Tag Archives: Secrets of Adulthood

7 Tips for Clearing Clutter in the Office.

One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: Outer order contributes to inner calm.  And that’s just as true at the office as it is at home.

True, in the context of a happy life, a messy desk or a box of files on the floor is a trivial problem—yet I’ve found, and other people tell me they feel the same way, that getting control of the stuff of life makes me feel more in control of my life generally. And if this is an illusion, it’s a helpful illusion.                               

When I’m surrounded by a mess, I felt restless and unsettled; when I clean up a mess, I’m always surprised by the disproportionate energy and cheer I gain—plus, I’m able to find my stapler.

Here are some ways to fight clutter at the office:

 1. Never label anything “Miscellaneous.”

 

2. Abandon a project.

One source of office clutter is stuff related to unfinished projects. You’ve always meant to learn that software program. You were going to switch to using a different kind of planner.  You were going to review that proposal. But that stuff has been sitting in your office for months, maybe years, and it hasn’t been used. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not going to complete that project, abandon it — and get the stuff off your shelves, and off your conscience.

3. Beware of freebies, swag, and give-aways.

Yes, you went to that conference, and they gave you a branded mug, t-shirt, metal water-bottle, journal, pen, and an eraser in the shape of a cow. But if you don’t have a clear plan to use these things, they’re clutter — and the best way to deal with that clutter? Don’t accept those freebies in the first place.

4. Don’t get organized.

When you’re facing a desk swamped in papers,  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. You can spend a lot of time filing papers that you don’t even need to keep—and one of the biggest wastes of time is to do a chore well that need not be done at all. (See also #7.)

5. Establish ownership. This is a particular problem at the office.

Often, clutter sticks around because it’s not clear who owns it– those aren’t your files, and no one seems to know why they’ve been in the hallway for two years, but how can you throw them away? If you encounter something that you think is clutter, take the time to ask around and find out if anyone wants it. It’s surprising how often things go unclaimed. Relatedly…

6. Beware the tragedy of the messy commons.

When several people use one area, and no one person is responsible for keeping order, people tend to become messy and careless. Establish some system—for instance, by taking turns, assigning people to oversee specific areas, or enforcing the expectation that people mind their own messes—for making it clear who’s responsible for any disorder. This is related to the painful truths about shared work.

7. Toss unnecessary papers.

Paperwork is one of the toughest forms of clutter to vanquish.  Ask yourself: Have I ever used this paper? Could I easily replace it, if it turns out I need it? Is this information on the internet (e.g., manuals)? What’s my reason for keeping it? Does it become dated quickly (travel materials)? What’s the consequence of not having it if I do need it? Could I scan it, so I can keep it as a reference but get rid of the physical paper?

NOTE: Outer order contributes to inner calm — for most people. But not for everyone.

Some people thrive on disarray; they find it stimulates their ideas and doesn’t slow them down. It’s probably related to being an abundance-lover instead of a simplicity-lover.

Some people are just clutter-blind. They simply don’t see the clutter. It doesn’t affect them for better or worse. They just don’t see it.

Different levels of clutter-acceptance can lead to conflict, because the people who love order tend to try to badger the disorder-tolerant people into cleaning up. I always remind myself, “There’s no right way or wrong way, just the way that works for a particular person.”

As part of my “Design my summer” project ( you can hear me talk about it on the Happier podcast), I wrote a little book called “Outer Order, Inner Calm.” I’m just finishing it up now. It was so fun to write that book! So if you have any great tips about clearing clutter — at the office or at home — I’d love to hear them, to see if there’s anything I’ve overlooked.

What are your great clutter-clearing tips?

A Little Happier: Important Lesson from Dr. Seuss–It’s Fun to Have Fun, But You Have to Know How.

The Cat in the Hat said it, and it’s a truth that I feel more deeply with every year that passes: It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how — and that may take some serious reflection.

Research shows that the absence of “feeling bad” doesn’t mean that we “feel good.” We must actually strive to find sources of “feeling good.” Having fun on a regular basis is a pillar of happiness.

As you ask yourself, “How can I have more fun?” keep two things in mind:

1. Be honest about what’s actually fun for you. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for you, and vice versa. Wine-tasting, skiing, baking bread, reading mysteries—I personally do not enjoy any of these “fun” activities. They’re fun for some people; not for me. Don’t try to be self-improving, and don’t plan a “fun” event based on what other people would enjoy. Make time for something that’s fun for YOU.

2. Do have real fun. I often feel so overwhelmed by tasks that I think, “The most fun would be to cross some items off my to-do list. I’d feel so much better if I could get something accomplished.” In fact, though, I just make myself feel trapped and drained. If I take time to do something that’s truly fun for me (re-read All the King’s Men for the fourth time, call my sister), I feel better able to tackle that to-do list.

In case Dr. Seuss hasn’t convinced you, I’ll also invoke Samuel Butler:

“One can bring no greater reproach against a man than to say that he does not set sufficient value upon pleasure, and there is no greater sign of a fool than the thinking that he can tell at once and easily what it is that pleases him. To know this is not easy, and how to extend our knowledge of it is the highest and most neglected of all arts and branches of education.”

An example from my own life: I always knew that I found it fun to read children’s and young-adult literature, but I never paid much attention to that passion; when I made this activity a major pastime, by acknowledging what I found fun and starting three kidlit reading groups, instead of pushing it to the corners of my life, I dramatically ramped up the fun I got from it. (Read about these groups in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.)

How about you? Have you ever had trouble finding fun, or making time for fun? It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how.

Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:

 

Happier listening!

A Little Happier: Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood — admittedly, cribbed from Voltaire: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Be Gretchen! Just in time, I remembered not to let the perfect, fantasy Gretchen crowd out the actual, real Gretchen (who really dislikes making those kinds of plans).

Along the same lines, I remind myself that the 20-minute walk I take is better than the 3-mile run I never start; having people over for take-out is better than never having people to an elegant dinner party.

Have you faced this, in your own experience — where the perfect can interfere with the good?

 

Thanks, as always, to my terrific sponsor: Audible. Audible has more than 180,000 audio-books and spoken-word audio products. Get a free 30-day trial at Audible.com/happier.  Your first book is free!

In fact, for your free book, you can choose one of my books, Better Than Before or The Happiness Project. I’m the reader for both of them.

GretchenReadingAudiobookHere’s a photo of me recording Better Than Before. That pillow? It’s to muffle “stomach noises.” Sheesh!

Want to get in touch? I love hearing from listeners:

 

Happier listening!

For Podcast Listeners, Something New! First Mini-Episode to Make You “A Little Happier.”

My sister Elizabeth and I are having so much fun doing our weekly podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

And I’ve found that there are some powerful ideas about happiness, good habits, and human nature that don’t quite fit the structure of the show.

So, for listeners who’d like to start their weeks with a little boost of happiness, I’ve started doing “A Little Happier.”

Each Monday, I’ll release a little bonus episode — maybe 2-3 minutes long — to help launch the week.

I’ve always been intrigued about how much we love stories, and in the end, how we learn best from stories, so these “A Little Happiers” will feature a story from my life, or something I’ve read or observed, that make a point about happiness. They’ll often feature one of my “Secrets of Adulthood” — the things I’ve learned, with time and experience, about how to be happier.

I love all teaching stories, koans, parables, aphorisms, maxims, epigrams, proverbs, and the like. A Little Happier is another way to explore the power of story and aphorism.

I hope these mini-episodes will help you start your week…a little happier. Let me know what you think!

Be Selfless, If Only for Selfish Reasons. Be Selfish, If Only for Selfless Reasons.

From Further Secrets of Adulthood: Be selfless, if only for selfish reasons; be selfish, if only for selfless reasons.

This is a variation of my Second Splendid Truth about Happiness:

One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

I have Eight Splendid Truths, in all. (I was inspired by the numbered lists that pop up throughout Buddhism: the Triple Refuge, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, the eight auspicious symbols, I decided to dub my fundamental happiness principles as my Eight Splendid Truths. ) You can read them all here.

What do you think? Agree, disagree?