Clutter: One big tip – don’t “treat” yourself – plus eleven quick tips for keeping your home uncluttered.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: One big tip – don’t “treat” yourself – plus eleven quick tips for keeping your home uncluttered.

When you’re feeling blue or overwhelmed, it’s tempting to try to pick yourself up by indulging in a “treat.” Unfortunately, a guilty pleasure is often just that – an ice-cream sundae, a cigarette, an extra glass of wine, an expensive splurge, and other treats give a short-term boost, but then just deepen your blues as guilt and remorse set in.

I realized that one of my personal “treats” is the decision not to pick up after myself. Instead of trying to tidy as I go, as I usually do, I let small tasks mount up. “I can’t possibly be expected to do something like that,” I tell myself. “I’m too busy/too frazzled/too upset/too rushed. I deserve a break.”

The problem is that, in the end, the mess makes me feel worse. Maybe I enjoy a tiny buzz from flinging my coat onto the hall floor, but the disorder just makes my bad mood deepen. (Plus it’s not nice for anyone else, either.) On the other hand, serene, orderly surroundings make me feel better. Outer order brings inner calm.

Now, instead of “treating” myself to a mess, I make a special effort to keep things tidy when I’m feeling low.

Here are my tips for quick, easy steps to keep your surroundings uncluttered. Practically all of them are simple enough to be followed even when you’re feeling extremely overwhelmed:

1. Make your bed.

2. Put your dirty clothes in the hamper.

3. Hang up your towel.

4. Keep magazines out of sight (people disagree with me on this one, but I find it impossible to keep stacks of magazines from looking messy).

5. Shut all drawers, cabinet doors, and closet doors as you go.

6. Pick up the mail, immediately sort it, throw away junk mail, and put real mail in the proper place (I have drawer for bills and a file for invitations).

7. Put dirty disher in the dishwasher, or failing that, the sink.

8. Deal with the recycling. It differs a lot from place to place, but you know what you’re supposed to do.

9. Put books away in the proper place: back on the shelf, in the library-return pile, or in the donation pile. Speaking of that…

10. Keep a bag of things you want to give away. As soon as you decide you don’t want or need something anymore, put it in the bag. Every so often, drop off the bags at a thrift store.

11. Hang up your coat. My epiphany: I never hung up my coat – why? – because I didn’t like dealing with hangers. Eureka! I decided to start using a hook. Problem solved.

“Treating” myself to overlooking these steps feels illicit and fun for a moment (yes, I realize how boring my life must be if throwing my coat on the floor feels illicit), but in the end, I just end up feeling worse. If I follow these de-cluttering steps, even if I don’t do anything else to keep my apartment in order, the chaos stays at an acceptable level.

What have I missed? Are there other quick steps to take to keep your home uncluttered?

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I get a bick kick out of Dumb Little Man, and never fail to find very useful and interesting material there – very engagingly presented.

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If you’ve emailed me in the last week…

If you’ve emailed me in the last week to ask for a copy of my personal Resolutions Chart or to be put on my newsletter list, there’s a good chance I never received your note. Some of my emails went undelivered. Now the problem seems to be fixed, so if you think of it, email me again at grubin AT SYMBOL gretchenrubin DOT COM. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” or “Newsletter” in the subject line.

Sorry for the inconvenience. Talk about re-framing! I was complaining about getting too much email — but I’ve learned that it’s better to get too much than not to get it at all.

Happiness interview with Ben Casnocha.

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. 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 or her, than by any other kind of argument.

This interview is with blogger, author, and entrepreneur-since-age-12 Ben Casnocha. I have an especially fond feeling for Ben, because he was one of the first people I met in real life after meeting him in blogland – I was flabbergasted when he actually turned up as real person, looking just like the photo on his site.

What’s astonishing to me is that Ben is only twenty years old, and a full-time college student, and yet he seems to be everywhere and doing everything. For example, he has started two companies, wrote a terrific book, My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley, and speaks and consults. He has a very popular blog, Ben Casnocha, and a large readership for his newsletter.

If you read his stuff, you know that he does a lot of thinking about happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Ben: Stimulating, soulful, laughter-filled conversation.

Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Ben: Dwelling on a negative thought that seems to just cycle through my head. Wish I had better mind control so I could say to myself: “Accept thoughts on X, deny thoughts on Y.” The passage of time, I’ve found, is the only reliable way a negative thought flushes out of my system.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful?
Ben: I collect tons of quotes and mantras. One I read yesterday I liked: “The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable.” – Martin Buber. Not sure it’s my ultimate mantra, but it’s a good one. I spend most of my cycles trying to figure out why things work they way they do, and I need to remind myself that some things just *can’t* be rationally, logically explained.

Gretchen: If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Ben: Treadmill and push-ups. Talking to family and long-term friends. And trying to cheer other people up (in the process, I cheer up myself).

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 — if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
Ben: I’m more even keeled. I think I have a high set point. But, the past few months I’ve felt more funks than usual, and while it has been difficult I think hitting lower moments makes you appreciate the highs more. How am I dealing with it? Confronting the unhappiness directly and moving swiftly to eliminate what I see as the causes — the events, people, things, etc — from my life. And trying to be at peace with the fact that life is cyclical and some days / months / years will be better than others.

Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Ben: I think about it / work on it. If you don’t actively think about it, you outsource what it means to others, like the media, and they tend to promote a materialistic conception of the word. So I do think it’s possible to pursue happiness without ever really knowing what it means, or without ever thinking you’ll actually *arrive*.

Of course, one of the main ways I think about happiness is by reading the blog The Happiness Project. Have you heard of it? Some great stuff there. 🙂

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This probably relates to the happiness of very few people other than myself, but I was happy to see John Tierney’s Tips From the Potlatch, Where Giving Knows No Slump. Many, many years ago, on my lunch hour, I saw a diorama display on potlatch in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. — and for years after, I was obsessed by the question, “Why do people destroy their own possessions?” (It is rare and beautiful to be obsessed by a question that way.) I wrote a paper about it in law school, I wrote a bad novel about it, and finally I got a chance to write a short book about it, Profane Waste, with my friend, photographer Dana Hoey. I will never tire of the mystery of potlatch.

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Happiness is…blogging for Slate.

I’m extremely HAPPY because, as of January 12, the Happiness Project will be a blog on the fabulous online magazine Slate. Zoikes! I’ve been a huge fan of Slate for a very long time, so I was thrilled to be asked to join the fantastic writers there.

My posts will appear first on Slate, then after an eight-hour delay, will appear on this blog as usual. If you get my posts through Feedblitz or RSS, you’ll get them just as you do now.

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Check out Slate! So much good material there.

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If you haven’t seen my one-minute movie, The Years Are Short, you might enjoy it.

Happiness quotation from Christopher Alexander.

I once saw a simple fish pond in a Japanese village which was perhaps eternal.

A farmer made it for his farm. The pond was a simple rectangle, about 6 feet wide, and 8 feet long; opening off a little irrigation stream. At one end, a bush of flowers hung over the water. At the other end, under the water, was a circle of wood, its top perhaps 12 inches below the surface of the water. In the pond there were eight great ancient carp, each maybe 18 inches long, orange, gold, purple, and black: the oldest one had been there eighty years. The eight fish swam, slowly, slowly, in circles—often within the wooden circle. The whole world was in that pond. Every day the farmer sat by it for a few minutes. I was there only one day and I sat by it all afternoon. Even now, I cannot think about it without tears. –Christopher Alexander

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Few books that I’ve read have made an impression on me as profound as Christopher Alexander’s brilliant, strange A Pattern Language, though this quotation is actually from The Timeless Way of Building.

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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.