One of my great realizations about happiness (and a point oddly under-emphasized by positive psychologists) is that outer order contributes to inner calm.
But as much as most of us want to keep our home, office, car, etc. in reasonable order, it’s tough. Here’s a list of some myths of de-cluttering that make it harder to get rid of stuff.
Myths of Cluttering:
1. "I need to get organized." No! Don't get organized is your first step.
2. "I need to be hyper-organized." I fully appreciate the pleasure of having a place for everything, and perhaps counter-intuitively, I believe it’s easier to put things away in an exact place, rather than a general place (“the third shelf of the coat closet,” not “a closet.”) However, this impulse can become destructive: if you’re spending a lot of time alphabetizing your spices, organizing your shoes according to heel height, creating eighty categories for your home files, etc., consider whether you need to be quite so precisely organized. I find this particularly true with toys – I’ve spent hours sorting pretend food, Polly Pockets pieces, and tea sets, only to find everything a jumble the next day.
3. "I need some more inventive storage containers." See #1. If you get rid of everything you don’t need, you may not need any fancy containers.
4. "I need to find the perfect recipient for everything I’m getting rid of." It’s easier to get rid of things when you know that you’ll be giving them to someone who can use them, but don’t let this kind intention become a source of clutter, itself. I have a friend who has multiple piles all over her house, each lovingly destined for a particular recipient. This is generous and thoughtful, but it contributes mightily to clutter. Try to find one or two good recipients, or if you really want to move your ex-stuff in multiple directions, create some kind of rigid system for moving it along quickly.
5. "I can’t get rid of anything that I might possibly need one day." How terrible would it be if you needed a glass jar and didn’t have one? Do you have gigantic stores of things like rubber bands or ketchup packets? How many coffee mugs does one family use?
6. "I might get that gizmo fixed." Face it. If you’ve had something for more than six months, and it’s still not repaired, it’s clutter.
7. "I might learn how to use that gizmo." Again, face it. If you’ve had a gizmo on the shelf for a year, and you’ve never used it to make gelato or label a sugar jar, it’s clutter.
8. "I might lose a ton of weight and then I’d fit into these clothes again." If you lose a bunch of weight, you’ll want to buy a new pair of jeans, not a pair you bought seven years ago.
9. "I need to keep this as a memento of a happy time." I’m a huge believer in mementos; remembering happy times in the past gives you a big happiness boost in the present. But ask yourself: do I need to keep all these t-shirts to remind me of college, or can I keep a few? Do I need to keep an enormous desk to remind me of my grandfather, or can I use a photograph? Do I need fifty finger-painted pictures by my toddler, or is one enough to capture this time of life? Mementos work best when they’re carefully chosen – and when they don’t take up much room!
10. "I need to keep this, because the person who gave it to me might visit my house and be hurt when it’s not on display." Is that person really likely to visit? Is that person really likely to remember the gift? Will the person really be upset by the lack of viewing of the gift?
11. "If I have any available space, I should fill it up with something." No! One of my Secrets of Adulthood is Somewhere, keep an empty shelf. I know where my empty shelf is, and I treasure it.
UPDATE: I wrote a new book about how to de-clutter and organize to make more room for happiness. Order Outer Order, Inner Calm here.
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