We often hear about “spring cleaning,” and I have to say, I really understand why it’s a tradition.
For me, when the days become longer, the temperature becomes warmer, and all of nature is being renewed, I get the urge to sweep through my home and office and get rid of the junk. Everything outside my personal space feels so fresh, I want to re-create that feeling indoors.
This impulse reminds me of a quotation I love, from Jules Renard:
“Oh! Old rubbish! Old letters, old clothes, old objects that one does not want to throw away. How well nature has understood that, every year, she must change her leaves, her flowers, her fruit and her vegetables, and make manure out of the mementos of her year!” – Jules Renard, Journal
However, it’s easy to feel the urge to do spring-cleaning, but it’s a lot tougher actually to begin.
In the United States, spring is here, and if you want to create outer order as part of the new season, consider these manageable steps:
1. Focus on one area.
Some people get overwhelmed if they imagine spring-cleaning their entire surroundings. If that’s your issue, focus on just one area. Tackle clothes, or papers, or books, or toys. Often, once we start, it’s easier to keep going—and even if you create outer order in just one area, that’s a gain in any event. And while you’re at it…
2. Fix whatever is bugging you the most.
Some experts argue that we should all start to clear clutter in a specific area, such as clothes. I disagree. I think we should fix the biggest nuisance.
Most of us have many areas of clutter, but one particular area causes the most irritation. For me, it’s the pile that accumulates in a corner of our bedroom. For someone else, it’s the kitchen counter; for someone else, the front hallway.
On the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, my sister Elizabeth sometimes calls me a “happiness bully” because if I see an opportunity for someone to become happier, I can get pretty insistent. As part of this aspect of my personality, I recently convinced my friend Michael to let me help him create more outer order in his apartment. For him, the biggest problem was the top of a long chest of drawers in his bedroom. A massive pile had accumulated there, and although the rest of the room was in good order, that mess made the whole room feel chaotic. Fixing that area gave a disproportionate boost.
In the office, it’s often a window sill. Gosh, we love to jam stuff onto our window sills! The benefit of clearing a window sill is that not only does it create more order, it even creates more light, because the window isn’t blocked up.
3. Resist the urge to “get organized” by buying set of containers, matching jars, hangers, files, binders, or other supplies.
Often we buy stuff that allows us to jam more clutter into place. Instead, use my favorite test with all your possessions: Ask “Do I need it? Use it? Love it?” If you don’t need it, use, or love it, you should relinquish it. And when you’ve eliminated everything that you don’t need, use, or love, you probably don’t need to “organize” much. You can just put things away.
It can be very fun to buy organizing items—they’re so enticing! They make it seem like we could organize every aspect of our lives. Remember, it’s harder to use these things than to buy them. Best case scenario is that you don’t need any special gizmos at all.
4. Make it fun to get the job done.
How can you make this process more fun? Might you listen to a podcast, listen to your favorite music, invite a friend to keep you company, set yourself challenges like “I’m going get this entire closet cleared out in 45 minutes!”
5. If the idea of doing “spring cleaning” doesn’t appeal to you, because you don’t want to dedicate an afternoon or weekend to clearing, try very small steps.
My new book (can’t resist mentioning that it’s a New York Times bestseller) Outer Order, Inner Calm has more than 150 ideas for creating outer order. But these will get you started!
A strange, almost paradoxical thing happens when we clear clutter: when we get rid of things we don’t need, don’t use, and don’t love, we often feel like we end up with more. It’s very common for people to remove two giant bags of clothes from their closet, and then exclaim, “Now I feel like I have so much more to wear!”
The process of creating outer order makes us more engaged with the things we keep, and so our lives feel more abundant, even though we’ve removed a layer of stuff. This is another reason that spring cleaning makes our surroundings feel more energized and vibrant.
What are some of your favorite tips for spring cleaning?
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 and Better Than Before. 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.
Image courtesy of Maarten Deckers.