Clutter-busting: Eight tips for preparing for a real (or virtual) move.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eight tips for preparing for a real (or virtual) move.

Knowing my preoccupation with clutter-clearing, a friend emailed me a few days ago: “I am starting the great purge of our belongings in preparation for moving. What mantras should I be using?

Good question! Moving is a fantastic opportunity to tackle clutter. And even if you’re not thinking about moving, you might want to try the “virtual move” – you look at what you have, and ask yourself, “If I were moving, would I bother to wrap this in bubblewrap and stick it in a box? Or would I chuck it or give it away?”

Whether you’re really moving, or virtually moving, here are some questions to ask yourself, as you consider whether some particular piece of stuff is worth keeping. Remember, you have to be HONEST!

1. Do I actually use this?

2. If I get rid of this, and it turns out I need it, how hard will it be to replace?

3. How many of this object do I really need? E.g., how many coffee mugs do you actually use? Beware of what’s called the “maximum-use imperative” — the fact that people will often buy or keep something to accommodate a use that they need only rarely (like a dining room table big enough to seat the whole family, who visits once every two years). Also, although you may be tempted to keep every usable rubber band or every packet of ketchup that comes into your house, if you’re never going to use them up, get rid of the excess.

4. Does this work properly? If not, get it fixed, give it away, or throw it away.

5. At this moment, do I know how to operate this thing?

6. Am I keeping a gift out of sentiment or politeness, even though I don’t really like or need it?

7. Am I keeping something as a memento? That’s ok, but pick your mementos wisely. Try to pick things that don’t take up too much room. You don’t need lots of mementos from the same period of time. You can take a picture of something if you just want the visual cue, but don’t really want to use the thing — this is especially useful when the memento is large, say, your father’s desk.

Most important…
8. When in doubt, throw it out! (or give it away).

Tip: I find it’s much easier for me to get rid of things when I can envision that my things will be better used by someone else. So, as you prepare for your real or virtual move, take the time to identify destinations for your stuff. Do you know a family who could use your hand-me-downs? A thrift store that accepts used toys? Would you post a notice so that someone who wanted something could come take it? Etc.

Check out my new one-minute internet movie, Secrets of Adulthood.

Happiness interview with Guy Kawasaki.

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies. There’s something peculiarly compelling and instructive about hearing other people’s happiness stories. I’m much more likely to be convinced to try a piece of advice urged by a specific person who tells me that it worked for him, than by any other kind of argument.

Guy Kawasaki wears innumerable hats – among other things, he has been an entrepreneur, investment banker, venture capitalist, and general visionary. He’s written eight books – my favorite is The Art of the Start – and recently founded an extremely useful, addictive website, How to Change the World. I’m sure he’s doing a lot more things that I don’t even know about, even though I follow him on Twitter.

He’s a person who conveys tremendous passion and enthusiasm about his interests and his work, so I was curious to see what he had to say about happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Guy: Playing hockey. Nothing is more absorbing to me, so that I forget about everything else. It’s blissful for me, and I’m not even good. Maybe if I were good, I wouldn’t be absorbed and then it wouldn’t be as happy playing it.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn¹t know when you were 18 years old?
Guy: One can be happy driving a beat-up minivan. I really thought one would have to drive a Porsche to be happy when I was 18.

Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Guy: Answering email.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful?
Guy: No, not really. I’m too busy answering email to remind myself of mantras.

Gretchen: If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Guy: I very seldom feel blue. Honestly. I have a great family, a rewarding and fun career, and my health is pretty good. What’s to feel blue about?

Gretchen: Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
Guy: The problem I see is that many people get upset when they cannot control everything. My logic is that you do the best you can and let it rip. If you don’t succeed, you just need to live another day to fight another battle.

Gretchen: Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy, and if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
Guy: The only sustained period when I was truly unhappy was when my wife and I were separated about twenty years ago. Those were the most painful days of my life. Luckily, we worked things out.

Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Guy: I really don’t work on being happy. I work on episodes of joy and try to string as many of these together. Allow me to backtrack: “Happiness” is over-rated in the sense that one can achieve a state where everything is great. That’s impossible.

What I try to do is short bursts of joy–like scoring a goal, playing with my children, being with my wife, launching companies. Between these episodes, there are times of pain, boredom, and frustration, but to expect that one can every achieve a time of nothing but good stuff is sure to lead to an unhappy life. How’s that for irony?

Gretchen: Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t–or vice versa?
Guy: My biggest discovery is that my children bring the greatest joy to me. Nothing comes close. I never knew that prior to having children. I feel for people who have never had children.

I’ve started sending out short monthly newsletters that will highlight the best of the previous month’s posts. If you’d like to sign up, click on the link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

Firefox problems?

I’ve heard some Firefox users that they’re seeing weird images. My beloved Typepad tech support has asked if I cold find out what version of the browser these folks are using — to them, it looks fine in the latest Firefox 2.0. So if you’re seeing the problem, if you could take a second to let me know your version, it would be a huge help.


How do you make it easier for a bunch of 5-year-olds to wait for an elevator?

The Little Girl’s nursery school and summer “camp” is in a school on the sixth floor of a large, busy building. There’s a gym and coffee shop on the third floor, and I often drop her off on the sixth floor, drink coffee and work on my laptop until she’s done for the day, then bring her home.

Because the building is large, its three elevators are always packed and extremely slow. In fact, little kids going to school get a special sticker if they climb to the sixth floor, as a way to try to relieve traffic on the elevators.

I was sitting in the coffee shop when a group of five-year-old campers lined up to get onto the elevator to go back to the sixth floor after a trip to the gym. There was the usual uproar created by a bunch of five-year-olds.

I was thinking, “Boy, I don’t envy the job of that teacher, who’s going to have to try to keep these kids in some kind of order until the elevator arrives.” I anticipated mayhem.

Instead, the teacher led them in a short song,
“Which elevator will it be?
One, two, or three?”

Then she asked for votes. Each child raised his or her hand to vote for elevator one, two, or three. Then the kids waited, thrilled with the suspense, to see which door would open first. When elevator three’s light lit up, the three team clapped.

How simple, how brilliant. A little forethought, a little creativity, a little empathy — it changed a group of bored, restless kids into a group of watchful, excited kids. A great lesson in happiness-building.

From some emails that I get, I know that some readers are interested in doing some writing themselves. I recently discovered Allison Winn Scotch’s Ask Allison, by a novelist and jounalist, about the publishing process, which I have a lot of fun reading.

Check out my new one-minute internet movie, Secrets of Adulthood.