Happy Organizing: The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin on Happiness and Organizing
In her fantastic New York Times #1 bestseller, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin chronicles her year long quest for greater happiness. Along the way, she illuminates the connection that I had always wanted to articulate: that getting organized, clearing clutter, and honestly evaluating your belongings has a direct and measurable effect on happiness. She inspired me to delve further into this idea, which pushed me to pursue organizing as a way to help others build their own happiness. Gretchen was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about the connection between organization and happiness, because she’s awesome like that.
Caroline: With all of the other things that people can do to increase their happiness, how important is it to focus on organization and simplicity?
Gretchen: I’ve found that for me, and for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. In the context of a happy life, something like a messy desk or crowded coat closet seems trivial, and yet bringing order to these spaces seems to give a disproportionate boost.
Being able to find what you need. Not being overwhelmed with things that don’t work or that you never use. Being able easily to shut drawers and doors. Not feeling burdened with a million little tasks. These things, though small themselves, contribute greatly to a feeling of happiness and calm.
Many people put off getting organized because they think it’ll be too time-consuming or overwhelming. What clutter control method or system have you found to be most effective and easiest to maintain?
I have a few methods. One is the “one-minute rule.” If I can do something in less than a minute, I don’t procrastinate. This keeps little tasks (skimming and tossing a letter, hanging up my coast) from accumulating.
I do an “evening tidy-up” and tidy up before bed. This makes the mornings much more serene, and is a soothing thing to do before sleep.
I “go shelf-by-shelf.” Every time I have a bit of time, I look at the surface, drawer, closet, shelf in front of me and see what I can toss, give away, or put away.
These strategies help to keep my spaces organized all the time, without having to devote an entire weekend to it.
There are some days when we all feel like just throwing everything in a pile and lighting it on fire instead of going through it and making those decisions. How do you motivate yourself to really be present and follow through on the systems you’ve set up?
Little by little. One shelf. One corner of the kitchen counter. Keep it manageable.
I love getting your daily happiness quote emails. Is there a particular quote that resonates with you about the relationship between happiness and simplicity?
I find this passage from Frank Lloyd Wright very thought-provoking: “To know what to leave out and what to put in; just where and just how, ah, that is to have been educated in knowledge of simplicity.”