It’s a Secret of Adulthood: for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. I agree, in the context of a happy life, a crowded coat closet or a messy desk shouldn’t much matter. Nevertheless, I’ve found that getting control of clutter gives me a disproportionate boost in happiness, and other people seem to feel the same way.
Having a clutter-filled home makes me feel overwhelmed. Everywhere I look, I see little chores that should be done. No one task is particularly difficult, but together, they add up to a big headache and a big jumble. Pretty soon, it’s easier just to add to the piles than to try to attack the problem. That’s another Secret of Adulthood: tidy areas tend to stay tidy, and messy areas tend to get messier.
Here are ten easy, quick tips that, if followed regularly, will help keep your clutter under control. And none of them takes more than five minutes – if that. I mostly follow these, and I’m a lot happier when I do.
1. Make your bed.
2. Get rid of the newspaper each night, even if you haven’t read it yet. Or am I the only one still reading a paper newspaper?
3. Follow the “one-minute rule” – push yourself to do any chore that takes less than one minute. Throw away the junk mail, put the peanut-butter jar back in the cabinet, close the cabinet door, put your dirty socks in the hamper, hang up your wet towel.
4. Identify a place or person to whom you can give things you no longer need – it’s much easier to get rid of unneeded stuff if you can envision someone else getting good use from them. Also, figure out a place to store those things until you hand them over. We have a special shelf for books that we’re taking to the Housing Works thrift store.
5. Be very cautious about letting yourself “store” something. Storing something means you don’t intend to use it much. Other than holiday decorations and seasonal clothes, you should strive to “store” as little as possible.
6. Beware of freebies. Never accept anything free, unless you’re thrilled with it. A mug, a tote bag, a hand-me-down toy, the lamp from your mother-in-law — if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
7. Get rid of things if they break. When I went through our apartment, I was astonished by how many things I’d kept even though they didn’t work.
8. Don’t keep any piece of paper unless you know that you actually need it. I have a friend who, for years, carefully filed away the stubs when she paid her gas bill. “Why?” I asked, mystified. “I have no idea,” she said. Along the same lines, don’t keep anything that would quickly become dated — like travel information. Remember the internet! If you can easily find information online, you don’t need to keep a hard copy.
9. Hang up your coat. I have a lot of trouble with this one, so now I use a hook instead of a hanger.
10. Before you go to bed, take five minutes to do an “evening tidy-up.” Don’t tackle anything ambitious, but just stack up the magazines, put your shoes away, shove the chairs into place, etc. Just a few minutes of tidying can make your house look a lot better, and it’s a calming thing to do before going to sleep. Plus it makes the morning nicer.
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.