Gretchen: And so, like when I gave up the fantasy of thinking that I was going to do XYZ, then I have more time to read, which is what I really actually like to do, and I never have enough time to read. So, I would rather use that time reading. You’ve got a lot of things you want to do outdoors, so let go of the thing that’s like, for whatever reason, just isn’t a good fit, and now you have more time and energy to things that you do want to do.
Ben: I have a master’s degree in physiology, biomechanics, and human nutrition. I’ve spent the past two decades competing in some of the most masochistic events on the planet from SEALFit Kokoro, Spartan Agoge, and the world’s toughest mudder, the 13 Ironman triathlons, brutal bow hunts, adventure races, spearfishing, plant foraging, free diving, bodybuilding and beyond. I combine this intense time in the trenches with a blend of ancestral wisdom and modern science, search the globe for the world’s top experts in performance, fat loss, recovery, hormones, brain, beauty, and brawn to deliver you this podcast. Everything you need to know to live an adventurous, joyful, and fulfilling life. My name is Ben Greenfield. Enjoy the ride.
Well, hello. I’ve got my friend Gretchen Rubin on the show today. She’s going to tell us how to clean up all our crap. I actually got a lot out of this one. After I read her book, I got inspired. My wife was like, “What happened to you?” I cleaned out my desk. I cleaned out my office. I cleaned out my bathroom drawers. I straightened up my bedside collection of all the blue light blocking glasses and CBD oil and books and PEMF devices. I just straightened up everything. It was crazy. She thought I was broken. I’m not broken; I’m just listening to Gretchen Rubin.
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Hey, folks. It’s Ben Greenfield, and if you’re anything like me, then you tend to, especially in our information age, internet of things culture, likes to find out about cool new toys and interesting new books and amazing new clothing that’s full of self-quantified tools and copper-based antibacterial fabric, and you start to collect all these amazing things to improve your health and your fitness, or to make your life better, or to make life easier. And before you know it, your house is just full of a bunch of random crap, or maybe I’m just describing myself.
But either way, I recently read a book called “Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness.” And while I was reading it, I was like folding over every other page and circling all these things that were so intuitive and practical that I’d never actually thought of for cleaning up my house, cleaning up my bathroom cupboard and my closet and my sock drawer and my gym, and basically, making life freaking easier because when your environment is clean, your head tends to be clean and you get more done. It increases productivity, and it just feels good.
So, I decided to get the author of this brand-new book. Her name is Gretchen Rubin on the show today to delve into some of these practical tips, and hopefully, give you some takeaways for cleaning up your life a little bit more to make you more productive, more healthy, and to make what you do have more meaningful, hopefully. So, Gretchen is somebody you may have heard of before. She has a really popular podcast that you can download anywhere. And I’ll link to it in the shownotes if you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/declutter. That’s BenGreenfieldFitness.com/declutter. Her podcast is called Happier. And on that podcast, she talks about habits, she talks about happiness. And if you want to tune into that again, you can just go find it wherever fine find podcasts are found. But she’s also written books. She has a bunch of blockbuster New York Times bestsellers like “Better Than Before,” and “The Happiness Project,” and “Happier at Home,” and now this brand-new book, “Outer Order, Inner Calm.”
So, Gretchen, welcome to the show.
Gretchen: I’m so happy to be talking to you.
Ben: Yeah. I’m curious what inspired you to write this book. Were you just like loaded up with a pile of crap in your closet, in your bedroom, in your office like me?
Gretchen: That’s part of it for sure. You know, ever since I started writing about happiness, when “The Happiness Project” came out, and talking to people about what makes them happier and the kind of habits that contribute to their happiness and their creativity and their feeling of productivity and energy, I’ve always been surprised by this kind of disproportionate connection between outer order and inner calm for most people. Some people do not feel that. I call them clutter blinds because they literally just don’t see it and it doesn’t matter to them.
But for most people, to kind of an astonishing degree, getting control over the stuff of our lives makes us feel more in control of our life generally. I really feel this myself, like if I clean out a closet, I feel great, disproportionately great, and I’d feel energized and like, now I can tackle that difficult project. A friend told me, “I finally cleaned out my fridge and now I know I can switch careers.” And I knew exactly how that felt. I’d been interested in this for a really long time, and finally, I was like, “You know what, I really want to write a book about it and really go deep into these very narrow but very profound aspects of happiness and productivity.
Ben: Has anybody actually ever studied this, like actually looked into what goes on in the brain with their brainwaves or brain blood flow or anything like that when it comes to outer order and inner calm?
Gretchen: They have, but here’s the problem, and this is kind of like an issue that I think is related to, a lot of things related to outer order, and also to happiness and habits generally. A lot of time, what people are trying to figure out is what is best. You’ll see research where they’re like, “Are people more creative when they’re in a neat laboratory or in a messy laboratory? Which is best?” Or like, “When it comes to clear clutter, what is the best way to clear clutter? When it’s a habit, are you better off doing something taxing first thing in the morning or later in the day? What’s best?”
But the problem with that approach is that people are different, something as simple as morning people and night people. For me, it’s a great idea to get up early and do something that’s difficult first thing because I’m a morning person. But there are night people who–that’s a low point for them. They’re going to be much better to tackle something demanding later in the day when they’re more energetic and creative and productive. And some people like to work in chaos. For some people, that is actually better.
Now, what I argue is that even people who like to have a lot of stuff around or who love abundance, or who like to have unexpected juxtaposition so they like to have a lot of stuff out on their desk at the same time, even they benefit from getting rid of things they don’t use, don’t need, and don’t love. They don’t want a bunch of junk. They don’t want a bunch of trash. They don’t want a bunch of cords. They don’t even know what that cord is for, files on the floor, I don’t even know who those belong to. That’s just in your way. But the idea that everybody is going to end up with an empty desk with one pencil on it, some people like to work like that but some people don’t.
And so, I think that a lot of the research has been a little bit misguided and that it’s like, “Well, what’s the best thing?” Is the best thing to work unclear? Well, maybe not for you. So, I think each of us has to sit first because again, you could do all the research and everything. But what I think most people really care about or what I care about is, “Well, what about me? What do I do?” And it’s like, I don’t really care what a bunch of undergraduates at Stanford are doing when they have a matchbook and a lump of clay and a candle and a thumbtack. It’s like whatever. How about me? And I know for me, I do much better when everything’s cleared away.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Well, I want to jump just like right into the practical aspects of this. The first thing is deciding what goes and what stays. Do you have like a filter or a list of questions or a criteria that one could use as they’re going through each room of the house to begin to tackle all the clutter?
Gretchen: You’re exactly right. And you’re exactly right to start with that because one of my lessons is don’t get organized, because a lot of times, if you get rid of everything that you want to get rid of, you don’t need to organize anything because you just think of one thing to put on the cell. So, you don’t need some kind of elaborate filing system or some kind of weird storage gizmo. You don’t have anything left. So, always start by getting rid of things.
There are two questions that I would ask. Marie Kondo is famous for asking, “Does something spark joy?” And for many people, that’s a hugely helpful question. For me, that’s a pretty high bar. The idea that everything in my house sparks joy felt a little emotionally taxing. So, I think [00:12:22] ______.
Ben: Yeah. I have quite a few very cool dress shirts that don’t necessarily spark joy.
Gretchen: Yeah, yeah. So, I say, “Does this energize me?” Because sometimes, there’s a pair of scissors where I’m like, “It’s not that it sparks joy; it’s not like a really high”–some scissors are so well-designed. They’re like, “This is a beautiful tool. This really sparks joy.” Some are just like, “You know, it’s handy to have a pair of scissors in this drawer in my family room, so I’ve had this pair since fourth grade and it does the job just fine.” It energizes me and that it’s a tool that’s right at hand what I needed even though it’s just like, “Yeah, it’s kind of like this old junky pair of scissors.” But it still works, so it’s energizing.
Or another question that I like to ask is, you say to yourself when you’re looking at something, “Do I need it? Do I use it? Or do I love it?” Because sometimes, we have things that we love that we don’t really need or use, like I have some things around like–I have this–my daughter always makes fun of me. She’s a relentless clutter clearer, and we have a miniature tin Disney Princess lunchbox, and she’s like, “Why do we have this thing?” And I’m like, “For some reason, this thing just pleases me.” I don’t even store anything in it because I’m like, “What am I going to put in my Disney Princess miniature lunchbox?” But I just love it and I’m like, “You know what, I don’t want to have my life so edited down that I don’t have any room for something that I just love.” But I love it. So, I’m keeping it. I don’t need it. I don’t use it.
Most things you’re using or you’re needing. And again, there’s like the dress shirt where you’re like, “You know what, every once in a while, I’m going to need a dress shirt and it’s going to be very satisfying to me.” I’m going to be like, “I need a dress shirt and I have exactly the right thing. I’m just going to go to my closet and get it. I don’t use it that often, I don’t love it, but from time to time, I need it and so I want to have it.” Same thing with something like thermal underwear. Maybe you don’t use them for three or four years because it’s not cold enough and then the year comes when you’re like, “Now, I need my thermal underwear. I’m glad–“
Ben: Yeah. It might come in handy someday.
Gretchen: I think you have to be honest with yourself about what someday is. Sunday is, is it going to be below 20 degrees in New York City? Highly likely. Are you going to have an urgent need for a 10-year-old rice cooker? Less likely. That’s where it starts getting into these tough decisions because really, this process of getting out of order involves decision making and that can be hard. Yeah. So, that’s a question I think often is helping.
Ben: Okay. So, just to back up, you said, “Do I need it?” The three big questions are, “Do I need it? Do I love it? And do I use it?
Gretchen: Yeah, because sometimes you have things that you don’t really need them and you don’t really love them but you do use them. Another thing to say to yourself is, “Have I thought about getting rid of this thing three times?” Because of the endowment effect, we tend to hang on to our possessions more really than we should. The endowment effect means that once we own something, we kind of value it more than if we just saw it out in the world like a mug. Once you’ve owned that mug and it’s your mug, it’s more important to you than just like a mug that’s walking down the street. But if three times you thought, “You know, I don’t know if I really need this thing, or I don’t know if I really want to wear this thing again,” you probably should have given it away a while back. If it’s occurred to you three times, that’s a very good sign too, but it’s time to get rid of it.
Ben: Okay. So, somebody’s listening in and they decide they’re going to declutter. When you’re talking to people about this, have you found that it works best to just like identify a day or a week or a weekend to just go through and nook everything or is there a better system?
Gretchen: Well, see there again, right? It’s what’s best. I don’t think there is one best way because some people are like sprinters and they like intensity and they’re like, “I am going to do the entire basement in one day.” And they get up at 9:00 a.m., and they work until midnight, and they’re so excited, and it’s like a big thing, and it’s all in. They want big results and they want to just–like go big or go home. And that is great. But then some people don’t like to do that. Some people get overwhelmed when they think about tackling too much. Some people don’t have the time to do that, like they don’t have a day where they can just spend the whole day cleaning out the garage.
And so, sometimes people like to do just like one shelf at a time, or maybe even just like whenever I have 10 minutes, I’m just going to do this drawer, I’m just going to do what I can. One of the things that’s interesting is we often will overestimate what we can do in a short amount of time, like one day or one afternoon, but that we underestimate what we can do if we do short periods of work consistently over a long period of time. If you spent 20 minutes clearing out your house, over the course of six months, you would make very considerable gains. And so, a lot of what I talk about is things like, “Well, you could do big things but you can also do small things, whatever works for you,” because I do think that just because of realistically what people have an affinity for and what they have the opportunity to do is very different.
Ben: Okay. Got it. Yeah. I tend to typically have certain–for me, it’s usually a Saturday or a Sunday, or I’ll have like two or three hours of time and be able to go through and organize something. I like to make it fun. I don’t know about you, but whenever I have something I dread or don’t want to do, I’ll find a podcast I’ve really been wanting to listen to or a chunk of an audiobook that I really want to go through. And don’t laugh because I’m a fitness guy. Sometimes if I know it’s going to be like a garage project, I’ll put on ankle weights and a weighted vest and actually turn it into an actual workout to clean things out and get my heart rate up. And if you really want to biohack this, you can wear one of those fancy elevation training masks and limit your oxygen flow and just get an amazing workout and maybe even pass out while you’re cleaning out the old camping gear in the garage. So, that’s how I tend to do it.
But I also wanted to ask you, because this is a big thing these days, this concept of minimalism, right? There’s a whole podcast about it. There’s a whole movement on minimalism. Is this the same thing as minimalism just like cleaning up all your clutter?
Gretchen: I mean, I think there are different definitions of minimalism so I don’t want to overstate or put words into other people, like how they would describe it. But I think at least to me and in the popular imagination, minimalism really means taking it down to the studs, like really getting rid of a lot of stuff and really having only really what you need. I think that’s great for some people, but to me, there are simplicity lovers and there are abundance lovers. So, simplicity lovers are people who love minimalism, and they want bare shells, and they want empty surfaces, and they want one vase with one rosebud in it, and silence, and low choices, and everything is very simple. And that is great for some people.
But some people love abundance. They love profusion. They like collections. They like things. They like choices. They like abundance. And I think of my parents. When I go visit my parents, they have many more things, on the counter, on a coffee table, whatever, beautiful things, carefully chosen things, valued things, more than I would want, because I’m a minimalist. I’m a simplicity lover myself, so I like a lot of just like bare. But it’s not like I’m right and they’re wrong, or I’m wrong and they’re right; it’s just we have different preferences.
And I think again, it’s about getting to where you want to be, but minimalism sort of implies there’s a place we should all try to go. I’m like, “I don’t think everybody’s trying to head to the same place, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with somebody who wants to have a bunch of”–if you want to have a giant porcelain collection, great. I love it that some people wanted a giant porcelain collection. I don’t want a giant porcelain collection, but that doesn’t mean that I’m better or that my way is better.
Ben: Okay. Got it. Now, what about the whole mental aspect? Because in many cases, you have these things, and we kind of alluded to this a few moments ago, those things that you feel like you might someday use or you might go on this adventure or you might eventually tackle all of these guitar books or pick up this instrument and learn it, and you don’t want to necessarily get rid of it because you’re mentally checking out of that thing that you think you might do someday. How do you mentally let go? Or should you?
Gretchen: That is a very important thing and it’s a huge stumbling block within clutter clearing, and that’s the fantasy self. So, the fantasy self is the one that’s going to go hiking in the end. It is the one that’s going to learn to speak Portuguese, that’s going to learn to play the guitar.
Ben: Yeah. You want to be a renaissance person.
Gretchen: Yeah, a cocktail party where I’m going to use linen napkins. That was my thing was I’m like, “Who am I kidding? Come on, I don’t have the life, and I never will have the life where I have the slightest idea what to do with linen cocktail napkins.” So, part of what’s painful about clutter clearing is it does mean facing up to what is true for you and saying, “You know what, I’m not going to learn to play guitar. I’m not going to teach myself to play guitar.” And so, I can get rid of those books. I can get rid of the guitar. I can get rid of the music stand. But the thing that happens is when you do that, when you let go of the fantasy self, you free up this immense amount of mental energy because this thing that’s been dragging you down and making you feel maybe regretful, maybe guilty for spending money on things that have never been properly used, all that goes away and you have all that. So, you have more room in your head and you also have more room in your shelves because now, you’ve cleared out these things.
And so, it’s enormously helpful to face up to it. But it can be hard because there’s the fantasy self, which is the future self, but then there’s also past self, which is like, “Oh, I used to have a job where I wore these suits and these suits were really important to me at one time and maybe I spent a lot of money on these suits but I’m no longer the person who wears these suits.” Or the most painful kind of fantasy self, past self is like, “I used to be able to wear these clothes and now they don’t fit anymore. But if I get rid of them, am I saying that I will never be that body again?” That is very, very painful for people to let go of that idea, or even people who will buy things thinking, “This doesn’t fit now, but if I buy it and spend all this money, then I will force myself to lose weight and fit into these clothes and just doesn’t work.”
Ben: What about like a place that you would put this stuff like a waiting space, like one room or one drawer where you say, I’m not using this right now, it was kind of on my bucket list a year ago, I don’t know if I’ll use it,” is that okay to have a drawer or a location somewhere where you just toss this stuff to let it wait?
Gretchen: Well, one thing you can do is you can have a box that you put the date on and you put everything in the box. And then after a year, if you haven’t opened the box, you throw the box away without looking at it. So, you can do that with things like guitar lesson books or you can do it with things like cords where you’re like, “Do I use this cord? What is this cord for?” Put it in the box, because if the day comes when you’re like, “Gosh, what I really feel like doing today is teach myself how to play guitar,” you’ll know exactly where the books are because you’ve put them in that box. But then you just get rid of the box after a year. But again, it’s like, don’t fool yourself because you’re just moving clutter around your house if you’re perpetuating the fantasy.
Now, one of the things that you can always ask yourself is, “Have I done this in the past?” where you’re like, “Well, have you taught yourself an instrument in the past?” If you had done it once, then it seems more likely that you might do it again. If you’ve never done it, it’s sort of like, “Why do you think that this is something that would ever happen?” Or you’ve had this that you’re like, “Oh, I really want to get into needle pointing so I got myself this thing and I’ve never really done it.” Some people, and this is something that some people are more prone to than others, they love to buy this stuff. I had a roommate like this where she’d go out and she’d buy everything for rollerblading; the pads, the shirt, the vests, the rollerblade.
Ben: Oh, yeah. I’m totally like that.
Gretchen: And then she’d kind of be like–she never did it, but the yoga, the yoga mat, the yoga clothes, the block, never did the yoga. So, look around and be like, “Is this the kind of person I am? Do I go out and get a lot of equipment and then it never really gets used?” First of all, that can help you not buy things in the first place, which is the best way to clear clutter which is never to buy it. But then it can also, you can say to yourself, “Look, these are related to a fantasy and I see that these has been–it’s not like if I keep it for five years, eventually, I’m going to start doing yoga,” you know?
Gretchen: Because we do sometimes lie the things to–almost to show respect for the idea of something we wanted in our lives.
Ben: It can almost kind of like bother you though. I mean, you feel guilty because I bought a bunch of stuff. Two years ago, I really wanted to get in the skate skiing, Mount Spokane, 30 minutes from my house. It’s got these great skate skiing trails and tracks. I took my wife down to the fitness fanatic store down the street and we got fitted, we got the boots, we got the skis, we got the poles, we got all the gear, and we went like twice and it was okay, but then it was kind of a chore and we were trying to fit it in with everything else, and it was a good workout but it was kind of hard. We had to figure out if we were going to do that or do the downhill skiing or snowboarding instead. And so, I have all this expensive skate ski equipment in every single time. I walk into the garage and I look at that. I have this pang of guilt, like I have this really cool skate ski stuff but I’m not skate skiing. What’s wrong with me?
Gretchen: No, 100%. And that’s one of the reasons that outer order contributes to inner calm is that when you say to yourself, “Okay, now I’m going to let these things go,” and by the way, someone else is going to get enormous pleasure out of them. So, having them just [00:26:22] ______ in your garage, it’s practically the same thing as like burning them in a bonfire. They’re going to waste because they are not being used. So, you could let those things go and then you’ll have more room in your garage and more room in your head because you won’t have this sense of guilt and dread and I should but I haven’t and all the money.
And also, here’s the other thing that happens. When you get rid of all the things that you feel like you should do but that you don’t actually do, that means that you have more time and space and energy for the things that you actually want to do. And so, when I gave up the fantasy of thinking that I was going to do XYZ, then I have more time to read, which is what I really actually like to do, and I never have enough time to read. So, I would rather use that time reading. You’ve got a lot of things you want to do outdoors. Let go of the thing that’s for whatever reason just isn’t a good fit, and now you have more time and energy to things that you do want to do.
Ben: How do you donate? Do you actually donate or you toss the stuff out?
Gretchen: Well, I donate when I can for sure, and the greatest thing that has happened to me since I started working on this book is the thrift shop moved in, like they have a pop-up store like a block and a half from my apartment. I live in New York City and it’s right there. Literally, I walked by the window the other day and a pair of my daughter’s shoes was in the window. I’m like, “I recognize those shoes. We gave those.”
Ben: Yeah. But that can backfire. My wife has given away my Ironman Triathlon t-shirts and I’ll see–like I’ve actually seen that this happened actually to me in Moscow, Idaho. I saw a dude walking down the street with–and he was obviously not like a fitness guy but he was like wearing an Ironman Triathlon t-shirt that I swear was my t-shirt and it bugged me.
Ben: Yeah. Yeah.
Gretchen: Well, I have to say though, I think that’s extremely rare. I don’t think it happened to most people. You don’t usually encounter your things.
Ben: Yeah. Like seeing someone else with the possessions that you thought you might use or held dear using them. I guess that’s just another mental ego block that I need to get over.
Gretchen: Well, I think it’s very unlikely. But I think when you can give things away, it’s good too–or recycle them if you can, certainly. But here’s the sad thing though. Well, I think this is something that we all just have to accept. People will say to me, “I don’t want to get rid of that because it’s just going to the landfill.” You created that donation to the landfill when you bought it.
Ben: Yeah, yeah.
Gretchen: The moment of purchase is the moment of landfill.
Gretchen: We cannot escape that. I mean, unless something is literally turned to ash or something like that, it’s there. That plastic yellow water picture that you bought, it doesn’t matter if it’s in your cupboard for 10 years or what. The landfill is the destination for it at some point down the long decades. And so, I think that that’s why it’s really good to be very mindful of what you bring into your house because if you’re not really going to use it or want it or love it, it’s best just to like–one thing is stored at the store. You can say to yourself, “It’s at the store, and if I need it, I can get it from the store. I’m just going to store it there. I don’t need to break–“
Ben: What do you mean stored at the store?
Gretchen: Just leave it at the store.
Ben: You mean like when you’re shopping?
Gretchen: Yeah. You’re like, “I like this yellow water picture–“
Ben: What if somebody buys it though? What if they run out?
Gretchen: There will never be a time when you cannot buy a yellow water picture if you want them. I mean, it’s so precious that you feel like this is a one-time opportunity. Unless it’s something that’s handmade, it’s very unusual that you will feel that if you decide you need it, you can’t go get it.
Ben: That’s related to something I want to ask you, actually, like shopping, whether online or offline. Do you have any systems that you use to when you’re shopping and you see something that you know that you might use that’s kind of cool or you get distracted by something when you’re at the store? Like let’s say, I don’t know, like you’re out there to buy peanut butter and then you see almond butter and walnut butter and you add them all to your cart because they all look good, or you’re on Amazon and you’re shopping for, let’s say–oh gosh, I don’t know, maybe a Kindle. And when you’re shopping for the Kindle, you see a couple of other accessories that you could throw in along with it and maybe you’d use them, maybe you wouldn’t. How do you approach either online shopping or offline shopping when it comes to resisting the accumulation of more clutter?
Gretchen: Right. That’s a super important question. So, one thing is–one distinction, just like we were talking before, people are different, they’re under-buyers and over-buyers. I myself happen to be an under-buyer, and under-buyers actually have a lot of trouble buying. So, we have to have ways to help ourselves by what we need because we will–under-buyers–I thought I was like the only under-buyer in the world because everybody talks about over-buying, but it’s a thing. Under-buyers unite. So, we have a different set of problems. But our problems tend to be cheaper, except that we do have to pay full price for things often because we’ve waited too long.
Gretchen: But for over-buyers, if you feel like you’re just buying too much, there’s a bunch of different things you can do. For online, if you’re shopping online, cancel all of your accounts, all your stored information and always shop as a guest. This will mean that you have to enter in all your shipping and billing information every time. And that is enough of a nuisance. It’s not that big a nuisance but it’s enough of a nuisance that it’s really going to cut down an impulse buying because you’re going to be like, “I don’t have time right now, blah, blah, blah.” That’s one thing you can do. You can also unsubscribe to all newsletters with deals and stuff like that because the vast majority of people do not need those deals.
Ben: Oh, trust me, I know. I use that website. I think it’s unroll.me.
Gretchen: Yeah. A lot of people are talking about that.
Ben: Yeah. It makes it so easy to unsubscribe.
Gretchen: Yeah, yeah. Also, one thing is if you go to a store and they ask you–if you’re like buying something in person and they ask you for your email address, if you say, “I don’t give out my email address,” they always accept that. So, I always do that. I don’t want to even be unsubscribing; I just don’t want them on. That is something that works if you’re buying in real life. Another thing that you can do if you’re in real life, some things to do are don’t take a cart or a basket, force yourself to hold your things in your arms, because it’s fine to toss the three things of nut butter into your cart, but if you’re carrying a thing of eggs, three things of nut butters and two things of yogurt around the store, you can be like, “This is a big pain.” I think I will put the nut butters down. And then if I find that I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, if only I had tried that almond butter, how rich my life would be.” Then you can go back for it, right, because you can store it in the store.
So, forcing yourself to use your arms. Another thing you can do, and this is good like if you’re in a big box store too, if you see something and you’re like, “Wow, that seems like something that I would really want,” keep shopping, leave it on the shelf, keep shopping, go around, and then by the time you’re done and you’re kind of approaching the cash register, say to yourself–then you can say like, “Do I want to go back and get it? ” A lot of times, you’re like, “Gosh, no, I’m done. I’m right here at the cash register. I just want to pay and go.” Because it’s like is it worth the effort? What you’re trying to do is break the impulse because the impulse is where I see it, I want it, I get it. It’s so easy like I just put it in the cart. I don’t even remember. I get home and I’m like, “I forgot I even bought that thing.” So, you want to break that impulse by forcing yourself to go out of your way, to go back and get it. And remember, try to stop for as quickly as possible. The longer you are in a store, the more likely you are to buy more things. Don’t touch things. The more you touch, the more you buy. Don’t eat things, like don’t take the samples–
Ben: That’s an interesting tip. Don’t touch it.
Gretchen: Yeah. The more you touch and they know that, they know that. There’s a fascinating book by Paco Underhill called “Why We Buy,” and this, of course, is of enormous interest in a subject of much study by retailers. They’ve got all kinds of impulse purchase by the cash register because you’re standing there bored. They really have figured out–they’re trying to get you to do it. You really want to think about how to manage the experience so that you–shop from a list is a great one. But part of it is just sort of acknowledging that it’s something that you have. Let’s say if you’re like a person who–you go into like a sporting goods store and you’re always just like, “Man, that stuff just looks so good. I just can’t walk out.” Some people feel that way about Target.
Ben: No. That happened–like sporting goods stores, that happens to me all the time like if I walk through–and again, not to kick this horse to death but I’m like a fitness guy, right? So, if I walk in and I see like, “Oh, the new little ball that you drop on the ground that bounces in a different direction to increase your reaction time or these new hand grips that make it easier to deadlift the weight off the ground,” like I can walk through and just feel like there are 10 new things I need to get.
Gretchen: One thing you could do is you could make a note of it and then think about it, or you could make a note of it and look it up online and see like–are people saying this is really good or they’re saying this is kind of a gimmicky thing? Again, you want to break that impulse. And also just even saying to yourself as you’re going in like, “This is a really tempting place for me; I’m probably going to see a lot of things I’ve never seen before that I’m really going to want.” Okay. Just be on guard, and remember, “I’m here to get blah, blah, blah. I’m not here to add 15 different things.” And the thing is again stored at the store. If those grips are something that you really want and you find yourself thinking, “Gosh, that would really be in handy now to have that thing,” then you can go back and get it.
Gretchen: And it’s interesting because one thing that people often advise is using cash because for most people, it seems that giving cash is painful, like you feel that cash leaving your hand. I’m definitely that way. Some people, however, actually find that it’s easier to use a credit card because of the accounting. It’s like you know you can’t just sort of like fog out; you see where your money has gone. And so, know yourself.
One thing a lot of people do, this is really smart, is they’ll have like a partner where if it’s above a certain amount, if it’s a certain amount of money, they have to check with somebody. Like, “Is it okay if I buy this?” I heard about a couple where they took turns each month being kind of the family financial officer. So, if you bought something over $30, you had to check with the other person. So, if you’re like, “Oh, we really need a new electric kettle.” It’s like, “Okay. Let me ask the chief financial officer. Is this really a good use of our money?” So, they have that check.
Gretchen: But on the other hand, you have to think about yourself. I know somebody who didn’t make big purchases but she just frittered her way all her money on small purchases. So, she asked her brother, if it was over $100, she could just buy it herself because she was careful about those purchases. But if it was under $100, she had to text her brother because that’s where she was spending her money. The 20s, the 30s, the $15 here, and it was just junk, it was this stuff that she was like, “Oh, it’s no big deal. It’s sort of, oh, I could use this cool–it’s this kind of funny pad of paper to write handy little notes on.” It’s like, “You’ve already got five things where you can write handy little notes. How fast are you going to use these things up? Yeah, it’s only $15 but you do not need that, and you’ll regret it, and it’ll just be something to have to manage.” For her, she figured that it was the little things. So, you could also have a deal where nothing in the sporting get–like if it’s not on the list, you’ve got to clear it.
Ben: Yeah. Let’s make it so much easier. Like I travel a ton and I’m a big fan of eating healthy when I travel. And a lot of times, I’ll have the uber stop off at Whole Foods on my way to whatever hotel that I’m going to and I have a very simple list. It’s the same thing every single time. I get avocados. I get a few cans of sardines. I get a little bit of that stevia flavored dark chocolate. I get some Pellegrino. I get some coconut yogurt. I get some little seaweed wraps to be able to make myself these little wraps with the avocado and the sardines. And I get some of the healthy sugar-free gum to keep my appetite satiated while I’m at a conference or at a talk.
It’s just so simple, and I have it as a note on my iPhone. It’s just like a stored note on my iPhone. So, any city in the world is I can just drop in–or maybe not in the world, on Hong Kong. There are no Whole Foods there, but most places in the U.S. at least, I can just drop in, get the list, boom, done, and I’m not getting distracted by the brand new spirulina superfood crunchy granola bag that I could grab on my way out, and it just works. So, yeah, I’m a huge, huge fan of those lists.
Gretchen: Yeah. I’m a low carb person here, too.
Ben: Oh, are you?
Gretchen: Yeah. And you really do have to–you have to have a plan because it’s like their food. There are tons of foods for you, but you have to know where to get it and you have to have it at hand because it’s not always in the minibar.
Ben: Right. And those minibars or those mini fridges are only so big. You can just fit so much into them and that system works. Now, a question back to the house and back to the clutter in the house. In the book, you used the term, “clutter magnet.” I never thought of it in that context before, but can you get into what a clutter magnet is and why that’s important?
Gretchen: So, in most people’s houses, certainly in mine, there are certain areas that just stuff is just constantly accumulating. It’s like the Death Star where everything is just being pulled in and it just gets worse and worse. For us, it’s this certain area of our kitchen counter where stuff just gets put, and then kind of never dealt with, and then more stuff goes on top of it, and then more stuff goes on top of it, and it kind of mounts up. What happens is that if you know, if you recognize that something has a tendency to be a clutter magnet, you can really go out of your way to like every day say, “I’m going to get it bare, I’m going to get it down to nothing,” because then stuff doesn’t accumulate there because people–messy areas tend to get messier.
And as people see that, “Oh, this is a place where I can just dump my junk,” like when I was growing up, it’s our dining room table. Like if we had a clear dining room table, it was like people were coming over for dinner that night because it was just a constant mess. That’s just draining to see that. And also, often, important things will get lost like you can have an important tax statement that came in and it’s somewhere under there, you thought you look for it but it’s not there because it got stuck to something. It’s draining.
Like, we know it’s the kitchen counter. It’s the top of the chest of drawers in our entryway. It’s this one little table in my house in my bedroom. That’s where the stuff is. And so, I make a special–to get it down. It’s so dispiriting. I went to a friend’s house because I’m always trying to beg my friends to let me help them clear clutter because I get such a contact high from it. And if it’s not your stuff, there’s so much less emotional pain and so much just like joy to it. So, I go over there. And I’m walking through. It’s a very nice one-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side, if you know what that kind of thing is.
And I’m walking through his bedroom and I’m like, “The top of your chest of drawers is like a festering sore on my soul. It’s such a mess. It’s right in your bedroom. It’s just like this mound of junk. It’s like everything from dirty Kleenexes to change, to your coat check from a restaurant you went to, to some really important looking invoices, like a ceramic duck. It’s like, “Okay. What is going on here?” It took like 10 minutes, 20 minutes, and he got it down to this shining bare wood with like one attractive ceramic thing to put his change in. He emailed me the other day, he’s like, “I just walked by it. I’m so happy.” Because there was just more and more stuff, it’s like, “Well, of course, I’m just going to dump stuff here.”
Gretchen: But then it’s clear and then it’s so much easier to keep it clear because you’re like, “I don’t need that coat check. Let me put it in the trash. Why is this change here? Let me put it in my change bowl. Oh, here’s this really important bank statement. Why don’t I put it in my desk drawer so that when I pay my bills, it’s right here?” I mean, it just gets easier to maintain it once you have established the clutter–once you take it back to clear, then it’s much easier for those clutter magnets to stay clear.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay. And by the way, you’re making me feel a little bit guilty about my ceramic duck collection.
Gretchen: I love a ceramic duck. It’s like, “Why is the ceramic duck here?” It’s just like randomly put in here because he’s like, “I don’t know where to put the ceramic duck.” You could put it there if you want to keep it there but it was–
Ben: I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen it, yeah.
Gretchen: [00:43:10] ______ wanted to have in his bedroom.
Ben: Yeah. I’ve never actually seen a ceramic duck. What about kids? How about training kids to actually declutter their rooms or declutter their spaces? Do you ever work with kids or do you have kids or suggestions for helping kids keep their stuff clean? Because my kids’ room, and my wife and I are working through this right now, it’s kind of a disaster zone and we’re trying to train them how having an orderly workspace and an orderly room helps give you more order in life. I’m taking them through Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life right now and trying to help them learn when chaos is good and when chaos is not so good. And in their room, chaos is typically not good. But do you have any tips or practical ideas to help kids take care of clutter in their spaces?
Gretchen: Yeah. We talked about this. I have a podcast called Happier that I do with my sister who’s very nasty, by the way, Elizabeth Craft, and we were just talking about this on the Happier Podcast. Well, part of it is how old are your children? How old are your children?
Ben: They’re 10-year-old twin boys.
Gretchen: Okay, 10-year-old twin boys. Okay. Mine are 13 and 19. And so, part of it is the kid. I think parents often think like I am the potter who is shaping the pot. Well, some pots, you kind of get what you get and you don’t get upset. My 13-year-old is like an orderly soul. Nothing makes her happier than to go in and rearrange her little things on top of a desk, and she’s relentless. I had her come up here one time and help me clean my office and I thought I was good–we got rid of three bags of stuff because she’s just that kind of person. And it’s not because of me and how I trained her, it’s how she is. My sister, Elizabeth, has been messy since the day she was born. I was there when she was born and it’s always been the same. And she’s gotten better, but she’s clutter blind. She doesn’t really care. It’s like she’s busy. It just doesn’t bother her. It’s hard to close the cabinet door. It doesn’t bother her.
So, I think part of it is just the nature of the child. You have to just accept that you’re not going to totally shape a person. Also with children, it’s very easy for children to accumulate a lot of stuff, a lot of toys, just because of birthdays and holidays and they get stuff. If it’s enough stuff, it’s really hard to manage. We feel this as adults. If you’re a grown woman and you just have too many clothes and it just doesn’t fit, you see people who are just completely overwhelmed and they’re constantly trying to put it, but it’s like there’s just too much. It’s too much to manage.
I think the first thing, back to this idea that we were talking about at the beginning, don’t get organized, get rid of it, help your children really, really, really reduce how much they have. Really work with them to be honest about, do they actually play with puzzles? Do they actually play board games? How many decks of cards do they need? How many stuffed animals do they actually play with? If you’re constantly getting this thing and that thing, how many of them do you actually want?
Some children love a huge collection and they’re playing with each one and they’re arranging them and they’re doing battles or they’re doing what my sister did. She would play hospital and have a plague breakout among her dolls and she would be like the Florence Nightingale. That was like a big thing she did. She’s using all the dolls, right, because she’s got a hospital full of babies. So, she used them all. But then others don’t. And so, really help them get rid of the things because then it’s so much easier for them to manage. It’s hard for children to do that on their own. Even Marie Kondo says, “The problem with children is that for them, everything sparks joy.” So, you really have to help them understand what are you actually using.
And sometimes, you can do things like, “Well, we’ll take these stuff down. We’ll put them away. We’ll put them in a box. We’ll put them away.” And then you can kind of see if they ever miss them and stuff and then maybe you can kind of spirit them or help them reduce. Also as adults, maybe you don’t experience this but some adults, it’s like something that their child once loved but no longer loves is of enormous sentimental value. So, like my child doesn’t play with this Disney Princess tin lunchbox anymore, but to me, it’s dear because it was once something that she loved.
That’s a different kind of problem. That’s my problem feeling attached to a child’s toy. That’s not the child being attached to the child’s toy. So, you have to approach that differently. But I think sometimes parents are like, “Oh, but all these Fisher-Price things are somewhat the farm, the house, the school.” Like, “Oh, they’re all wonderful.” Even if your kid is like, “Ah, I don’t play with Fisher-Price anymore.” So, you have to really get clear on who’s hanging onto what and help them reduce so that they can more easily manage what they have.
Ben: Now, you’re also a fan, and you talked about this a couple of times in the book, of making your bed. And of course, there’s that relatively famous, I believe it’s a TED Talk by a general, I forget his name now, but he talks about the importance of making your bed. I don’t make my bed personally because whenever I make it, my wife always has to remake it because I don’t fluff up the pillows the right way and I don’t tuck the sheets exactly as she would like. And so, I just kind of quit making the bed because I know it’s going to get remade anyways. I don’t do it–
Gretchen: There’s nothing like learned how deliberate incompetence she gets you out of the task.
Ben: Yes, yes. At the same time, I’m not complaining that somebody else makes the bed better than I do so I don’t need to. But when it comes to making your bed, why is that important when it comes to declutter? Can’t you have a messy bed and an orderly home?
Gretchen: I don’t think that you have to make your bed. I have people who are like, “Growing up, I had to make my bed every day. Now I’m a grown up, I don’t make my bed and I look at that unmade bed and I just think, ‘Ha-ha-ha, I can do what I want.’” I’m like, “That’s great. If that’s what makes you happy, then don’t make your bed.” For many people, when they compare how they feel with the made bed and unmade bed, they just really prefer the made bed. It just does make them feel better. There’s something about establishing that bit of order on their environment that just makes them feel better, then the whole room looks so much better, then you’re much more able to find things like if you can’t find your wallet or you can’t find your shoe, a lot of times it’s because there’s like bedclothes on it.
And then also when you come back in at night, it looks much more orderly. And so, it’s a more restful experience because you think it just looks nice. And the bed is interesting because there are certain possessions that we own that feel more tied to us I think in some kind of mystical way. Like your bed is much closer to you than a dining room chair. It feels like, for many people, like a reflection of themselves. And so, if their bed is in good order, then they might feel like they themselves are in better order because it feels like it’s kind of a reflection of them. And so, there’s something about it.
Now, it’s interesting to imagine if your wife was like, “You know what, you’re right. I’m just going to let this go. I wonder if you would make the bed yourself in your own way because you just prefer walking into a room at the end of the day and having the bed made.” Hard to know. Maybe you would, maybe you don’t face that. My husband and I have a thing where whoever gets up second makes the bed. So, if you get [00:50:26] ______ later, you don’t have to make the bed. And I usually get up first. But if he gets up early, then I’m the one that makes the bed. That’s kind of a nice way to divide it up because it’s sort of like either way, you kind of have a little bit of a benefit.
Ben: Yeah. It’s funny because I wake up first but I have this, don’t laugh, like this elaborate system where I sleep on this special mat that emits what are called pulsed electromagnetic field frequencies. It’s called PEMF, and it helps you to fall asleep. It’s kind of like that concept of earthing grounding, like going outside barefoot, but this kind of concentrates those frequencies during the entire night of sleep. So, my body is like healing of inflammation as I sleep. But there’s this little button on it. It’s called, I forget if it’s called the BioBalance or BodyBalance mat. I’ll remember and put it in the shownotes for folks.
But you push a little button when you wake up and it does what’s called an energy sweep where it takes you from low frequency up to high frequency. So, you’re in alpha brainwave zone by the time you pop out of bed. And then I lay there and I always read a morning devotional and then I do my gratitude journaling. I’ve got a gratitude journal I designed where you write down one thing that you’re grateful for, one person who you can help that day, and one truth that you discovered in that morning is reading.
So, even though I wake up first, I’m lying there doing all this elaborate journaling and reading and getting blasted by my little mat. My wife is of course already up and out of bed. So, I suppose if I were to follow that advice, I would probably be the one making the bed every morning. But again, I’m in this unique scenario where my wife’s going to probably go remake it anyways. It’s good advice though.
Gretchen: Mm-hmm, right. But again, I think that’s why there’s no one right answer. It’s kind of like, “Well, it sort of depends on you and your situation and your values and your background and what else you”–so I would never say like everyone should make their bed because some people just, A, don’t care, or B, just feel like it’s an exercise of freedom that they enjoy. The one thing that I don’t get is whenever I talk–I’m the kind of person that makes my bed in a hotel room on the day I check out because I just can’t stand to be in a room without a made bed. So, I do it first [00:52:42] ______.
Ben: Oh, geez. Oh my gosh.
Gretchen: The funny thing is people would be like, “Oh, because of dust mites, you should not make your bed.” I’m like, “What?” The one thing I’m not worried about in this world is whether a sudden attack of dust mites is going to somehow interfere with me because I made my bed. That is in the category of things that I just feel like we do not need to–like something else is going to come up first, rears its head as an issue for me. That’s like the one objection to bed making and I’m like, “Huh, roll the bed mites.” But if you’re worried about the bed mites and that’s why you leave your bed undone, then that’s your value and that’s why you’re doing what you’re doing, and for you, that would be the right choice.
Ben: Now, what about this whole concept of outsourcing? And it’s kind of a two-part question. A, are there like people or organizations who could come into your home and do this for you to a certain extent like clean, sweep your home for you? And then second question is, what about having like an assistant or someone that you hire if an organization like that doesn’t exist, like hire somebody and hand them Gretchen Rubin’s book and say like, “Take this book and go through my house and do what it says”?
Gretchen: I think except for the most top level of clutter, it would be very hard for somebody to do that without your participation because it’s like, “Well, what clothes do you actually wear? Or what is important?” So, I think there is a level of decision-making, and that’s what’s partly what’s draining is the decision-making. So, I think it would be very hard to just hire somebody to do it, because I think if you’re the kind of person who could do that, you probably threw all this stuff away before.
Ben: Yeah, I guess so.
Gretchen: If you don’t like a concert t-shirt from college already, that’s the kind of person who could be like, “Hey, come in and throw away my concert t-shirts. I don’t care.” But there are definitely people that you could have come in and they could help you. This could help for a lot of reasons. One is sometimes people just get so overwhelmed. They don’t know where to start, so they want somebody who is going to help direct them and help them stay focused.
Again, people are at different levels. Like sometimes, people are going to be like, “Well, you need professional help.” But one thing that I’ve noticed, because I do try to force myself on my friends, is a lot of times people just–they need somebody there to help them stay on task and maybe to help with a little bit of the grunt work like, “Okay. I’ll hold the garbage bag, open, or I’ll tape up this box of books that we’re going to give away.” Kind of help with that, or somebody says, “Well, does this look good?” You could be like, “Yeah. That looks–that doesn’t look–usually the answer is, “No, that does not look good.” If you’re asking, “Does it look good?” No, it probably does not look good, that kind of thing. But part of it is it’s helpful to have somebody there for just kind of moral support. And it’s funny to me how often I’m not even really doing anything. I’m just there as a quiet presence to help somebody else do what they need to do.
Gretchen: So, if you’re like, “I don’t have the money for a professional organizer,” I’m like, “Have a buddy come over. Tell them that you’ll buy them beer or Diet Coke or coffee or latte or whatever and could they spend a couple of hours just hanging out with you while you do this. I bet you have a friend, I would come if I knew you in a flash.” A lot of people find this relaxing weirdly and will find it energizing and helpful to be there with you. And you can do a lot that way.
Now, if you want to get into some kind of like super advanced storage unit stuff, like California closet kind of thing–like I don’t know how to do that. I’m not a professional organizer. I’m just somebody who is very interested in like, “Do you really want to have this thing in your house or not? Do you really need this thing in your office? Because it’s covered in dust, so I’m thinking that it’s not that useful to you.” So, I think other people can be helpful. It’s interesting back to Marie Kondo who’s sort of like the giant in the space. Marie Kondo really advises people to do it by themselves. And I think you want to have the–
Ben: What’s her name?
Gretchen: Marie Kondo, wrote the book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” which was a huge book about clutter clearing about five years ago.
Ben: Oh, really? Okay.
Gretchen: Yeah. She’s got a very, very specific system, which I think works great for some people, but in my experience, people often can’t do it really her way. They pick and choose because her way is very stringent. You need to have the right kind of person because there’s–like a friend of mine I was over helping a friend of mine clear her clothes closet and she said she tried to have her mother come help her, but her mother was like a person–some people are like the defenders of possessions and they’ll be like, “But that’s so nice. You could wear that. You just got that tailored. That would fit great. You don’t want to get rid of that.” You don’t want that kind of person because you want somebody who’s going to be encouraging you to let go of things, if you’re trying to clear clutter.
So, don’t pick somebody who’s going to find it–or like every time you put something in the pile to give to the thrift shop, you find them like literally taking things out and putting them on the shelves. That happens. There are people who will do that. That is not the person that you want helping. You want somebody who’s like you’ll be happier if you get all this junk out of your house.
Ben: Yeah, yeah.
Gretchen: There are a lot of those people.
Ben: Now, what about this concept of fengshui? Does this tie into fengshui at all? I know some people will hire people to come into their homes and based on this Chinese principle of using the organization of the home to create certain energy in different rooms. Do you ever do any work with fengshui? Have you let someone come into your home and do anything like that?
Gretchen: Well, fengshui is really a set of beliefs. It’s a very profound set of beliefs about the world and how the world works and energies. I don’t believe it. I don’t accept those beliefs. Those beliefs have no meaning to me. And so, a lot of fengshui is kind of common sense, which is like if there’s something related to something in your life that’s dead or finished, get rid of it. So, if you have a dead plant, get rid of your dead plant. If you have a framed photograph of your ex-boyfriend who you now really dislike, get rid of the picture of your ex-boyfriend. To me, that’s a good common sense. But some other stuff, it’s really like hang a mirror over your toilet because that’s going to bring prosperity or something like that.
Ben: Oh yeah, yeah.
Gretchen: To me, that’s just creating work and the–
Ben: I don’t want to be taking a dump and look up and see myself.
Gretchen: It’s sort of like tie a purple ribbon–I mean, it’s related to beliefs that I don’t find to be true, and so I feel like it’s just making– like I wouldn’t do it. You know what I mean? I think it can be interesting because sometimes anytime people talk about ideas; it’s sort of a different framework. It kind of shakes you up out of your own set of assumptions that it could be really helpful.
I’ve actually read several books about fengshui because I think it’s interesting to see how they talk about flow and energy and what things bring energy and what things deaden energy. Like one thing they say is like don’t have a bunch of stuff under your bed. Now, the argument that fengshui proposes about why that’s a bad idea I do not accept as a matter of kind of like principle, but I think it’s absolutely true. Having a bunch of junk, it’s just jammed under your bed you don’t even know what’s under there. That’s not good. That’s just clutter. That’s just like a dead zone in your home. Get rid of it. You’ll feel lighter and clearer and freer, and you’ll also know where all your stuff is if you get it out.
So, I agree with the idea; I don’t agree with the logic of it. But I still found it helpful because I thought they’re pointing out a lot of things I wouldn’t have thought about, or they’re pointing it out in a different way. So, if you believe in fengshui, if you think it’s–I mean, there are people who are–whole office buildings are designed specifically for fengshui because people devoutly believe in the principles. I’m not saying that they’re not–
Ben: Yeah. I think–
Gretchen: To people who really believe that go all the way, but I think don’t feel like, “Oh, I should have a fengshui person come in,” if you don’t really believe in fengshui.
Ben: Yeah. I like the idea of mindfully arranging your home.
Gretchen: Yes! Yes.
Ben: For example, having natural lighting in areas where you want a lot of like yang energy or maybe eliminating the TV and a private place like the bedroom where you want more yin energy. I kind of like that idea but–
Gretchen: Do you really believe it’s energy or you just believe like it’s a better idea not to have a TV in your bedroom?
Ben: I think. Yeah.
Gretchen: I don’t have to bring the yin energy in because I’m like, “I don’t really believe in yin energy but I believe in the principle like natural light is good for people.”
Ben: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s interesting. These are a ton of really good practical tips, and the book is of course chock-full of many more. And what I’m going to do is I’m going to link to, if you’re listening and you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/declutter, I’m going to link to Gretchen’s book and her podcasts and website, but she’s also mentioned some other books like “Why We Buy” or “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and I’ll put some links to some of those other resources that we talked about as well.
And I would recommend you go and check out her website. She’s got some really great blog posts if you look at some of her top on her blog posts on her Instagram channel. She does like a Monday post of all the books that she’s been reading. And so, she’s got a lot of really good information. So, if you don’t know Gretchen and don’t follow her, I recommend that you look into what she’s doing because she puts out some really good advice in her podcast Happier. It has some good stuff in it, too. So, I’ll link to all that at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/declutter. And in the meantime, Gretchen, thank you so much for writing this book and for also coming on the show and sharing all this stuff with us.
Gretchen: Oh, it’s so fun to talk to you. Thanks for having me.
Ben: Awesome. Alright, folks. So, I’m Ben Greenfield and it’s Gretchen Rubin. The name of the book is “Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness.” Thanks for listening. Have an amazing week.
Well, thanks for listening to today’s show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I’ve ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. When you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
Outer order contributes to inner calm. And for most of us, a rigid, one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t work.
The fact is, when we tailor our approach to suit our own particular challenges and habits, we’re then able to create the order that will make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.
My guest on today’s show – Gretchen Rubin – has found that getting control of our stuff makes us feel more in control of our lives. By getting rid of things we don’t use, don’t need, or don’t love, we free our minds (and our shelves) for what we truly value. With a sense of fun and a clear idea of what’s realistic for most people, Gretchen suggests dozens of manageable steps for creating a more serene, orderly environment—one that helps us to create the lives we want.
Gretchen is the author of several books, including the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers:
And most recently: Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness.
She has an enormous readership, both in print and online, and her books have sold more than three million copies worldwide, in more than thirty languages. She makes frequent TV appearances and is in much demand as a speaker. On her weekly podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, she discusses good habits and happiness with her sister Elizabeth Craft. Rubin started her career in law and was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she realized she wanted to be a writer. She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.
During our discussion, you’ll discover:
-What inspired Gretchen to write her book…7:40
- Began with The Happiness Project
- Disproportionate connection between outer order and inner calm (clutter blind)
- Getting control of our “stuff” makes us feel in control of our lives
- Empowers you to tackle the big projects we might otherwise avoid
-If there has been scientific research to substantiate Gretchen’s findings…9:00
- Yes, but there’s a problem:
- People want to know what’s “best” way to clear clutter when to do certain tasks
- People are different; they have strengths where others have weaknesses
- Some people thrive in a little bit of clutter
- No one size fits all approach
-The criteria one can use to decide what goes and what stays…11:15
- “Don’t get organized”; Start by getting rid of things
- Marie Kondo’s guidance (does this spark joy?) is slightly lofty in its aspirations
- Three questions to ask:
- Do I need this?
- Do I love this?
- Do I (or will I) use this?
- Be realistic about what “someday” means in the context of if and when you’ll use something
- Ask yourself, “Have I thought about getting rid of this more than 3 times?”
- We often overestimate what we can do in a short time, and underestimate what we can do in a longer period of time
-Whether decluttering is the same as minimalism…18:20
- Minimalism as we know it is a bit extreme in Gretchen’s view
- There are simplicity lovers and abundance lovers
- It all goes back to there’s no one size fits all approach
-How to mentally “let go” of things…20:25
- The “fantasy self”
- Be honest with yourself: will you really use that thing?
- It frees up mental guilt, as well as space for other goals and desires
- Nostalgia, past self
- The best way to clear clutter is to not buy stuff in the first place
- Have a box of clutter, put a date on it, then throw it away after one year without looking inside it
- Imagine someone else enjoying the stuff
- Give away or recycle when possible
- “You created the donation to the landfill when you bought it”
- “Store it at the store”
-Best practices in shopping online and offline to avoid unnecessary clutter…30:07
- There are under buyers and over buyers
- Always shop as a guest; helps cut down on impulse buying
- Unsubscribe to all promotional newsletters
- Don’t subscribe in the first place
- Force yourself to hold things in your arms whenever possible
- Break the impulse by intentionally making things inconvenient
- Don’t touch, don’t taste
- Book: Why We Buy
- Set limits and check with a partner (spouses) before purchasing
- Make lists
-What a “clutter magnet” is, and why it’s important…39:25
- Identify the spot where clutter tends to accumulate; make a point to keep it clean every day
- It’s easier to maintain once you take it back to “clear”
- It will spark joy
-How to train children to declutter their personal spaces…43:15
- Don’t think of yourself as the potter who’s molding the clay
- Help them to be honest about what they need, or use
- Everythingsparks joy for children
-Whether or not it’s important to make your bed every morning…48:00
- Establishing a bit of order in the environment is a morale boost
- Your bed is much closer to you than a chair; you may feel in better order
- Christian Gratitude Journal
-Whether or not it’s wise to find others to do your decluttering for you…53:25
- Difficult due to the personal nature of your own stuff
- Maybe to help stay on task, help with the heavy lifting
- If you have to ask if it looks good, it probably doesn’t
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
-Book: Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness by Gretchen Rubin
-Book: Why We Buy by Paco Underhill
-Book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
–BioBalance mat Ben sleeps on
–Kion: My personal playground for new supplement formulations. Ben Greenfield Fitness listeners receive a 10% discount off your entire order when you use discount code: BGF10.
–JOOVV: After using the Joovv for close to 2 years, it’s the only light therapy device I’d ever recommend. Give it a try: you won’t be disappointed. Order using my link and receive a nice bonus gift with your order!