One of my key realizations about happiness, and a point oddly under-emphasized by positive psychologists given its emphasis in popular culture, is that outer order contributes to inner calm. More than it should.
After all, in the context of a happy life, a messy desk or house is a trivial problem. Yet, I’ve found — and other people tell me they feel the same way — that getting control of the stuff of life makes me feel more in control of my life generally. (Even if this is an illusion, it’s a helpful illusion.) But, as much as most of us want to keep our home, office, car, etc. in reasonable order, it’s tough. Here are some myths of de-cluttering that make it harder than it needs to be.
Myths of Cluttering:
1. “I need to get organized.” No! This is not your first step! Don’t get organized.
2. “The more organized I am, the better.” I fully appreciate the pleasure of having a place for everything, and perhaps counter-intuitively, I find it easier to put things away in an exact place, rather than a general place (“the third shelf of the coat closet,” not “a closet”). However, this impulse can become destructive: If you spend a lot of time alphabetizing your spices or setting up eighty categories for your home library, consider simplifying your approach. Also, some things simply won’t stay organized, so it’s not even worth trying; I’ve spent hours sorting magic markers and Calico Critters pieces, only to find everything a jumble the next day.
4. “I need to find the perfect recipient for everything I’m getting rid of.” True, it’s easier to let go of things when they’re going to a good home, but be wary of letting 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 create some kind of rigid system for moving stuff along quickly.
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 need gigantic stores of rubber bands or coffee mugs?
7. “After I lose some weight, I’ll fit into these clothes again.” If you lose a bunch of weight, you’ll likely want to buy a new pair of jeans, not dust off the pair you bought seven years ago.
8. “I need to keep this to remind me of the past.” I’m a huge fan of 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 high school, or can I keep a few? Do I need to keep a giant armchair to remind me of my father, or can I use a photograph? Mementos work best when they’re carefully chosen — and when they don’t take up much room!
What other myths am I overlooking? Do these ring true for you?
Click here to order Happier at Home or to be notified about pre-ordering Gretchen's next book, Before and After, about habits, coming in 2015.
Gretchen Rubin, author of two New York Times bestsellers, is our go-to gal for the best get-it-together know-how. Every week, she'll be dishing up her wisdom straight from her popular blog, The Happiness Project, to get you on the road to a more productive, healthier you. Here's to a 2014 resolution that sticks!