Tag Archives: order

Got the Urge to Do Some Spring-Cleaning? Avoid These 5 Classic Mistakes.

It’s spring! (In my part of the world, at least.) And with spring comes the urge to do some spring-cleaning. The warmer weather and the fresh breezes make me want my home to feel orderly, spacious, and clean.

So far, I’ve tackled three kitchen cabinets, a closet, and my pile of white t-shirts. It feels great.

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. (All New York Times bestsellers, I can’t resist adding).

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. And clearing clutter is so energizing and cheering!

I’ve learned the hard way, however, to avoid these classic mistakes during spring-cleaning, or clutter-clearing generally:

1. Don’t get organized.

When you’re facing a desk swamped in papers, or a closet bursting with clothes, or counter-tops littered with piles of random objects, don’t say to yourself, “I need to get organized.” No!

Your first instinct should be to get rid of stuff. If you don’t keep it, you don’t have to organize it. My sister wanted me to help her organize her papers, and after we through away the papers she didn’t need to keep, there was nothing left to organize. Excellent.

2. Don’t buy fancy storage gizmos.

Ironically, it’s often the people with the worst clutter problems who have the instinct to run to a store and buy complicated hangers, drawer compartments, etc.  Don’t let yourself buy an item until it’s absolutely clear that it will help you organize objects that are truly necessary—rather than act as a crutch to move clutter around or to jam more clutter into place.

3. Don’t save things for the hazy future.

Some things are  worth keeping — but not most things. I was once helping a friend clear her clutter, and when I gently suggested that she might give away that pantsuit that she wore to work eight years earlier, she said, “Oh, but my daughter might want to wear those one day.” Really? I don’t think so. If you get a new dog, you’ll probably want a fresh dog bed, and if you lose a bunch of weight, you’ll probably decide to buy a new pair of jeans.

4. Don’t “store” things.

It makes sense to store holiday decorations, seasonal clothes, baby things you intend to use again, and anything else that’s useful for a particular time. But often, when we “store” something, it’s because we know we don’t really need it, or use it, or care about it much, but we just want to get it out of the way. Usually, it’s easier to throw something in the basement, attic, or garage than it is to figure out what to do with it. But in the long run, it’s better not to “store” that stuff but to give it away, recycle it, or toss it right away — without an intervening period in storage.

5. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Things often get messier before they get tidier. If you dump out every drawer in that big chest, you may run out of energy and time before you’re finished sorting through all of it. Take one drawer at a time. Of course, sometimes it’s necessary — and even fun — to spend a whole day or weekend clearing clutter, but often, it’s more realistic to tackle smaller aims.

Remember, we often over-estimate what we can do in a short time (one afternoon) and under-estimate what we can do over a long period, a little at a time (spending thirty minutes a day clearing clutter, for a month). Keep the process manageable.

What are your tips for clearing clutter? What mistakes have you made, in the past?

Are You Clutter-Blind? Or Do You Know Someone Who Is?

One thing that continues to surprise me about the nature of good habits and happiness is the degree to which, for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. More, really, than it should.

In the context of life of a happy life, something like a crowded coat closet or an overflowing in-box seems trivial—and it is trivial—and yet I find that I get a disproportionate charge of energy and good cheer from clearing clutter.

An orderly environment makes me feel more in control of my life, and if this is an illusion, it’s a helpful illusion.

Many people feel that way, and even people who thrive on a little chaos tend to have a limit, and enjoy orderliness to some degree.

Oblivious to Clutter

However, there’s a group of people who seem oblivious to clutter. They don’t appear to see it at all. Just as some people are color-blind, these folks are clutter-blind.

“Clutter-blind” doesn’t apply to the people who can stand to see dirty dishes scattered around, because they know if they wait, a spouse will collect the dishes — perhaps complaining all the while; see these crucial facts about shared work.

The fact is, very often, people in a couple or in a group have different levels of tolerance for clutter, and the ones with the least tolerance end up doing the most tidying, and the ones with more tolerance end up doing less. Again, this is a problem of shared work. However, in most cases, the messier ones would eventually cave and do some clutter-clearing, too. They want to be in environments that are reasonably orderly (though others might disagree by what is “reasonable”).

But some people don’t seem to register clutter, ever. A friend told me, “My husband never notices anything. As an experiment, when we got back from a trip, I left a suitcase full of his dirty clothes right in front of the front door, so he’d have to step over it to get in the house. I wanted to see how long he’d put up with it.  After a month, I called off the experiment and dealt with the suitcase myself.”

Have you found anything that works?

If this describes you — I’m curious:

  • Does clutter simply not register, or does it just not bug you?
  • Do you ever feel there’s any value in creating an orderly environment, even if disorder doesn’t particularly bother you — or is it not worth the energy and time?
  • Do you have trouble finding things, or do you know exactly where to find your belongings?
  • Is this a source of conflict with other people, or do they accept this aspect of your nature?

 

If this describes someone you know :

  • How do you deal with this aspect of their personality?
  • Is it possible to cajole folks like this into being more orderly, because it’s important to you, or is it impossible, because they simply don’t see it?

 

Over and over, I’ve been asked, “My spouse is clutter-blind. Living in a big mess just doesn’t bother him/her, and nothing I say or do makes this person help me keep things orderly. It makes me crazy, but I don’t think it’s fair that I have to do all the clutter-clearing, just because my spouse doesn’t care. So what do I do?”

What should that person do? Have you found anything that works?

In my limited observation, such folks often just can’t be changed. They’re not thoughtless or rude; they simply can’t address clutter because they don’t see it.

Podcast 62: Don’t Accumulate Excessive Amounts of Things, It’s Tough When Worlds Collide, and I Fail to Visit the Park.

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

Update: Back in episode 27, in late August, I gave myself a happiness demerit for not really having a “summer.” I’ve always wanted to have a summer experience (even apart from family vacation) that’s different from the rest of the year. As promised, Elizabeth checked in with me, to ask if I have a vision for the upcoming summer. I need to apply the kind of approach that I used with such success in The Happiness Project. If you have any ideas, let me know!

Try This at Home: Don’t accumulate excessive amounts of things. Soy sauce packets, freebie mugs, egg cartons, rubber bands, etc.

 Happiness Stumbling Block: It’s tough when worlds collide.  For instance, Elizabeth felt very stressed out when Henry and I showed up on set while she was working on that TV show, to record our Very Special Episode 60.

Listener Question: “I’m a Questioner married to an Obliger. How do I make sure that I help make sure that his desires get met?” To learn about Questioners and Obligers (and Upholders and Rebels), go here.

Gretchen’s Demerit: I didn’t visit the flowering trees in Central Park. Again.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star
: Elizabeth gives a gold star to Adam for holding down the home front — without complaint — while she was in New York City for several weeks.

Remember, if you want to request bookplates or signature cards for a mother in your life, to make the gift of a book more special for Mothers’ Day — or if you want a bookplate or signature card for yourself! — you can request them here.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #62

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“I Was Drawn to the Notion of Freeing Up Time and Space and Energy for the Things that Matter Most.”

Interview: Joshua Becker.

Joshua Becker and I met during a conference in Portland, Oregon — I was very interested to meet him, because I’d read posts on his site, Becoming Minimalist.

Within the larger subject of happiness, one of the most complex, and emotionally charged, is the role of possessions and happiness.

I write a lot about this issue in The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. And in Better Than Before, I write about the distinction between simplicity-lovers and abundance-lovers. I think it’s safe to say that Joshua is a simplicity lover! (Now, some simplicity-lovers say that simplicity is the true abundance…but there’s a difference between simplicity-abundance and abundance-abundance.)

Joshua has a book that’s just about to hit the shelves. He describes  The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own as “a book about owning less, but it’s more than that. It’s a book about generosity and intentionality and learning to pursue happiness in more fulfilling places than the acquisition of money or possessions.”

I was intrigued to hear what he’d have to say on the subject of habits, happiness, and minimalism.

Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

Joshua: Absolutely! In fact, the work I do today is based on a lightning bolt moment. Eight years ago, while cleaning out my garage, I was introduced to the idea of intentionally owning fewer possessions during a short conversation with my neighbor. At the time, this was counter-intuitive to me. I’d spent most of my life pursuing and accumulating as many material possessions as I could afford. But when my neighbor introduced me to the idea of minimalism, I was immediately drawn to the notion of freeing up time and space and energy for the things that matter most. Ever since then, I’ve worked to keep my possessions at a minimum and help others discover there is more joy to be found in owning less than we can ever discover pursuing more.

Which habits are most important to you? (for heath, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

It is important for me to clear distractions—both at work and at home. Distractions can come from any number of places, but I often find that removing physical distractions (clutter) from my environment provides me both calm and focus. For me, this means something simple: clearing my desk at the end of the workday and cleaning my kitchen at the end of the evening so each day begins fresh. Recently, somebody advised that I do the same with my computer (shutting browser tabs, saving and closing documents at the end of the day)—I have been enjoying that routine for the past few weeks.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

I’m not sure I’d classify it as a habit—I usually think of it as more of a temptation that often gets the best of me. But internally, I’ve struggled with jealousy as long as I can remember. For example, I often find myself becoming envious of the skill and success of other writers or of those who are younger but have seemingly accomplished more. Sometimes I find motivation in this envy, but most of the time it is crippling and burdensome.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

One important realization that I made recently in life is that my predisposition does not determine my future. For the longest time, I would excuse negative habits as “just the way I am.” Often times, with an almost defeatist attitude, we make excuses for our negative behaviors or unhealthy habits by appealing to an unchangeable, internal force that makes decisions for us. And while our specific personalities certainly do make some habits more difficult to implement, it is important to realize the opportunity to create new ones is always available to us.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

Minimalism served as a catalyst to embrace greater intentionality in all areas of my life. Eight years ago, I would never have responded to this question by saying I embrace habits. But today, I do. In fact, I see them as essential to living my fullest life possible.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

Leo Babauta’s writing on habit creation has been very influential in my life (Zen Habits). I recommend his work to everyone. His approach is practical, helpful, positive, and encouraging.

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?

 

I hope you’re enjoying the new mini-episodes. I love doing them.

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Happier listening!