Podcast 67: Design Your Summer, a Deep-Dive into the Emotionally Charged Issue of Thank-You Notes, and Mother-in-Law Woes.

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

Update: Elizabeth says, “Everything Sarah and I have touched in the last six months has turned to ashes.” Hollywood! It’s a tough place to work.

Remember,  I’m doing weekly live videos on my Facebook Page about the podcast. To join the conversation, tune in Tuesdays at 1:00 pm Eastern.

Also, for our next Very Special Episode, let us know: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? For work, love, parenting, life…what really made the difference? Email us at podcast @ gretchenrubin .com, comment below, or best of all, call us. We’d love to hear your voice as you tell the story.  (77 HAPPY 336).

Try This at Home: Design your summer.  I’m so excited about my plans for the summer!

Deep Dive/Deluge: Back to the emotionally charged issue of…thank-you notes! We talked about this issue in episode 63. (What name do you like better?) If you want to see my stationery watch this Facebook Live video, around minute 3:45, where I show it off.

Listener Questioner: Anna asks how to deal with a mother-in-law who wants to spend too much time with her and her husband.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth did the dreaded “partial move.” We’ve all done it!

 calendaronfridgeGretchen’s Gold Star: I give myself a gold star for making a count-down calendar for Eliza, as she sprints toward the finish line of her junior year — and Eleanor liked it so much, we made one for her, too.

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #67

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7 Reasons I Disagree with Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”

I love the subject of clearing clutter.

For me — and for most people — outer order contributes to inner calm. I feel this phenomenon in my own life; it exhilarates me in practice and fascinates me in theory.

So I was eager to read Marie Kondo’s blockbuster bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. And I found it thought-provoking, and I got some great clutter-clearing tips from the “KonMari method.”

I also have some profound disagreements with Marie Kondo.

As I write in The Happiness Project, and Happier at Home, and Better Than Before, I’ve come to believe deeply that we all must find the way to happiness and good habits that’s right for us.

There is no magic, one-size-fits-all solution. Just because something works for you — or Marie Kondo — doesn’t mean that it will work for me. We can all learn from each other, absolutely, but there’s no one way to achieve anything. You indulge in moderation; I abstain. You exercise in the afternoon; I exercise first thing in the morning. You like lots of abundance; I like simplicity. No one’s right, and no one’s wrong. It’s what’s true for the individual. (You can read more about this in Better Than Before, in the chapter about “Distinctions.”)

And Marie Kondo does argue for the one best way. And here’s the thing: you read five pages of this book, and you know that Marie Kondo is an extreme, idiosyncratic personality. Which I love! Which makes the book much more interesting! But what works for Marie Kondo isn’t necessarily a great guide for what works for another person.

From her own description of herself, she makes it clear that she’s a simplicity-lover, who likes to take big steps, who’s a sprinter, and a person who  who doesn’t feel strong emotional attachment to possessions. (Though at the same time, she shows a strong feeling of animism, which I found intriguing.) But some people are abundance lovers, and some people like to start small, and some people are marathoners, and some people have strong emotional attachments to possessions. So her guidance may not work for you.

Here are the 7 main concepts where I disagree with Marie Kondo:

 1. She advises putting every item in a category on the floor as the first step in clearing clutter.

She advises that that if you’re cleaning your coats, take out every single coat, if you’re clearing your bookshelves, take out every book. In my experience, this can easily become overwhelming and lead to more clutter that lasts a long time, because people bite off more than they can chew. Know yourself.

2.  She advises having a joyful relationship with every item you own.

She recommends asking yourself whether an item “sparks joy.” This is a terrific question, and can be very helpful. But I don’t think I can realistically expect to have a joyful relationship with every item in my apartment. I find it exhausting even to contemplate having an emotional reaction to so many common objects. It’s true, though, that for many people, “spark joy” has been a revelation. Know yourself.

3. She advises clearing clutter alone and in quiet.

For me, that’s very true. For many people, it’s helpful to have a clutter-clearing partner. Another person can help with the grunt work, give advice about what to keep or discard, and can make a chore more fun. Know yourself.

4. She suggests taking everything out of your handbag, every day.

This would not be a good use of my time or energy, and I don’t think it would achieve anything. On the other hand, when Elizabeth and I talked about “the challenge of switching bags” in episode 55 of our podcast Happier, many listeners let me know that they followed Marie Kondo’s suggestion, with great success. Know yourself.

5. She suggests going big and doing a giant purge rather than tackling a little clutter each day.

But, as I write about in Better Than Before, some people like to start big, and some like to start small. It’s exhilarating, and highly productive, to tackle a big, one-time goal, and a clean slate is powerful — it’s also true that we can get a lot done, by doing a little bit each day over a long term. Know yourself.

6. She says that the best time to start is early morning.

That’s true if you’re a morning person, but I doubt that’s true if you’re a night person. Know yourself.

7. She suggests that folding is the best way to store most clothes.

She’s a big proponent of folding — and a very particular method of folding. I myself just can’t handle that high level of commitment to folding.

Know yourself. Use what works for you.

The problem arises when you beat yourself up for not being able to do things the KonMari way, “the right way.” When it comes to clearing clutter, there is no right way, only what’s right for you.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Marie Kondo’s book. I found it thought-provoking, helpful, and engaging. The minute I finished the book, for example, I got rid of a million coats.

Here’s the thing. As I was writing Better Than Before, it seemed so obvious to me that there’s no one “right” way or “best” way to change habits. So why, then, do so many experts assert that they’d found the one true way?

There’s something about human nature…when it comes to getting advice, we love to be given the true plan, the precise template that’s going to reveal exact directions to success.

And when it comes to giving advice, it’s easy to assume that because some strategy works well for us, other people will use it with equal success.

But it’s always a matter of the individual.

I learned a lot of little things from Marie Kondo, but there was one big thing I learned: that we should stay grateful for our possessions — for having served us well, for embodying someone else’s affection for us in the form of a gift, or for giving us a thrill upon purchase. An “attitude of gratitude,” for even inanimate objects, makes us happier. I know that I’ve never let go of an old laptop without taking a moment to think, “Farewell, my old friend, we’ve had some great times together, but now it’s time for you to rest.”

The relationship between possessions and happiness! One of the most fascinating themes I’ve ever studied.

Did you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? What KonMari Method strategies worked for you — or not?

A Little Happier: Accept Myself, and Expect More from Myself.

It’s time for the latest A Little Happier.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood: I want to accept myself, and expect more from myself.

Here, again, are those quotations I read:

In The Dyer’s Hand, in the essay “Reading,” W.  H. Auden wrote: “Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrown and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”

In a 1961 letter included in the collection The Habit of Being, Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.”

If you want to read more about my struggle to start driving again, I write about it in Happier at Home.

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Do You Feel the “Pleasure of the Expected?” Like the Opening Routine of the Tonight Show.

“There is such a thing as the pleasure of the expected. Opening routine of ‘Tonight Show’ provides it; millions would feel cheated if the ceremony were changed.”

— Kenneth Tynan, “Fifteen Years of the Salto Mortale,New Yorker (FYI: salto mortale is the circus term for an aerial somersault performed on a tightrope.)

I definitely feel the pleasure of the expected. For instance, my family and I have been watching The Larry Sanders Show, and I love the moment in the beginning where we hear Hank say, in a low voice, “We’re on in ten seconds, so get ready to have a good time. All right, here we go. This is exciting, isn’t it?”

In fact, I get such a kick out of it that predictable moment that we included it as a clip in episode 60 of the Happier podcast. You can listen here, at 12:55.

How about you, do you feel the pleasure of the expected? Are there things that you enjoy, as they unfold in the same way?

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 threw 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?