I love the subject of clutter-clearing. So, of course, I’m intrigued by the work of Courtney Carver — her site declares: “Are you overwhelmed with clutter and busyness? It’s time to create a life with more clarity, ease, and joy.” Wonderful.
Her new book, Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More is just hitting the shelves.
Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?
Courtney: Sugar! I’m so much happier without it but I love it. When I’m in a sugar rut, I’m moodier. When I quit sugar for long periods of time, I’m much happier. Like you, Gretchen, I’m an Abstainer when it comes to sugary treats: it’s easier for me to have none than one. When I’ve intentionally quit sugar for a period of time, I don’t crave it or think about it that much after the first day or two. I love that feeling of not having to decide how much is too much because when I am eating sugar, I don’t want one cookie, or one bite of dessert. I want it all. Why do I go back? Just thinking about it makes me less happy.
Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)
Courtney: My morning routine fuels better health, creativity, and productivity. It includes some combination of writing, meditation, reading, yoga and walking. Whether I practice my morning routine for 5 minutes or 3 hours, it always allows me to move through the day with more purpose and focus.
Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
Courtney: I created my morning routine through habit stacking, and it has stuck with me for more than 10 years. I started with 5 minutes of yoga. After a week, I stacked 5 minutes of writing. The next week I added 5 minutes of meditation. From there I raised the time of each activity by a minute each week. Once I had a 30-minute routine, I was able to easily swap in new activities or extend the time spent on certain activities.
Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Courtney: At first I thought I was an Upholder but after taking the quiz, I discovered I’m a Questioner.
Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
Courtney: In 2006 after months of debilitating vertigo and fatigue I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. After learning how stress can cause MS exacerbations, I decided to quit stress and simplified my entire life. While the changes I made took many years, my decision to prioritize love and health was immediate. I share more about my lightning bolt moment, and the changes MS inspired in my life in my new book, Soulful Simplicity. From changing my diet to becoming debt-free, clutter-free, changing careers and downsizing from a big house to a small apartment, simplicity was at the heart of every change. Living with less has given me the opportunity to create more health and love in my life.
Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
Courtney: I will not say yes when my heart says no.
Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier?
Courtney: Writing down anything on my mind first thing in the morning makes me happier. It’s my way of clearing mental clutter before starting the day. I don’t share or read what I write so it’s more about the action than what ends up on the page
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Courtney: Consistency is more important than intensity. The all or nothing, weekend warrior approach to incorporating healthy habits usually results in burnout. Showing up regularly, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time contributes to creating long-lasting habits. I’m a big fan of habit stacking. For instance, when I created my morning routine, I started with 5 minutes of yoga. After a week, I added 5 minutes of meditation and 5 minutes of writing. Then, I added a minute a week to each activity. It took me weeks to build up to a 30 minute routine, but the method worked. The slow build resulted in a meaningful morning routine that I’ve been practicing for more than 1o years.
More on Courtney Carver.