Get weekly newsletter updates from Gretchen.

Happiness: Putting the Flashlight on the Second Shelf of My Coat Closet.

Happiness: Putting the Flashlight on the Second Shelf of My Coat Closet.

Something that always cheers me up – when I can muster the energy to do it – is to tidy up. I find it relaxing to put things away, and the resulting order calms my mind. Chucking junk mail, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, arranging everything to fit in the medicine cabinet…these kinds of activities never fail me. When I'm feeling blue, to take action to make an improvement, no matter how insignificant that improvement may be, is a tonic.

Over the past few years, I’ve thought a lot about the happiness power of clutter-clearing, and I discovered something surprising. Although I would have thought it would be easier to put things away in general areas — the coat closet, any kitchen drawer — it’s actually much more satisfying to return item to a highly specific location.

One of life’s small pleasures is to return something to its proper and precise place; putting the flashlight on the second shelf in the coat closet gives me the archer’s satisfaction of hitting a mark. Have you ever seen those peg boards where people have outlined their tools or their kitchen implements, to show where each thing belongs? (I think Julia Child had one.) That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

Now I strive to have an exact place for everything in my whole apartment (except toys – I just throw Polly Pockets and stuffed animals into whatever box, drawer, or shelf is closest, or else I would never have time to do anything else). Obviously, this system makes it easier to find the things I need, which boosts my happiness, but it also boosts my happiness to have that deep sense of placement.

A friend set me a link to the blog Inchmark, where Brooke Reynolds has a great idea: every time one of her children says something funny, she writes it on a piece of paper and puts it in a jar. When she's feeling blue, she reaches into the jar to pull out a quotation. I write those funny things in my one-sentence journal, but putting them in a jar is much more colorful and accessible.

Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

icon emailNewsletterLight

One Last Thing

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up to get my free weekly newsletter. I share ideas for being happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

icon schooled

Find out if you’re an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or a Rebel.

The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t actOur Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.

Take the quiz

Get My Weekly Newsletter

Sign up to get my free weekly newsletter. It highlights the best material from here, my Facebook Page, and new original work.