One of my Secrets of Adulthood (and a point oddly under-emphasized by positive psychologists) is outer order contributes to inner calm. More, really, than it should. Why does making your bed make such a difference?
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 maintain order.
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 coat closet,” not “a closet.”) However, this impulse can become destructive. If you spend a lot of time alphabetizing your spices or creating eighty categories for your home files, consider whether you need to be quite so precisely organized. I find this particularly true with toys. I’ve spent hours sorting pretend food, Polly Pockets pieces, and tea sets, only to find everything a jumble the next day.
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.
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’re 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 (including a place like Goodwill), or if you really want to move your ex-stuff in multiple directions, create some kind of rigid system for moving it along.
5. “I can’t get rid of anything that I might possibly use one day.” How terrible would it be if you needed a shoebox and didn’t have one? Do you need a giant backlog of ketchup packets? How many 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 wear 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 gives a big happiness boost in the present. But ask: Do I need all these t-shirts to remind me of college or just a few? Do I need to keep a 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! Somewhere, keep an empty shelf. I know where my empty shelf is, and I treasure it. This creates a bit of an issue with my husband, who likes to plunk something down on an empty shelf; he also likes to start using the new toothpaste before every bit of toothpaste has been squeezed from the old tube. He has his flaws.
12. “I might need this.” If you haven’t needed it so far, maybe you won’t need it in the future. And you can probably get it if you do need it. A friend with acquisitive tendencies told me, “I remind myself that I can store things at the store. Those things will be at the store when and if I need them. I don’t need to keep that stuff in my house.”
How about you? What myths of clutter do you resist or believe?
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
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