How to Use Quick, Easy Habits to Create & Maintain Outer Order

Gretchen Rubin with book

In my study of happiness, I’ve realized that for most of us, outer order contributes to inner calm.

Easy, quick, regular habits make it possible to manage possessions before they accumulate into clutter. My new book Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness offers tips and strategies for tackling clutter. One simple concept from the book that seems to really resonate with people is this: it’s far easier to keep up than to catch up, and with the right habits, clutter never accumulates.

So then the question becomes: How do we create the habits that help us maintain outer order?

Conveniently, my book Better Than Before explores the 21 strategies that we can use to make or break habits. It turns out that it’s not very hard to master our habits, when we do it in the way that’s right for us.

To use habits to help maintain order, try these popular strategies:

The Strategy of Convenience: Make it as easy as possible to maintain order.

  • Use hooks instead of hangers. (This made a huge difference in my life!)
  • Have abundant waste baskets — wherever they’re needed, such as closets and hallways.
  • Clear out everything you don’t need, don’t use, or don’t love, so there’s more room for what remains. When it’s hard to put things away, we create clutter.

The Strategy of Clarity: Know exactly what you expect.

  • Have an exact place for items (keys, sunglasses, stapler, passport, AA batteries, etc.). Weirdly, it’s easier to put things away in an exact place than in an approximate place.
  • Know who’s responsible for what task. Avoid the irksome problem of shared work!

The Strategy of Scheduling: Set aside time to create order. NOTE: This strategy often does not work for Rebels, so if you’re a Rebel, skip this one! Or do it in a Rebel way.

  • Follow the one-minute rule — do any task that can be finished in less than one minute, without delay.
  • Observe Power Hour — make a list of all the tasks you’d like to accomplish, and once a week, for just one hour, steadily work on these chores.
  • Mark transitions with a ten-minute closer — every time you transition from one stage to another, take ten minutes to clean up your space.

The Strategy of the Clean Slate: Take advantage of new beginnings to foster outer order.

  • Clear before you move! Moving is one of the best times to clear clutter
  • If you’re not moving, make a mock move — ask yourself, “If I were moving, would I bother to wrap this in bubble wrap and stick it in a box? Or would I chuck it or give it away?”
  • Use any beginning to create orderly habits — if you’re starting a new job, it’s a great time to shape habits related to filing, tossing, archiving, etc.

The Strategy of Pairing: Pair an activity you like to do or must do with creating outer order.

  • Only allow yourself to listen to a favorite podcast while you’re creating outer order (unloading the dishwasher, doing laundry, returning files to their places)
  • When tackling a big job, play fun music, have good food, ask a friend to help you — by pairing the task with enjoyable aspects, it becomes easier.
  • Decide that you can watch your favorite TV show only if do speed-clutter-clearing during the commercials. You can get a lot done during a single commercial break.

The Strategy of Loophole-Spotting: Watch out for the ten categories of loopholes that can lead to clutter.

What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while, so creating regular habits that shape our daily lives makes it far easier to keep disorder at bay.



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