Jamie Novak On How Simplifying & Decluttering Your Life Can Make You Happier

An Interview With Drew Gerber

Drew Gerber, CEO of Wasabi Publicity
Authority Magazine

--

Set up a share bag. Place a bag in a central location, like a hall closet. Every time you come across something you don’t need that someone else could use, place it in the bag. Plan a share bag drop-off or schedule a monthly pick-up. You’ll feel happier to share the stuff you are not using, and the pre-scheduled dates will hold you accountable.

We live in a time of great excess. We have access to fast fashion, fast food, and fast everything. But studies show that all of our “stuff” is not making us any happier. How can we simplify and focus on what’s important? How can we let go of all the clutter and excess and find true happiness? In this interview series, we are talking to coaches, mental health experts, and authors who share insights, stories, and personal anecdotes about “How Simplifying and Decluttering Your Life Can Make Us Happier.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jamie Novak.

When Jamie isn’t teaching free, virtual workshops to a global audience (with her dog Holly at her feet) she is baking treats using clipped recipes she’s been saving in shoeboxes. A decluttering expert, humorist, and the author of Keep This Toss That: The Practical Guide to Tidying Up, Jamie motivates readers by posting resource lists and a toss-of-the-day on JamieNovak.com.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

Looking back, the fact I kept alphabetized “friend files” for my grade school classmates, noting their birthday and favorite color, might have been a clue I’d end up an organizer. I would say my career began when I took a part time job at the local hospital while attending Union College to earn my degree in Communications. My ability to create order out of chaos was a perfect fit for my job as a unit secretary. One day a co-worker asked if I would help organize her home office, that session led to so many word-of-mouth clients that I resigned my job at the hospital. One client, a mom of twins, invited me to present a toy decluttering workshop for her mom’s club. The feedback to my helpful and humorous talk was overwhelmingly positive, and I was invited by other organizations to give similar talks. From there I wrote six books and currently I present virtual programs that are open to all at no cost. I followed my passion for helping others find happiness by simplifying their lives and while I never set out to be an organizer, I love what I do, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Ah yes, I have just the story! It’s about when I met my literary agent at a conference. When she handed me her business card I recognized the mailing address immediately, she had recently purchased my great aunt’s home. What are the chances? I believe we were meant to meet and work together.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am! It’s all about achieving a clutter free table. Each session focuses on a different pile of stuff like mail, photos, and papers to be filed. We all want our tables back, and I show you how to do it. Instead of just dumping stuff on the table, I help participants make decisions so they can reclaim their tablespace and their happiness.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the topic of “How Simplifying and Decluttering Your Life Can Make You Happier”?

I’ve spent the last twenty-nine years helping overwhelmed people increase their happiness by decluttering their lives. Between private clients, in-person workshops, and now interactive virtual programs (which are open to everyone at no cost) I have developed a signature strategy to simplify your life. I’ve appeared on morning TV, been quoted in national publications, and wrote six books including Keep This Toss That: The Practical Guide to Tidying Up. Not only do I teach how to declutter, with a humorous twist, but (most days) I use my own tips. I’m very happy living minimally in a 660 square foot condo, I dress from a capsule wardrobe, and try to shop at home before I buy anything new.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. We live in a time of excess. We have access to so much. But studies show that all of our “stuff” is not making us any happier. Can you articulate for our readers a few reasons why all of our possessions are not giving us happiness?

Absolutely, here are three reasons our possessions don’t provide happiness.

1. Happiness can’t be bought. We crave connection and that doesn’t come in a box. Excitement about something new is short lived, but connections create meaningful memories that last a lifetime.

2. The more you have, the more you have to maintain. Each and every item you bring into your home requires a lot of effort — which is exhausting. You have to care for it, decide where to store it, clean it, maintain it, organize it, use or not use it, then feel bad about not using it. You have to figure out when to let it go and where to send it, and how to get it out of your home without just adding to a landfill. All this care of inanimate objects is draining us; we have little time and energy left to live a life we love.

3. Clutter stresses us out; stress and happiness rarely co-exist.

On a broader societal level, how do you think this excessiveness may be harming our communities and society?

Our society is suffering under the weight of excess. We are so busy, stressed out, and tired from maintaining what we own and worried about getting more, that we’ve lost sight of what really matters. Clutter keeps us disconnected from ourselves, family, friends, and neighbors. Not to mention our planet is struggling to produce more while the landfills grow even taller. Overall, we are too concerned with screens and stuff when we should be more concerned about missing out on a happy life.

The irony of struggling with happiness in modern times is glaring. In many places in the world today, we have more than ever before in history. Yet despite this, so many people are unhappy. Why is simplifying a solution?

Simplifying is the solution because fewer things equals a fuller life. By paring down to just what you use and love, you’ll have more money, time, space and energy for the things that matter most — which are typically the things that make you the happiest. And giving away things we are not using, to people who will appreciate them, makes us (and them) happy. So, the process of simplifying is a rewarding one on many levels.

How would simplifying help people to access happiness?

Clutter gets in the way of happiness, simplifying solves that. You are happier when you have more time, space, energy, mental bandwidth, and money. Paring down means less time spent acquiring things, organizing things, and discarding things. Less to store equals more breathing room. Fewer things to decide about gives you more energy to enjoy life. Fewer things to remember can mean more mental clarity. And buying less, not having to replace broken or lost things, not having to buy storage containers, or rent a storage unit puts money back in your pocket. When we think about what is in the way of our happiness the solution is often found by simplifying.

Can you share some insights from your own experience?

I’d love to. It seems to me that your happiness is lost underneath the clutter so slowly you almost don’t notice. You look around and can’t imagine where all the stuff came from. You’re overwhelmed and not sure where to start to dig yourself out. You can’t remember the last time you laughed deeply or enjoyed that hobby you love, read for pleasure, or felt on top of your to-do list — but you crave those things. Once someone has that moment of clarity all they need to do is take a tiny action; like putting a few things in a bag to donate. They feel an immediate sense of relief. You can almost see a change in them physically. They seem a little lighter, stand a little taller, walk a little faster, breathe a little deeper. They have hope. They believe that they can declutter and find more happiness. The fact that I might play a small part in that change, that I can provide simple steps and support (and a few laughs along the way) is what makes me jump out of bed so I can get the day started.

Where in your life have you transformed yourself from not having enough to finally experiencing enough? For example, many people feel they don’t have enough money. Yet, people define abundance differently, and often, those with the least money can feel the most abundant. Where in your health, wealth, or relationships have you transformed your life?

To be honest, I’m still simplifying my life, it’s an ongoing process. Years ago, I had a closet full of clothes, yet I felt like I had nothing to wear. I loved to bake but getting pans out of the kitchen cabinet was frustrating. And I was the person who saved everything, from a used twist tie to every greeting card I’d ever received. But when I needed the twist tie, I could never find it and with so many greeting cards, none were that special. I was always buying “the thing” that I thought would make me a better version of myself, like the green juice maker that I never took out of the box.

Unhappy, stressed out, and lacking time for what mattered most, I decided to simplify my life. I determined how much of my space I was willing to give up to a specific category and kept the best while donating or recycling the rest. I created a capsule wardrobe. I pared down my baking supplies to a single cabinet. Twist ties get a small compartment in the junk drawer organizer, if I have too many to fit, I let the excess go, reminding myself, I can always get more. I picked out a box to serve as my treasure box, I selected one greeting card from each person and recycled the rest. Now, I’m not saying I don’t have any clutter, because I do, but I have less stress, more money, more space, and a whole lot more happiness!

People, places, and things shape our lives. For example, your friends generate conversations that influence you. Where you live impacts what you eat and how you spend your time. The “things” in your life, like phones, technology, or books impact your recreation. Can you tell us a little about how people, places, and things in your own life impact your experience of “experiencing enough?”

My mom’s reuse of items had a great impact on my feeling of having enough. She grew up on a tight budget and was an environmentalist. Instead of “things are disposable just buy a new one” mindset she taught me to buy good quality once and care for it. Her creativity was inspiring, instead of buying a new pen cup she had me help her decorate a rinsed-out soup can with yellow construction paper and sunflowers, which were her favorite. It served the same purpose, and we made a memory, it was a lot of fun decorating it.

What advice would you give to younger people about “experiencing enough?”

I would say, please tune out the marketing and social media posts telling you that you are not good enough. Life is too short, and you are too awesome to not be yourself. You don’t have to keep up with anyone. You don’t have to impress anyone. Stop comparing — no one is paying that much attention anyway — instead of trying to have more than someone else, strive to be a happier version of you. Buy good quality that will last and take care of it. Prioritize making lasting memories.

This is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and research, can you share your “five ways we can simplify and declutter our lives to make us happier?”

VIDEO

  1. Set up a share bag. Place a bag in a central location, like a hall closet. Every time you come across something you don’t need that someone else could use, place it in the bag. Plan a share bag drop-off or schedule a monthly pick-up. You’ll feel happier to share the stuff you are not using, and the pre-scheduled dates will hold you accountable.
  2. Stop bringing clutter home. Notice where the clutter comes from. Do you shop at yard sales for things you want but don’t need? Do you bring home free things, like fast food condiment packets? Discard junk mail to avoid piling it on the table. The less you bring into your home, the less you have to sort and store, the happier you’ll be.
  3. Streamline your options. Life is a lot easier when there are fewer choices. Try making decisions in advance. Make getting dressed easier by choosing outfits for the week. Create a retention schedule of which papers you’ll keep and where you’ll file them. Use a qualifying question to help you sort out the clutter. Ask yourself, would someone else be happier having this? If the answer is yes, then you know what to do, donate it.
  4. Simplify your schedule. Make time for the fun stuff by adding it to your calendar first. If you wait to do the fun stuff until after your to-do list is done, you’ll be waiting a lifetime. Choose days for chores, like errands on Tuesday, cleaning on Wednesday and laundry on Thursday. Theme your meals so you know what main dish you are making on what day of the week. Pare down your commitments and learn to say no, gracefully. Spend your time on meaningful obligations. No one is happy rushing from place to place with little time to enjoy being in the moment.
  5. Skip buying bins and baskets. Instead of buying more storage solutions and organizational tools, focus on having less stuff to sort and store.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊

The movement I would start is Neigh-borrow-ing because we don’t each need to own one of everything, we can share. Along the lines of the very popular ‘buy nothing groups’ but instead of keeping the item, you simply return it to your neighbor when you are through. Borrowing before buying would build a stronger sense of community, more than just a wave hello, we could really get to know those in our community. Not to mention the money we would save by not purchasing all the things that ultimately become clutter. Want to bake a Bundt cake but need the special pan? Ask your neighbor who loves to bake. Need to change a tire but don’t have a tall jack? Talk to the car enthusiast at the end of the block. Hosting a backyard movie night? Borrow the projector from the family across the street who just hosted a similar party. Good for the planet and our bank account while deepening our connections, Neigh-borrow-ing; it’s how we increase our happiness one borrowed item at a time!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

About The Interviewer: For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world. Drew is the CEO of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., a full-service PR agency lauded by PR Week and Good Morning America. Wasabi Publicity, Inc. is a global marketing company that supports industry leaders, change agents, unconventional thinkers, companies and organizations that strive to make a difference. Whether it’s branding, traditional PR or social media marketing, every campaign is instilled with passion, creativity and brilliance to powerfully tell their clients’ story and amplify their intentions in the world.

--

--

Drew Gerber, CEO of Wasabi Publicity
Authority Magazine

For 30 years, Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world