Saturday, March 12, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Happiness Project

I love books. I love holding them and turning their pages. I love discussing them with friends who have also read what I'm reading. I love introducing people to great books that they haven't read before. I love checking out what other people have to say about the books that I'm thinking about reading. I love exploring things that interest me by reading a book - and often more than one - on the topic. I love reading complete fluff when I just want some relaxing time to myself. I love, love, love books! So it won't be surprising to anyone who knows me that I spend a lot of time reading on topics related to parenting, simple living, spirituality, creating family traditions, decluttering, taking care of the Earth, and just about anything else that speaks to my soul and helps me along this path of striving to live more intentionally.

The book that I am reading at the moment is "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin. I had considered reading this book for some time, but after seeing some of the reader reviews over on Amazon I decided against it. I'm not entirely sure what changed my mind, but I ended up reserving a copy at the library about six months after first researching it. It is in high demand at my local library and I was on the waiting list for a number of weeks. The book finally ended up in my possession where it stayed until I had to return it to the library, unopened and unread, a month later. This is an example of having those good intentions, but not following through (the fact that I have a sizable "library" of my own with many books that I have not yet read certainly contributed to the fact that this book sat untouched in a stack of "to read" books). Well, I put myself back on the waiting list and I've been steadily working through the book for the past two days. I should probably admit here that the book is now overdue and I can't renew it because there are holds on it, so my plan is to finish it quickly so that I can return it for someone else to check out.

Although I have not yet finished the book - which I find to be an interesting look at the concrete steps taken by the author in an intentional bid to improve her life in subtle, yet important ways - I was struck by her description of the varieties of clutter in her home. As I think about the barriers that I have constructed to living the life that I desire for myself and my family, having too much stuff is one of the most obvious. So many times I have found myself saying that we can't go do something - spend a sunny afternoon outside with the neighbors, check out the local science museum, tackle that yummy recipe that I've been saving for ages, etc. - because I feel compelled to pick up the house. A life full of saying "no" because I need to pick up, put away, or otherwise organize stuff is not the life that I want for myself or for my children. And that brings me back to the varieties of clutter that Gretchen Rubin outlines in her book. Without further ado, they are:

* Nostalgic Clutter - made up of relics from one's past
* Conservation Clutter - made up of things that are useful, but not to the bearer at the present time
* Bargain Clutter (and its cousin Freebie Clutter) - results from buying unnecessary things because they're on sale or gifts, hand-me-downs, and giveaways that aren't being used
* Crutch Clutter - things that are used, but shouldn't be (i.e. worn out items)
* Aspirational Clutter - things that one owns but don't actually use
* Outgrown Clutter - things that once were in use, but now are stored without purpose
* Buyer's Remorse Clutter - things that should not have been purchased but one feels must "use up" to justify the purchase

While I certainly have enough clutter to encompass all of these varieties, one of the two that I think I most struggle with is nostalgic clutter. I have a deep and abiding interest in family history and I'm lucky to have both a mother and mother-in-law who also care deeply about family history and have saved innumerable items from the past to share with others in the family. My children love to play with a stash of vintage buttons that my husband's grandmother and great-grandmother saved and used in their own sewing. I am blessed to have photos from several generations past along with fascinating ephemera from the daily lives of my ancestors. I also have useless crap that serves no purpose other than to sit in a box because someone couldn't bring themselves to throw it away. To be fair, lest it seem that the problem is something that I've simply inherited, this crap-in-a-box phenomena is heavily comprised of things from my own childhood that I've saved and art projects and memorabilia galore from/for my own children. I'm determined to either put this nostalgic clutter into active use, find a specific place for it in my house, or find a new home for it (with siblings and other family members if they want it or someplace else entirely if family doesn't want it). Not only do I not want boxes of stuff sitting around my home taking up space, I don't want to blindly pass along boxes of family stuff to my kids someday.

The other variety of clutter with which I most struggle is aspirational clutter. Whether we're talking about books that I've thrifted (Did I mention that I LOVE books?) but not yet read, cookbooks filled with awesome recipes that I've never used, more craft supplies than I will ever use at the rate that I've been crafting/knitting/scrapbooking/etc. for the past ten years, I've got tons of lofty aspirations and a whole bunch of stuff. When I shared with my husband in the car today what I think are my two biggest trouble areas with clutter, he agreed with my assessment. He also went on to add that he thinks that I shop for food with more aspiration than actual plans and I have to agree - my good intentions are how we end up buying food that goes bad or cool kitchen gadgets that never get used.

So in the spirit of sharing publicly, in this space, what I feel the need to work on to help lead a more intentional life - and considering the fact that I am committed to continuing with Simple Mom's Project Simplify - I find this discussion and thinking about clutter to be helpful. Do you struggle with nostalgic or aspirational clutter? What have you found to be an effective way to purge and control this type of stuff?

"Get rid of things or you’ll spend your while life tidying up." ~Marguerite Duras


  1. My friend Jaime asked me yesterday about your blog and I was all, "whaaa?" So here I am, catching up! :-) And now that you're blogging, I feel like I'm more aware of your day-to-day life. It's almost like you live just down the street from me... ;-) (Seriously though - good for you! You're in my Google Reader list!)

  2. This is so timely. The closet clean up got me totally motivated to attack the rest of the house... which could be a full time endeavor! My one really difficult area of clutter is photos. I have so many photos I WANT to display... but just can't. So I always wonder what to do with them, stash them in a drawer? under the bed? in envelopes? And then there's the 10k+ pictures on my computer... I should back those up. Anyhoo, thanks for sharing and I think I'll look up The Happiness Project. :)