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Excerpt: Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter & Organize to Make Room For Happiness

In my study of happiness, I’ve realized that for most of us, outer order contributes to inner calm. More than it should.

In the context of a happy life, a messy desk or a crowded coat closet is a trivial problem—yet getting control of the stuff of life often makes it easier to feel more in control of our lives generally.

When I’m surrounded by a mess, I feel restless and unsettled. When I clean up that mess, I’m always surprised by the disproportionate energy and cheer I gain, plus I’m able to find my keys. A friend once told me, “I finally cleaned out my fridge and now I know I can switch careers.” I knew exactly what she meant.

By getting rid of the things I don’t use, don’t need, or don’t love, as well as the things that don’t work, don’t fit, or don’t suit, I free my mind—and my shelves—for what I truly value. And that’s true for most people.

Often, when disorder starts to creep in, I think, I don’t have time to fight my way through all this stuff! I’m too busy to deal with it! But I’ve learned that by managing my possessions, I can improve my emotional attitude, my physical health, my intellectual vigor, and even my social life.

Now, no matter how busy I am, I force myself to take at least a few minutes each day to impose some order. If I’m feeling overwhelmed by multiple writing deadlines, I spend twenty minutes cleaning my office, because I know that clearing my papers clears my mind.

I’ve also found that once I start, it’s easier to keep going. True, sometimes it feels auspicious to do a big clutter-clearing on New Year’s Day, or as spring cleaning, or as pre–Labor Day prep—but now is always the best time to begin. A friend told me, “I woke up one morning and on impulse decided to tackle my basement. I spent my entire Sunday down there, and I was so pumped by the end that I wanted to keep going all night. I got up early on Monday morning just to sit there and gloat. It gave me such a lift at the start of a tough workweek.” 

We want to cherish our possessions and we also want to feel free of them. I want to keep every toy that my children ever loved, but I also want to have plenty of space in our apartment. 

With outer order, we achieve that balance.

Excerpt from OUTER ORDER, INNER CALM Copyright © 2019 by Gretchen Rubin. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Harmony, an imprint of Penguin Random House New York.

This excerpt was featured in the March 17th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.




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