Podcast 113: Reclaim Your Dump Zones, a Hack for Making Tough Decisions, and Is Your Birthday Important to You?

Update: There’s an official launch date of May 18 for Elizabeth’s great new podcast with her writing partner and old friend Sarah Fain. Yes, Happier in Hollywood launches in a few weeks. I’m counting down the days!

The Better app, all about the Four Tendencies, is now free. If you want to learn more about Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, or Rebels, join the discussion on the app. Or if you want to use the framework at work, with your health clients, with your family, with your students, you can find a lot of focused discussions there, too. And you can start or join an Accountability Group. (Don’t know your Tendency? Take the Four Tendencies quiz.)

Try This at Home: Reclaim your dump zones. I reclaimed the little table I describe — above, you can see it pictured in its naked glory.

Here’s one of my all-time favorite podcast episode — #10, live from Elizabeth’s messy closet.

If you’re intrigued by the subject of clutter-busting, you might enjoy my book Happier at Home. For many people, outer order is a very important for happiness at home.

Happiness Hack: Turn on the subtitles when you’re watching TV.

Know Yourself Better: Is your birthday important to you — or not?

Listener Question: Danielle asks, “My family constantly debates whether we should stay in New York City, or move to the suburbs, and it makes me feel constantly unsettled.”

The book I mention is Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness.

Demerit: I made the mistake of “treating a gift like a burden,” when I was working over spring break to get The Four Tendencies ready for publication.

Gold Star: Jack’s nanny Cynthia made lots of special plans to make spring break fun for him.

New feature: Each week, at the end of the podcast, I list “Two Resources for You.”

  1. To get every new episode of the podcast by email, sign up at happiercast.com/join.
  2. Every Tuesday at 3:00 pm Eastern Time, I do a Facebook Live video about the most recent episode. Join the conversation with your questions, comment, and insights. If you miss the live conversation, you can always see the archived version on my Page.

If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here. Remember, it really helps us if you do rate or review the podcast — it helps other listeners discover us.

As mentioned above, I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

Check out Smith and Noble, the solution for beautiful window treatments. Go to smithandnoble.com/happier for 20% off window treatments and free in-home or on-phone design consultations and free professional measuring.

Also check out StitchFix, an online personal styling service with real stylists who handpick clothing for you — your taste, your schedule, your lifestyle, your budget. Sign up at StitchFix.com.

Also check out Stamps.com. Want to avoid trips to the post office, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a 4-week trial,  including postage and a digital scale — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #113

We love hearing from listeners:


To sign up for my free monthly newsletter, text me at 66866 and enter the word (surprise) “happier.“ Or click here.

If you enjoyed the podcast, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Click here to tell your friends on Twitter.

Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

How to Subscribe

If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen to the award-winning Happier 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!

Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” The first shows are Side Hustle School and Radical Candor. Elizabeth’s show with her writing partner, Sarah Fain, will be Happier in Hollywood, so stay tuned for that.

HAPPIER listening!

  • Meg Heighway

    Thank you for designing the Better app – it’s been very helpful and I appreciate finding like minded souls. Thanks for your continued work!

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! It’s great to hear that it’s helpful to you.

  • Mimi Gregor

    I’m already a minimalist, and have no clutter, but I still like to read books about minimalism and decluttering. A really good one that I happened upon in the library was The Joy of Less by Francine Jay. If you want to get motivated to clear out the excess, this book just may do it. She even has some great tips to get your family on board with this, if they are resistant. And speaking from experience, it is a tremendous happiness boost to have clean, serene surroundings. Outer order does contribute to inner calm.

    As far as birthdays go, neither my husband nor I make a big deal out of them. I’m afraid I just don’t understand people who take off from work on their birthdays and have big parties and such. I see no reason to celebrate the random timing of natural events by eating poison and singing.

  • As soon as Gretchen asked the question “Is your birthday important to you?” in the intro, I knew the answer without thinking. Yes, Yes, Yes! I definitely had to learn to tell people my birthday is important to me. After several years of marriage, I think my husband understands now.

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s great to hear that that question struck a chord with you.

  • Melissa

    Growing up in a blended family, birthdays were the one day a year that was “all about you.” They have always been special to me and my parents went out of their way to make them so. I do the same for my daughter.
    My partner is not big on birthdays – at all. Early in our relationship we struggled with this as I was always trying to “go big” when it came to his day. Over time I found one thing I can do for him which he truly appreciates – the giant iced chocolate chip cookie. Each year this is one thing I can do to recognize his day and it has become something he looks forward to. Even when we are out of town, I plan ahead to make sure the cookie arrives on schedule.

  • Katie

    My husband’s birthday is exactly a week before mine. We have been together for 16 years, so the last 16 years are really a joint celebration/shared experience somewhat. Before we had children, we would celebrate together with a lunch or dinner out between our birthdays and call it good. Over the years and since having children, I have made much more of an effort in celebrating our invidual birthdays along with the children’s. I think after becoming a a mom and having so much of my identity change in my professional life (currently stay at home mom) my birthday has become much more important to me. It’s like a reminder that I am Katie first, then wife, then Mom. I am an obliger by the way and my husband is a questioner. I have noticed that my birthday is much more important to me and he is happy either way if we celebrate his or not. Thanks for another great podcast!
    – Katie

  • gaijinhousewife

    I enjoyed this episode a lot, especially the part about birthdays. I’m from New Zealand where birthdays are celebrated with parties, even for adults. But I’ve lived the last 15 years in Japan where it is very much the opposite. Birthdays are not celebrated with big parties, even for children. Children’s birthday parties are very much a family event. This is rather a relief to me as someone who doesn’t really need to celebrate my birthday. Keeping my children’s birthdays low key is great for me. In saying that, my kids do get to do great stuff like go to Disneyland on their birthday, but that is somehow far less stressful than planning and preparing a birthday party for them with all their friends and there is no pressure to buy presents and attend all the different parties. Adults also barely mention it’s their birthday and there are almost never adult birthday parties, that is also just kept between family members. I thought this cultural difference was interesting,especially since I come from a country where birthdays are a big deal.

  • Leah S

    I was really surprised, Gretchen, when you did not suggest to the lady trying to decide to move to the suburbs or stay on the city to “choose the bigger life.” I kept waiting for it! Is the bigger life having easy access to museums, shows, and restaurants without a commute, or is the bigger life letting the kids play in the street with the neighbors?
    I think back to your dog decision often when trying to make decisions for myself. Both options may be good, but which offers the bigger life? (Side note: when you boiled the Barnaby decision down to the bigger life, I totally expected you to remain dogless!)
    I love your show, and the littles! Thank you for your work!

    • gretchenrubin

      What a great answer! How did I not think of it? You’re right, the perfect question for the situation.

      Gretchen Rubin

      Visit my blog

      My podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin
      My books: Better Than Before —New York Times bestseller
      The Happiness Project —#1 New York Times bestseller
      Join the discussion on Facebook @gretchenrubin

  • I love your happiness hack! Can i suggest a further refinement? I’m trying to revive my Spanish and so I have been turning on Spanish subtitles. It helps me keep track of what’s happening, just as English subtitles would, but I’ve also been learning authentic vocabulary and been getting a nice re-immersion in Spanish grammar.

    • gretchenrubin


  • LoriM

    We are LOVING subtitles, esp now that we are watching a lot of British shows (Hulu/Netflix/Amazon Prime) – ESP those Northern accents – wow! It makes all the difference, although it is driving our son quite mad <—- in the British sense. For some reason, the titles stay on no matter whose account you are using on Netflix. They should fix that. 🙂

  • Nelia Beth Scovill

    Another possible happiness hack involving subtitles on tv: Some parents to get their children to read more and watch tv less, allow their children to have “extra tv time” but when the watch, the sound must be off and the captions are on.

  • Jessica Feldmann

    I love how you tied the love languages into the birthday discussion! My birthday is very important to me. I live far away from my family so I make a point to call each of them on their birthdays to talk to them. One of my love languages is words of affirmation and I distinctly remember a birthday where no one in my family called to talk to me. I made sure to let them know afterwards how important getting to talk to them especially on my birthday really is to me. For some reason a text or Facebook message just doesn’t cut it from family on my birthday, it needs to be something more special.

  • Sarah Katherine Williams

    I’m interested by the Birthday discussion.
    I don’t usually care about my birthday, but I’m having an irritation about it. This is at least the second year that my mother in law has given me a birthday gift when we’re there for Easter (my birthday is in May), and told me while she gives it to me that she’s doing it so I don’t feel left out.

    It wouldn’t have occurred to me to feel left out without this interaction, and the conversation just makes me angry that she’s so wrong about the effects of her actions.

    It does not help that her gifts (birthday or other) are invariably not something I want, but it’s really the conversation that bugs me.

    Do you have any suggestions on how I can maximize both of our happiness around this issue?

  • Beth Lassiter

    I love my birthday and it has nothing to do with presents or a party. It’s the one day a year when I do not feel guilty about being completely selfish!! I’m an obliger and I have a very strong reciprocal tendency so I usually don’t like people to do things for me because then I feel like I’m “in debt.” But once a year on my birthday it’s so fun just to sit back and enjoy all of the attention without any of the negative. I even order veggie pizza for dinner even though NO ONE else in the family likes it!!

  • Maribeth Anderson

    I care about my birthday when it falls on a weekend. Friday – Saturday – Sunday. Midweek birthdays are Meh.

  • Lynn Meissner

    Re: Dump Zones

    In my house growing up we each had a designated stair on the front staircase where my mom (or whoever was straightening up… most of the time it was my mom) would place things that we should deal with – books, clothes, mail, etc. It was like having personalized dump zones that made it clear whose responsibility each thing was. Our staircase was pretty wide so the things were never actually blocking the stairs but since we went up and down them every day we would take things off our stairs pretty often and put them where they belonged so things never stayed there for long. It was a great clutter hack for us, so maybe it could work for others!

    Love the show!
    – Lynn

  • Pingback: Declutter Your Life & Reclaim Your Inner Peace | Sara T, M.D.()

  • Carolyn Marks

    I love my birthday!
    My primary love lanuage is Quality time, with Gifts as a close 2nd… Not sure if they are tied or not.
    And please do not of Gifts and Gift getting, I love giving gifts as much or more than getting, and put WAY more thought into it than most people I know.
    Love your podcast! The only one I listen to on a regular basis.

  • Amanda Scott

    Surprise parties are my favorite, both to give and receive, because they’re not every year, and I feel they’re extra fun because you’re conspiring to give someone an unexpected joy.

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s great when it’s fun for the person!

      Gretchen Rubin

      Visit my blog

      My podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin
      My books: Better Than Before —New York Times bestseller
      The Happiness Project —#1 New York Times bestseller
      Join the discussion on Facebook @gretchenrubin

  • Veronica Bisceglie

    I identify so much with the dump zones!! I live in a tiny one bedroom apt with my fiancé and half of our kitchen table became an awful dump zone. It was making it unpleasant to sit and have a meal, and it’s the first thing you see when you walk into the apt.

    I bought a 3 section wire bin and designated one for me, one for him and one for outgoing mail/cards to mail, etc. Instead of dumping on the table, I sort out mail and papers and anything to go through or file goes in its designated bin. Then I made a cork board and on that goes things like RSVP cards, bills to pay, or anything we need to take action on.

    Are there still small piles on my table? Sometimes! But I make it a point to go through it once a week for my sanity and just sort, recycle and post things where they need to be. It’s a lifesaver.

    You can apply the bin philosophy to bigger items with bigger bins if you have the space. And Gretchen as far as your chair with the kids’ stuff: it sounds like some hooks in the same spot would sort that right out!

  • JiEun Lee

    I just want to say thank you for your happier hack. I’m pleasantly surprised that you find turning on subtitle to understand shows makes you happier. As English is my second language, I always feel ashamed to turn on the subtitle to understand what I didn’t catch through pure listening because that means my English is not good enough, whatever the enough level I consider at that time. Having heard from native English speaker that sometimes she herself doesn’t really get what the characters are saying due to accent, speed or just a way it was spoken gives me some permission slip. Although I feel guilty for accent as many people ask me more than one time what I said. Anyway, thank you so much! I think I can turn on the subtitle with more ease now. I should practice and perfect my listening skills though.

  • Nancy Malone Tallman

    Your Happiness Hack was a brilliant idea and very timely. After listening to that podcast during the day, I had insomnia that night and turned on the first episode of “Genius” about Albert Einstein. Everyone spoke with thick accents and I had trouble understanding much of the dialog. I remembered your suggestion, turned on the close caption feature, and restarted the episode. Pure enjoyment!!! Thanks for the great idea!

    • gretchenrubin


  • Amy Slaven Crown

    I love, love, love my birthday, yet I dislike getting gifts. For me, it’s all about feeling special, and gifts don’t make me feel that way. Cake and attention do! 😉

    Also: YES to subtitles. My kids and I are re-watching all the seasons of Dr. Who with them on, and it’s twice as good as it was the first time around.

  • Liz Treutel Callin

    Working on reclaiming dump zones! One thing that we’ve done for my husband’s loose change, keys, wallet, etc. that always seemed to end up lying around (and he was always scrambling to find them on his way out the door) is create a “Joe-bowl” (his name is Joe). This is similar to the mail bins you talked about. Joe-bowl is a nice looking wooden bowl that sits on a ledge by our back door where his keys, wallet, etc. get dumped when he gets home from work. He always knows where to find them and it reduces clutter to have a place for them. Happier for both of us! Here’s a picture of the bowl (it’s only $12 from Target). Cheers! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9b7d36c84d38bc7c2f1dda079aad8ebe19744c7126d11dbe88d14ab83ca3522f.png

  • Rita Hannon

    A demerit for me for only just getting to this podcast.

    One side of birthdays you didn’t mention was gratitude. I don’t ignore birthdays and I would also never throw my own party but… in 1999 my sister turned 55 in April, I turned 50 in May and in June she died of breast cancer. Actually 18 years to the day that I listened to this podcast. Many of my friends were in a tizz then about turning 50 and all I could think was Kathy would have given anything for more birthdays. I absolutely cherish each birthday I get to celebrate.