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.