Tag Archives: organization

Do You Fall for Any of These Common Clutter-Clearing Myths?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day (or Quiz Day or List Day).
This Wednesday: Do you fall for any of these twelve myths about clutter?

This post is back by popular demand.

One of my great realizations about happiness (and a point oddly under-emphasized by positive psychologists) is that for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. More, really, than it should. After all, in the context of a happy life, a crowded coat closet is trivial. And yet over and over, people tell me, and I certainly find this, myself, that creating order gives a huge boost in energy, cheer, and creativity.

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 linen closet,” not “a closet.”) However, this impulse can become destructive: if you’re spending a lot of time alphabetizing your spices, creating eighty categories for your home files, etc., consider whether you need to be quite so precisely organized.

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. Be very wary of the urge to “store” something. Except for things like seasonal clothes and decorations, if you’re “storing” something, that’s a clue that you don’t really plan to use it.

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. We have a thrift shop two blocks from our apartment where we send a lot of stuff.

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. It’s funny; people often ask me, with open suspicion, “Gretchen, do you still have an empty shelf?” Yes, I do! Want to see it for yourself? Watch here in the behind-the-scenes-of-Happier-at-Home video; the shelf appears at 6:40. (Gosh, it was fun to make that video.)

12. “Yay, it’s free, I should take it!” Be very, very wary of accepting something because it’s free. It’s so easy to take that water bottle or tote bag, then realize that you’ve just brought more clutter into your house.

What other clutter-clearing traps have I overlooked? Do you fall prey to any of these?

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A Surprising Happiness Booster? Cleaning My Office.

One of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood: Outer order contributes to inner calm. Clutter seems like a trivial matter, but I always find that I feel more serene and cheerful if my apartment and office aren’t too messy.

Along those lines, I’ve learned from my happiness project to be wary whenever I have the urge to “treat” myself, because often my treats don’t make me happy in the long run. For instance, one of my “treats” is to let piles of papers, clothes, books, and dishes pile up–which ends up making me feel less happy.

In fact, when I want to calm myself, or cheer myself up, I often take an hour and clean my office. For instance, this morning. My office had become a wreck, because I wasn’t taking the time to put anything away. I kept putting off little tasks, thinking, “It’s more important to answer my emails,” “I need to get this little piece written first,” “I need a break, I don’t want to deal with this now,” but finally, I got down to it.

I set aside an hour and tackled the mess. Methodically I entered reading notes, copied information, filed, wrote emails, tossed papers, wrote a thank-you note, took coffee cups to the kitchen, got rid of empty yogurt containers, etc. One of my daily habits is to take notes on a scratch pad–mostly to-do reminders–and these multiply quickly. I worked my way through the items on those sheets so I could toss them out.

I even dusted.

Now when I look around my office, I feel a shock of relief. All those clean surfaces! No more stacks of papers and books teetering on the edge of the desk! No more feeling harassed by uncompleted tasks! It gave me a real boost.

As Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”

Overwhelmed? 9 Quick Tips for Keeping Your Home Feeling Serene and Organized.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
Feeling overwhelmed? Nine tips for keeping your home feeling serene and organized.

Because of the subject of my next book, Happier at Home, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about—you guessed it!—how to be happier at home. Here are a few very simple suggestions. These aren’t the most profound things you can do to make your home feel more serene and organized, but they’re steps you can take fairly quickly.

1. Be wary of bargains, sales, hand-me-downs and give-away. Do you really need this thing? Or love it? Beware: because of the “endowment effect,” we value things more once we own them. Once that thing enters your home, it will be tough to get it out again.

2. Never label anything “Miscellaneous.”

3. Remember: most decisions don’t require extensive research. Aim to be a satificer, not a maximizer.

4. Don’t let yourself fall into “empty.” Keep cash in the house. Keep gas in your tank. Keep an extra roll of toilet paper squirreled away. Keep your phone charged.

5. Don’t keep excessive amounts of anything. Those glass vases that come from florists. Those ketchup packets that come with take-out food. A house with two adults probably doesn’t need fifteen mismatched souvenir coffee cups.

6. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Lower the bar. Actually spending ten minutes clearing off one shelf is better than fantasizing about spending a weekend cleaning out the basement.

7. Clean while you cook (literally and metaphorically).

8. Put things away in a specific place. It’s much easier to find things later, and it’s oddly satisfying to slot things into their precise places. “Ah, this particular basket on this shelf is the place for the AAA batteries.”

9. Make your bed. I know it sounds trivial, but it’s a bigger happiness booster than you’d expect.

* Hey everyone: a New York City-based production company is looking for people who’ve been inspired to start their own Happiness Projects—and who want to share their stories. Does this describe you? Do you live in the greater NYC/tri-state area? Could you spend a few hours filming, at a convenient time?

If so, email a brief description of yourself, your Happiness Project, and how your life has changed as a result to THNKcasting@radicalmedia.com.

“I Can’t Get Rid of My Stuff.”

2012 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2012 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2012 a happier year — and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge — welcome! Each week, I post a video about some Pigeon of Discontent raised by a reader. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we’re also plagued by the Pigeons of Discontent.

This week’s Pigeon of Discontent, suggested by a reader, is: “I can’t get rid of my stuff.”

I Can’t Get Rid Of My Stuff

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
9 common myths about clearing clutter.
Test yourself: Do you have clutter mentality?
Fighting clutter? Go shelf by shelf.

How about you? Do you ever have trouble moving clutter along its way out of your home? Have you found any good strategies?

You can post your own Pigeon of Discontent at any time; also, from time to time, I’ll make a special call for suggestions.

If you’re new, jump in right now, sign up here. Studies suggest that by taking action, like signing up for this challenge, will help you keep your resolutions. For the 2012 Challenge, each week I’ll post a video for you to consider, and you can check out the archives of videos here.

* Hey everyone: a New York City-based production company is looking for people who’ve been inspired to start their own Happiness Projects—and who want to share their stories. Does this describe you? Do you live in the greater NYC/tri-state area? Could you spend a few hours filming, at a convenient time?

If so, email a brief description of yourself, your Happiness Project, and how your life has changed as a result to THNKcasting@radicalmedia.com.

In Which I’m Embarrassed to Admit How Happy a Certain Clutter-Clearing Move Made Me.

In my study of happiness, one thing that has surprised me is the disproportionate effect of clutter. In the context of a happy life, clutter seems trivial — yet over and over, I see how drained I am by the presence of clutter, and how cheered I am when I get clutter under control.

One of my Secrets of Adulthood for clutter is: Put things away near where they want to be. When I find myself moving an item from Point A to Point C, over and over, it's time to figure out if we can store it at Point A or at least at Point B. Instead of storing my husband's overnight bag with the rest of the luggage, which was inconvenient, we decided that it "belonged" in the bedroom closet. Instead of sitting out in the hallway for days at a time, for various family members to trip over, it gets stowed without delay.

This rule sounds laughably obvious, but I often forget to follow it. One recent example: my older daughter is going through a stage that involves the heavy use of nail polish and related products. Every day, it seems, she's taking off nail polish, or putting it on, or both, on her fingers, her toes, or both.

I kept putting away the nail-polish remover, and the cotton pads, and the bottles of nail polish, all of which belonged in separate places. Yes, first I'd ask her to put the things away, and sometimes she'd remember, but usually not.

Then I remembered: put things away near where they want to be. Why had we decided that the nail polish, cotton balls, and nail-polish remover belonged in three different places, all over the apartment? Consolidate! I got a bag and a box from my collection of spare containers (a very handy collection to have, as long as it doesn't get too large, itself, which is more of a risk than you might imagine), put the bottles of nail polish in the bag, put the bag in the box with the remover and cotton balls next to it, and put the box on a shelf in my daughter's room. Now she totes the whole thing around the apartment, and does a much better job of putting it away.

In addition to minimizing clutter, this innovation also meant that I had less reason to nag my daughter or to be annoyed by her mess. Less clutter, less nagging — a happier home!

A little thing, very little, but as Samuel Johnson observed, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”

It's embarrassing to admit what an utterly outsized hit of happiness I got from this bit of organization.

* If you need a good gift for someone who loves to read — or if you love to read and want a little treat for yourself — check out the delightful Slightly Foxed — "the Real Reader's Quarterly." It's a little quarterly magazine, published in Britain, with essays about books. These aren't reviews, but personal recommendations. For people who read a lot, it can be hard to find new suggestions, and every time I read Slightly Foxed, I add several titles to my library list.

* Want to launch or join a group for people doing happiness projects together? To get the starter kit, for help starting a group, email me at gretchenrubin1 at gretchenrubin dot com. To learn more, and to find out if there's a group in your area, look here.