Elizabeth and I have a beloved, if somewhat odd, sisterly ritual: every time I visit her, we clear her clutter. This is tremendously satisfying for me, and Elizabeth graciously cooperates. In one of my very favorite Happier episodes, episode 10, Elizabeth and I recorded ourselves as we cleared clutter in her home office. Boy that was fun. This time, we tackled her home office. It was especially in need of clutter-clearing because Elizabeth’s renovation has thrown the whole house into an unusually high level of clutter. Just the kind of challenge I love to tackle! I find it particularly fun to clutter-clear with Elizabeth because she’s easy. She has plenty of room (unlike many people, especially here in New York City, who live in spaces that are too small for their stuff), much of her clutter takes no time or effort to deal with (she has a habit of keeping empty bags and boxes that take up a lot of room and can be instantly put into the recycling pile), and she doesn’t buy much.
Some tips and hacks we discussed as we cleared:
- Don’t put something down, put it away.
- Have a specific place for everything.
- When clearing clutter, set yourself up with necessary supplies: garbage bags, boxes for giveaways, Sharpies, Ziploc bags, a pad, and paper for to-do lists. We made a pile of recycling stuff to deal with later.
- Don’t use high-value real estate, like your office (or your clothes closet or your kitchen cabinets), for things that you use only rarely, like holiday items. These can be stored in less accessible places since you deal with them just once a year.
- Finally, hang your framed pictures.
- Surfaces should be used for activity, not storage.
- Things get messier before they get tidier.
- One benefit of being organized? Even if you don’t actually remember where you put something, you can look in the place where you keep that kind of thing, and find it there.
- Make sure something that’s being kept as a memento really does hold precious memories. (Usually, paradoxically, having fewer mementos allows you to hold more memories than having many mementos.)
- Have a place where you keep all your manuals. Or just throw away the manuals, and look up the information online.
- Remember, you are the master of your technology.
- Spaces that are clear tend to stay clear, and spaces that are messy tend to get messier.
- Consider tackling visual clutter first, because, for many people, it’s very calming to see an orderly environment — even if the cabinets and drawers are messy.
Elizabeth’s Demerit: Even though it’s Elizabeth’s turn to give a demerit, I gave her a gold star instead, because she deserves such a giant gold star for putting up with this clutter-clearing.
Gretchen’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives me a gold star for my clutter-clearing.