Profile: The Happiness Project

Linda examines Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project and the book's organizing ideas. 

Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin, a former attorney turned author lives in New York City with her husband and two young daughters. Although not unhappy, one day she decided she wanted to be happier. She wanted to appreciate her life more, not lose her temper and be less insecure and melancholy to name a few. After soul searching  and research, she came up with the “Happiness Project.”

To start, she created her “Twelve Commandments” which are principles she lives by, and her “Secrets of Adulthood,” which are lessons she has learned while becoming an adult. Then she developed  a month by month plan of things to tackle and work on. For example, January was to boost her energy by exercising better, going to sleep earlier, de-cluttering and organize, tackle a nagging task and act more energetic.  February was to quit nagging, don’t expect praise, fight right, no dumping, and give proof of love. Every month consisted of insightful areas for her to work on and to help her take control of her surroundings in order to be happier. You will have to read the book to find out what she tackles in March through December. What stood out to us at House to Home Organizing was the correlation between happiness and reducing clutter.

Toss, restore and organize is the heading of a section in January.  Along with most Americans, she understands household disorder zaps most people’s energy. It can be exhausting to get home from work or your daily activities and start organizing. Gretchen writes that “ one study suggested that eliminating clutter would cut down on the amount of housework in the average home by 40 percent.” After evaluating her apartment she came up with what was the cause of her clutter:

-Nostalgic clutter (we call them keepsakes)

-Bargain clutter/freebie clutter (items found on sale or gifts)

-Conservation clutter (all the items you are saving because they MAY be useful someday)

-Crutch clutter (things that are used but in bad shape like old clothing with holes)

-Aspirational clutter (items that you aspire to use, but somehow never do)

-Buyer’s remorse clutter (bad purchases on items never used, Yes, we all have that in our closets and kitchen)

So Gretchen goes on a purge. With donate bags and trash bags she goes to work starting in her closet. “Once I finished the closet, I went back through it once again. When I finished, I had four bags full of clothes, and I could see huge patches of the back of my closet. I no longer felt drained: instead, I felt exhilarated.” She finds that having fewer clothing choices makes her happier and that too many choices can be discouraging.

One of the common issues we see in people’s homes is that they can’t find an item so they re-buy it over and over. In Gretchen’s case it was her thermometer. Simple solution that we advise is to always put things back where they belong. This way you will always find what you are looking for and will prevent you from over buying. She also enforces the “one minute rule.” She does not postpone any task that could be done in less than one minute. For example, putting away your umbrella, filing papers and putting newspapers in the recycling bin are a few areas she mentions. Along with the one minute rule Gretchen now takes 10 minutes to do the “evening tidy-up. “ “Tidying up at night made our mornings much more serene and pleasant and, in an added benefit, helped prepare me for sleep. Putting things in order is very calming, and doing something physical makes me aware of being tired,” says the author.

July is entitled “Buy Some Happiness.” Gretchen decides to indulge in modest splurges. She invests in strength straining workouts at a gym and hosts a party for her sister who is getting married. Being a writer she invests in some really excellent pens. She donates to charity, and buys some quality file boxes to store family photographs. Gretchen also has a blog. When she posts about modest splurges this is one of the responses.  “I hate to say it but I hired a personal organizer to deal with our basement. There was an ad on the bulletin board in the grocery store. My wife had been after me since we moved to deal with the junk down there, which was three years ago. I have never been so happy to write a check in my life. It wasn’t even that expensive especially because we ended up selling some stuff we had in storage in the basement.” At House to Home Organizing, we understand that hiring a professional organizer may be a splurge. However, people lead very busy lives and when they arrive home they are very often too tired to deal with the clutter. Hiring a professional can take stress and anxiety out of the picture. As we have discussed, reducing clutter can help lead to happiness.

In conclusion, Gretchen’s husband suggests that the happiness project is about her gaining more control over her life. Gretchen does agree. “Having a feeling of autonomy, of being able to choose what happens in your life or how you spend your time is crucial. Getting control of my life was definitely an aspect of my happiness project, and a greater feeling of control gave me a major boost in happiness.” After a year Gretchen realizes she “can change her life without changing her life,”  and ultimately she is really happier.