Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Happiness Project: Clutter = energy-zapper

This month's book club pick, thanks to my friend Lindsay, our host for June, is The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. This book, in keeping with of other books I've read in the last few years such as The Year of Living Biblically and A Year Without Made in China and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, is another one of those books in the author-does-a-year-long-project-so-she-can-write-about-it category. But I still really like it, perhaps because it inspires me to tackle long-term projects or at least keep resolutions. This book involves 12 chapters each focused on one month's particular goals.

The first chapter of the book, after she sets up her philosophy for her project, is set in January when she decides that her month's task will be to focus on improving her energy levels. She writes about exercising giving her energy, which is something I can totally relate to, but she really brought me on board in the second half of chapter 1, when she started preaching the gospel of organization. Declutter your house and your declutter your life, she believes. Sing it, sister!

As you may recall, we don't deal with much clutter in our house. We are vicious donaters and recyclers, seasonally clearing out any unused goods from our home. This year's spring cleaning, like last year's, involved another six large garbage bags of items donated to Goodwill. Last weekend I bought four new items of clothing and promptly removed a couple items from my closet that are no longer fashionable or flattering. If we get a gift that doesn't suit our tastes or lifestyles, we immediately put it in the donations pile -- which is why it's best to give us either alcohol, experiences, or nothing at all.

Rubin starts out much less ruthless with her clutter-cutting strategies, but once she discovers the addictive nature of purging and the freedom of newfound space in her New York City apartment, she is converted to my team.

Here are some other gems she shares regarding clutter:
"One study suggested that eliminating clutter would cut down the amount of housework in the average home by 40 percent" (25). This perfectly describes our home life. I feel like we clean a lot less than the average Americans not because we let our house fall into shambles but simply because we just don't have that much stuff (comparatively speaking) to maintain and clean around.

As she surveys the clutter of her home, she divides it into several categories I think many of us can relate to. See which of the following apply to you, and if you're like me you'll get a kick out of this, too:
  • nostalgic clutter (27) -- yes, I have two Cabbage Patch Kids in our house and one giant stuffed Fievel doll from An American Tale fame in our master closet, but these were my dearest childhood possessions and I can justify keeping those. But those Doc Martens in the corner of our master closet now officially need to go.
  • conservation clutter -- items we keep because we think they'll be useful but they wind up being useless to us (such as light bulbs that do not fit any fixtures in our house...those need a new home, stat) (27)
  • bargain clutter "which results from buying things simply because they're on sale" (27) which is one reason why I loathe trips to Costco, but I'm thankfully so hyper-aware of this pitfall that I don't fall into this trap.
  • freebie clutter (27) -- another thing I despise and another reason why I tend to not be a sucker for items that are otherwise crappy but perhaps evolutionarily appealing because they are free
  • crutch clutter (28) -- worn out items we need to get rid of. Aside from the now-ratty Google sweatshirt my brother gave me while he was still working there upwards of a decade ago, I don't believe I have anything else that falls into this category.
  • aspirational clutter (28) -- "things I owned but only aspired to use" -- this is why I still haven't bitten the bullet and purchased a sewing machine. I still have a nagging feeling I might never bother learning how to sew.
  • buyer's remorse clutter (28) -- "when, rather than admit I'd made a bad purchase, I hung on to things until somehow I felt they'd be 'used up' by sitting in a closet or on a shelf." This is one that, like bargain and freebie clutter, I tend to avoid because I've learned from past mistakes and over analyze most purchases.
When she gets her apartment in order, Rubin then talks about a strategy for maintaining such order. She takes on one her Commandments, "Do it now," meaning that if there's something she can accomplish now in one minute rather than postponing it and letting it fester, she should just go ahead and do it already (33). Again, I wanted to shout, "Preach, girlfriend!" Sort that mail when you get it, empty the dishwasher when it's clean, put away your coat and shoes when you walk in the door, make the bed, floss daily, file that paper, shred that document, send that quick email. She also applies an "evening tidy-up" principle to her new daily maintenance routine. This reminds me of my 5-45 rule, whereby I spend just a few minutes each daily on simple household tasks and then devote about 45 minutes once a week to bigger-ticket items, such as bathroom cleaning or dusting.

I know that the rest of Rubin's book has plenty of great advice in it, but this chapter especially spoke to my organizational side. What are your reactions to Rubin's strategies? Have you found other secrets to decluttering your home?


  1. Please don't forget everyone's favorite author-does-a-year-long-project-so-she-can-write-about-it book Eat, Pray, Love. Thank you for your infinite wisdom, Elizabeth Gilbert.

  2. Dawn, I will forever love how much you share my hatred of Eat, Pray, Love.