The most popular resolution for happiness

When people tell me they’ve done their own happiness projects, I always ask, “What resolutions did you try? What worked for you?”

One answer comes up more than any other. I’m not saying that this is the most significant thing you could do to boost your happiness, but it does seem to be a thing that people actually do–and that boosts their happiness.

This most popular resolution? To make your bed.

Now, it’s true that some people thrive on a little chaos. They find a disorderly room to be comfy and casual. When one of my friends was growing up, her mother made such a big deal of keeping the house clean that now my friend has gone far in the opposite direction. Very far. Most people, however, even if they may find it tough to keep things tidy, prefer to live in orderly surroundings.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood: for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm.

If you love a calm environment,  making the bed is one of the quickest, easiest steps to cultivate a sense of order. Also, I get a real feeling of accomplishment from having completed this small task. It’s nice to start the day feeling that I’ve crossed something – however minor – off my list. It starts me off feeling productive, disciplined, and efficient.

Especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed, picking one little task to improve your situation, and doing it regularly, can help you regain a sense of control. Making your bed is a good place to start. It might help you build momentum to keeping other, more significant resolutions.

Here are my tips for quick, easy steps to keep your surroundings uncluttered. Practically all of them are simple enough to be followed even when you’re feeling extremely overwhelmed:

1. Make your bed.

2. Put your dirty clothes in the hamper.

3. Hang up your towel.

4. Keep magazines out of sight (people disagree with me on this one, but I find it impossible to keep stacks of magazines from looking messy).

5. Shut all drawers, cabinet doors, and closet doors as you go.

6. Pick up the mail, immediately sort it, throw away junk mail, and put real mail in the proper place (I have drawer for bills and a file for invitations).

7. Put dirty disher in the dishwasher, or failing that, the sink.

8. Deal with the recycling. It differs a lot from place to place, but you know what you’re supposed to do.

9. Put books away in the proper place: back on the shelf, in the library-return pile, or in the donation pile. Speaking of that…

10. Keep a bag of things you want to give away. As soon as you decide you don’t want or need something anymore, put it in the bag. Every so often, drop off the bags at a thrift store.

11. Hang up your coat. My epiphany: I never hung up my coat – why? – because I didn’t like dealing with hangers. Eureka! I decided to start using a hook. Problem solved.

“Treating” myself to overlooking these steps feels illicit and fun for a moment (yes, I realize how boring my life must be if throwing my coat on the floor feels illicit), but in the end, I just end up feeling worse. If I follow these de-cluttering steps, even if I don’t do anything else to keep my apartment in order, the chaos stays at an acceptable level.

 


A version of this article originally appeared on Gretchen Rubin’s website.