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I’d say, “I got rid of everything I own. Except for 15 things.” I’d get three reactions. And I could tell who you were based on the question you asked me next.

You could be type 1: THE PERSON WHO WANTS TO CHOOSE THEMSELF. They asked, “Why would you do that? Are you crazy?”

Type 2: THE CONCERNED AND CARING TYPE. They asked, “Do you feel happier?”

Type 3: THE CURIOUS TYPE. They asked, “What made you decide to do that?”

They’d say, “You must feel so free.”

These are my answers:

  1. Yes, I’m crazy. There’s no such thing as a rational human. Because the human brain isn’t capable of being rational. Holding onto things I don’t need and getting rid of things are different sides of the same insanity.
  2. No. I miss the photographs I got rid of. I miss seeing my kids as kids.
  3. Something felt right about it.

“Some people have a fantasy of wiping everything away. Like a fire or flood. And you did that to yourself. It sounds like you didn’t have a center.”

“Yeah, I didn’t.”

Gretchen Rubin just wrote a book about this. She’s been on the podcast before for her other books, “The Happiness Project” and “Better Than Before.”

Now she has a new book, “Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness.”

This is the basic idea of the book: physical clutter = mental clutter.

“A lot of people feel clogged up,” she said. ”And when you get rid of the things you don’t need, don’t use, or don’t love, there’s sort of sense of calm that comes.”

“OK, but why is that? Why does clearing out junk make people feel happier?”

“Lots of reasons. It makes life easier… but the second reason is because there’s so much emotion attached to items like guilt or an unfulfilled fantasy, etc.”

She gave an example.

Let’s say you bought a guitar. You have some fantasy that someday you’ll get really good at. You walk by it everyday. And choose NOT to pick it up every single day.

Now you have a choice.

Do you get rid of the guitar? Or does that just mean you gave up on yourself?

Or is it the opposite? What if keeping it means you gave up on yourself? These questions build up decision-fatigue. It’s overwhelming.

“So what should this person do?”

“Well, that’s the fantasy-self. The fantasy-self is the James who’s going to learn how to play guitar. But we know that fantasy is not real. Because you’ve had the guitar for two years. You could say, ‘I’m going to give myself a month.’ And see what happens. Give yourself a deadline.”

She had a lot of practical tricks like this.

So I wrote them down.


1. Get rid of things that were “perfectly good”

One of Gretchen’s colleagues kept giving her binders for work meetings. Gretchen would empty out the binders. And bring them home.

“I was like, ‘This is a perfectly good binder. Maybe I’ll need it.’ But what I didn’t realize is I had 13 of them.”

She threw 12 away. And eventually found 13 bags full of “perfectly good” stuff she didn’t need.

And she got a buzz from it. That’s the reward. You get high.

2. Get rid of unpacked junk from two houses ago

This one’s easy. Put stuff in a storage unit for two months. Whatever you don’t take out and use in two months in garbage.

3. Get rid of things that you have a bad relationship with

When I was in the lowest part of my life, I set strict rules. One of the rules: “Get rid of toxic people.”

I do it as FAST as possible. As soon as I realize someone’s toxic, I walk away.

Because then I start to feel low. I can physically feel my self esteem dip based on what I think they think about me.

“They don’t like me.”

“They think I’m not good enough.”

“They’re taking too much from me.”

“They don’t understand me.”

I’ll argue with them in my head. And it feels like nothing else matters other than convincing them to be non-toxic.

It’s wasted energy. People aren’t projects.

So I have to be careful.

Now apply this to physical objects.

I’ll give you an example: clothes that make you feel bad.

Gretchen helped a friend clean out her closet. The friend said, “I haven’t seen the floor of my closet in years. It just feels so good to see the floor.”

The clothes on the floor were like people. They took over her brain. And made her think, “I don’t look good.” “This makes me look old or fat or whatever.”

If the person or shirt or something outside of myself reminds me to feel bad, I’ll get rid of it.

When Gretchen helps her friends get rid of stuff, after they do round one she’ll go back and do a second round.

“You have to loosen your grip,” she said. “There’s layers.”

“What do you mean by a layer?”

She broke it down.

Let’s say you’re getting rid of linens. First, people look for the towels with holes. Anything damaged. That’s round one. Then she’ll step away.

And when she goes back, her mind is more open. It says, “Oh well, maybe we can get rid of the beach towels, too since we never go to the beach.”

One round leads to the next.

When I threw everything away, I only did one round. I called my friend. And said, “Get rid of everything.”

I never went back to that house.

And I asked myself the question no one else did.

“Why not?”

And that’s the only question that matters.


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