screws etc. into baking tins. That way they don’t roll away and it’s easy to check you’ve got the right numbers of them.

    Like Tracy in a post below I have multiple chargers. The one I keep in my desk drawer is perhaps the most popular piece of equipment in the office. I bought it as a result of “identifying the problem “.

  • Happy belated birthday to one of my idols and an awesome writer and researcher of my favorite subject: happiness (and habits 🙂 )! Hope you had a fantastic day!!

  • Jeanne

    Mise en place in the world outside of cooking can be called “make a list.” Mise en place for grocery shopping is a list. Mise en place for always having your passwords is a master password list. Mise en place for travel is a packing list. I have one for driving trips and one for flying trips. Hack for making lists: just get started. Start a list in Word, even if only two or three passwords that you already have memorized are on it, or a few items that you always need when you travel. It’s a lot easier to add to an existing list as you think about it than it is to start the list. So start – just start small, but start. Keep it on your desktop for a while as you build it up.

  • Megan Barton

    First of all – I love your podcast and have listened for a while. Second, not sure if others have commented this before, but Elizabeth’s gold stars seem to often be awarded to someone else and the demerits are aimed at herself. I loved listening to Gretchen defend her sister from her own demerit this week! Thanks for always being real and supporting one another.

  • Lori

    I also bring a small bag in my suitcase for whatever need comes up. My favorite bags are ones I have purchased on previous vacations, especially those from National Parks. They are inexpensive souvenirs and instead of being clutter are quite useful. They “extend” the happiness of my vacations and are often conversation starters with people I meet. I also like using Trader Joe’s bags that are specific to the city or state I visit. It’s amazing how such a little thing brings me happiness.

  • Laura Jolna

    I first learned about the concept of mise en place when I read 20 Ways To Find Joy In Every Day on Oprah.com. To “prepare” is the first way to find joy and chef Thomas Keller wrote that practicing mise en place leads to “the joy of knowing you’re ready for anything.” And, “the better you prepare, the better you will be.”

    I was so inspired that i wrote a blog post about it a couple of years ago:

    Thank you for inspiring me each week!
    Happy Holidays!

  • Amanda Kirk

    Regarding Liz’s demerit – happiness hack: my coworker’s little girl’s birthday is December 30th. So rather than trying to plan a birthday party in the whirlwind of the holidays, they celebrate her half birthday in July and THAT is when she plans a party. 🙂

  • Pauline

    Gold star to Gretchen for prounoncing mise-en-place perfectly. Love your podcast!

    • gretchenrubin


  • Brandy Copley

    Here is my favorite December mis-en-place: the wrapping. I keep my wrapping supplies in an easy to use organizer and when it is gift wrap time I pull it out, and it makes the wrapping seem fun! Here’s what you need:
    paper (I have several kinds around a central color theme, some more for kids some more sophisticated, so that my gifts coordinate but don’t quiet match.)
    bows and ribbon to match (wire ribbon makes way prettier easier bows)
    gift tags
    gift bags
    gift boxes
    tissue paper
    bubble wrap
    holiday music to put you in the mood
    a holiday scented candle
    and hot tea or cocoa
    once you have all this in place, it is a joy to sit and wrap each gift, focusing on the person you purchased it for and how much they are going to enjoy it!

  • Mairsydoats

    Hey, hey, hey. Much as I do adore your podcasts – I have to hand out a demerit on this episode.
    The offhanded rebel-shaming (assuming that people who don’t wash their office mugs are automatically rebels) raised my hackles a bit. Some rebels are actually adults who take effort for the greater good. You know, out of love for others and acknowledgement of THE GREATER GOOD.
    I think of the dirty mug situation more in terms of the broken window syndrome, where a single dirty mug gives other folk permission to not wash their own either.
    There. I feel better now.

    • gretchenrubin

      Stay tuned! We talk about EXACTLY THIS in an upcoming episodes! Many Rebels spoke up!

      • Mairsydoats

        Thanks! I’m woefully behind in my listening life.

  • Anna in France

    A bit behind on the podcasts, but I loved the ‘mise-en-place’ subject! I do use this for cooking, all the time, but also for another purpose: to get myself to go out running. I do like running, that is not the problem, but I just hate getting changed during the day, and that can be a big hurdle (I can’t go running first thing in the morning, or it would be easy!). So I do an elaborate mise-en-place, getting my running gear laid out, my timer, sunglasses and/or gloves depending on the weather, music or podcast to listen to downloaded, etc. Then when it is all complete in front of me, I change and I’m out of the door…..works every time.

  • I typically wait and collect all of my tax papers (mise-en-place!) before I sit down to prepare my return, but this year I’ve been adding information to my tax preparation software as soon as it arrives. It means I’m skipping around a bit, but I’m nearly halfway done with my taxes and have only spent 5 minutes here and there working on them. I will be thinking more about which items to practice mise-en-place with (such as craft projects or cooking) and which (like taxes) are actually less daunting doing a little bit at a time. Sometimes mise-en-place, sometimes not.

  • Anna Embree

    Mise-en-place all the way. I have a toddler, and nothing brings sanity to my life with him than mise-en-place-ing in the early morning before he gets up. I get everything – especially food – prepped beforehand that I possibly can – and dishes washed and kitchen neatened – so that as much as possible my “work station” is ready and I can attend to matters with him throughout the day without having to rush and be flustered and stressed and fight against a mess. Few things contribute more to me being happier and being a kinder parent.

  • Lisa I

    When my kids were younger and running errands with me, I brought along a canvas tote bag to put their mittens and hats in when we entered a store. It was an easy way to keep track of them until we went outside again.

  • Carol

    I was doing mise-en-place for a few hours before I listened to this podcast. I’m spending tomorrow at a friend’s house sewing. So, today I cut pieces out and made sure that I had everything for the projects. Having everything prepared, I can spend tomorrow with my friends, sewing, and not having to run to the fabric store because I forgot something.