I've been getting ready to move apartments. And there's one perk to
packing: you become very aware of your stuff, and how little you
Looking around my home this last month I thought: I must
simplify, simplify, simplify!
Then I thought, if I were really into simplifying I wouldn't say
it three times. I'd just say simplify.
I began with "simp-ing" my closet -- tossing out all the clothes
I no longer loved, needed, wore.
I could not believe how cheerful this "let-go-mania" made me. I
felt like some bizzarro-world anti-Santa, giving myself this
jolly gift of taking away. Oh, oh, oh!
Next I cleaned out the clutter in my office and discovered --
by coincidence -- a book called: Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? sent to
me by the PR team for Peter Walsh, the
celebrated organizational guru from TLC's Clean Sweep, and a
regular on Oprah.
The irony of finding a book about clutter in the midst of my
clutter was not lost upon me.
I considered it a sign. I began to read.
I quickly became hooked.
According to Walsh's wonderful book, I wasn't the only one who
felt better after a good "simping." Many of his devoted followers
have written to thank him - explaining how their entire lives
improved after tossing excess belongings. Indeed, many wound up
tossing excess weight as well - hence the title of his book.
Intrigued, I set up an interview with Walsh by phone.
"Yes, the ripple affect of a good clean up is staggering," said
Walsh. "Your house is a metaphor for your life. The more together
your house, the more together your life. Your house, your head,
your home, your hips - they are all connected."
"Why do you think that is?" I asked.
"Many people who are unhappy invest in lots of stuff. But once
material goods assume too much of a primary focus, you've lost
your way. Too many people's primary relationship is with their
stuff. And your stuff makes the worst mistress. It demands
everything - your money -- your attention. It wants and consumes
- but delivers nothing. It's for good reason that every major
religious teaching - from the Torah to the Bible to the Koran -
warn about the dangers of material goods."
"Aristotle did too," I added.
I've been researching Aristotle for a book I'm writing - and view
him as the world's first self-help guru.
Aristotle put forth that the reason so many people were unhappy
was because they confused "pleasure" for "true happiness."
"Pleasure" is about easy, immediate gratification - acting on
impulse to please the ego and body.
In contrast, "true happiness" usually requires effort, patience,
and courage -- and is about surrounding yourself with people,
habits, and experiences which challenge and inspire you to become
your highest potential.
Because "true happiness" is about growing into your best self,
it lasts a good long time -- as long as you last - because it's
about improving you.
"Pleasure", in contrast, is quick and fleeting.
Modern day psychologists agree with Aristotle's philosophies.
For example, Dan Gilbert, psychology professor at Harvard and
author of Stumbling on Happiness has written about how the
pursuit of pleasure keeps a person on the "hedonic treadmill" -
always wanting more and more - and more! Sure, you can get
immediate gratification from your new shiny diamond necklace. But
all too soon, that shininess fades, and you're quickly running on
the "hedonic treadmill" -- to snag your next bling thing.
The result? You wind up amassing a "joyless clutter" around
And as if that's not bad enough, this collected clutter winds up
creating further clutter -- within your psyche!
"You simply cannot make your best choices -- your healthiest
choices -- in a messy, disorganized space," reminds Walsh. "Your
home has to be a place that nurtures you -- protects you -- and
from that place of calm and security you can make the best
decisions for your life."
How true. I know for me, as a writer, I've consistently found I
not only need "a room of my own" as Virginia Woolf recommends --
I need a clean, sparse room to write my best.
A messy space messes with my head - and makes me believe in the
powers of "feng shui" - because the creative energy in a chaotic
space literally feels out of whack.
Sometimes I don't know which comes first - the clutter in my
head, or the clutter in my office. But usually they do mirror one
another. And I've often found the cure for writer's block is
cleaning up - proving Walsh's theory - that there's a ripple
affect between a "together home" and a "together life."
"Being organized is about deciding to be awake," Walsh explained.
"When you clean up your home, it's because you're choosing to be
conscious - and not just go through unconscious motions, buying
things, and tossing things. You're choosing to become more
discerning - which then creates a domino affect of conscious
discernment - right down to choosing better foods -- and better-for-
"That makes sense," I said. "Plus I bet as you gain confidence in
your ability to create change in your life, you have more
confidence to create other changes as well. You feel more in
control of your life, and thereby take control of your life."
"Exactly," said Walsh. "It's thrilling for people to start to
feel their life come into alignment - and they ride that
Even though my interview with Walsh was by phone -- I intuited
that he practiced what he preached - because it sounded as if
Walsh's voice had that "echo affect" which only happens when
someone is calling from a very empty room.
"Yes," Walsh said chuckling, "You're right. My house is starkly
decorated. I simply do not like a lot of things cluttering up my
home. I really do think it's a shame how the health of America is
based upon our economy and consumer spending - how our president
prescribed "GO OUT AND SHOP!' as a cureall."
I must confess, I personally understood that tendency to believe
in "retail therapy" as a panacea.
But I also know, from all my happiness research, that the big
joke on shopping addicts is that material things bring the least
lasting joy. And in contrast it's immaterial, evanescent things
which create the most lasting joy.
For example, taking vacations with your partner, going to dinner
with family, playing sports with friends.
As Aristotle said: ""Money is a means to an end, not an end
Or to translate him for modern times, Aristotle basically meant:
"Money doesn't buy happiness...unless you use your money to buy
experiences which help you to grow into your best self."
Modern day researchers agree. In particular Gilovich and Leaf Van
Boven of the University of Colorado created studies which showed
students became much happier after taking vacations with friends
than they did after purchasing new material possessions.
Their reasoning for these results? Whereas objects fade in
appreciation -- experiences improve - because people tend to
embellish and remember experience better than they were!
Of course, Gilovich and Leaf Van Boven also recognized that
buying a thing can also create an experience -- if you use the
A book which sits amidst clutter is merely a thing.
But a book you read, savor and learn from - like Walsh's book -
is an experience.
And I was definitely enjoying my experience with Walsh's book.
Before ending my interview I asked Walsh to give a quickie
pointer to help clutter-addicts stop their madness.
"It's like this," said Walsh. "Every time you buy something -- or
decide to keep something as you clean -- you must ask yourself
'Does this object help move me closer to the life I want - give
me something back in a longterm way. If it doesn't - then ask
yourself why in God's name are you buying it? Stop bringing things
into your home, unless you know they will help you to create
the feeling in your home that you truly want."
I couldn't agree with Walsh more.
And so when I finally ended our conversation, I merrily put
Walsh's book in the pile of things to be brought with me to my
Karen Salmansohn is a best selling author who specializing in
books about creating your happiest, most fulfilling life. You can visit her at www.notsalmon.com.