The Question isn’t What’s in Your Closet but Why?

Earlier this year I decided to clear out the guestroom closet that had become a free for all. I pulled everything out and was dismayed by the 4 years accumulation of stuff that I found and did my best to sort and shift.

Recently, I also attempted to organize years’ worth of loose photos. A few weeks into this heroic endeavor, multiple stacks, and several wastebasket loads of photos…. I gave up. Organizing closets and photos, or any area out of order, can loom large, making us feel defeated before we even begin.

Luckily I came across a new approach and way to view my stuff in Gretchen Rubin’s new book Outer Order Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness.

The concepts of decluttering and organizing are hugely popular and there are a ton of books on the subject. In addition to Rubin’s book I found Martha Stewart’s latest Martha Stewart’s Organizing, Kyle Chayka’s The Longing for Less, and several books by Japanese sensation Marie Kondo, best known for coining the phrase ‘Does it Spark Joy?’

What is different in Rubin’s book is the ‘how’ of adopting change to fit lifestyle as opposed to a methodology. It reads like a guidebook balancing practicality with real life.

Here are a couple of her thoughts to consider: “there is not a best way to create a better life” and “for some people what looks like disorder works just fine.’” Isn’t that freeing! I took copious notes but a lot of it is common sense for example: “If you don’t own it you don’t have to organize it.” The book is broken up into 5 short chapters.

Here’s a snippet from the introduction:

  • Outer order saves time, money, space, energy, and patience
  • Outer order creates a feeling of sanctuary
  • Outer order reduces guilt and
  • Outer order creates a sense of possibility

Making choices: Do I need it? Do I love it? Do I use it? These questions are not an end in themselves. Rubin unpacks a mini psychology lesson, not a one size fits all approach.

The author explains “Outer order isn’t a matter of having less or having more; it’s a matter of wanting what we have.” This can serve as a launching point, making space to step back and assess what you have and lead to the process of deciding: do I need it, use it, or want it.

In addition to examining our stuff, Rubin’s approach tells us to ask ourselves what the purpose of doing a task is. If you set out without a clear purpose for cleaning your garage, you may get distracted and not finish. But if your purpose is to clean the garage so you have a place to park your car in the winter, chances are you’ll succeed.

Doing the simplest of task such as making your bed each morning, can set the tone for the day. Rubin admits some will disagree and take delight in not making their beds “Everyone’s happiness looks different.”

Tips: Don’t stockpile unless you plan on using it. Beware of fake work — spending a lot of time on a project. Perfecting something can become time consuming with little results. Beware of the Endowment Effect — freebies, giveaways, collecting for collecting sake.

The author sites an observation by David Ekerdt, a professor of sociology and gerontology: After age fifty chances that a person will divest himself or herself of possessions diminishes with each decade.

Gretchen says our identity plays into our reasoning, keeping too much stuff can keep us stuck. If you have a box full of mementos, sort through them and save a few to display. I encourage everyone wanting to make a fresh start to dive into this book for a deeper explanation and exploration of how to create order and find the happiness of inner harmony.

So often in life, I’ll be learning something new in one area only to find lessons reasserting themselves elsewhere. That place happened to be in Anne Tyler’s latest book The Redhead by the Side of the Road about a quirky, doggedly determined, yet endearing character named Micah. Micah is a neat freak but it’s not working out too well for him. For Anne Tyler Fans this is CLASSIC Tyler style.

My boxes of photos have not gone anywhere, while the closet is growing stuff inside it again. But I’m energized knowing I can start small and keep consistent: one day at a time.