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Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter & Organize to Make More Room for Happiness

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Bestselling author of The Four Tendencies and The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin illuminates one of her key realizations about happiness: For most of us, outer order contributes to inner calm. In a new book packed with more than one hundred concrete ideas, she helps us create the order and organization that can make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

In the context of a happy life, a messy desk or crowded coat closet is a trivial problem–yet Gretchen Rubin has found that getting control of the stuff of life makes us feel more in control of our lives generally. By getting rid of things we don’t use, don’t need, or don’t love, as well as things that don’t work, don’t fit, or don’t suit, we free our mind (and our shelves) for what we truly value.

In this trim book filled with insights, strategies, and sometimes surprising tips, Gretchen tackles the key challenges of creating outer order, by explaining how to “Make Choices,” “Create Order,” “Know Yourself–and Others,” “Cultivate Helpful Habits,” and, of course, “Add Beauty.”

When we get our possessions under control, we feel both calmer and more energetic. With a sense of humor, and also a clear sense of what’s realistic for most people, Gretchen suggests dozens of manageable steps for creating a more serene, orderly environment–one that helps us to create the lives we yearn for.

208 pages, Hardcover

First published March 5, 2019

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About the author

Gretchen Rubin is one of today’s most influential and thought-provoking observers of happiness and human nature. 

Her previous books include the #1 New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project, as well as the bestselling books Better Than Before, Happier at Home, The Four Tendencies, and Outer Order, Inner Calm. Her latest book is Life in Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World.

She’s the host of the popular, award-winning podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, where she and her co-host (and sister) Elizabeth Craft explore strategies and insights about how to make life happier. As the founder of The Happiness Project, she has helped create imaginative products for people to use in their own happiness projects.

She has been interviewed by Oprah, eaten dinner with Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman, walked arm-in-arm with the Dalai Lama, had her work reported on in a medical journal, been written up in the New Yorker, and been an answer on Jeopardy!

Gretchen Rubin started her career in law, and she realized she wanted to be a writer while she was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Raised in Kansas City, she lives in New York City with her family.

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5 stars
2,581 (17%)
4 stars
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3 stars
5,418 (37%)
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1 star
348 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,930 reviews
Profile Image for K-bahm.
1 review1 follower
February 12, 2019
This is a quick read and an approachable little book about how to be more organized. The emphasis here is on little- this is pretty light on content. There's a lot of white space on each page, the organization felt a bit redundant, and there wasn't much practical, doable advice. I read it, I took notes, and I came away with a half page list of things to start doing. I didn't hate it, but I was hoping for more.
Profile Image for etherealfire.
1,210 reviews208 followers
January 10, 2019
I received this ARC in a Goodreads Giveaway. Gretchen Rubin's books always fill me with joy and delicious possibility. This slim volume is the perfect inspiration for the new year! Clear, concise and yet pure fun with quick, easy, cheerful little chapters of tips for finding your personal clutter-tolerance level and streamlining your spaces as it meets your personal needs and desires. I had my first "hour of power" for the new year and I'm looking forward to going through the checklists and implementing more going forward!
Profile Image for Christy.
3,813 reviews32.4k followers
March 22, 2019
The last thing I really needed in my life was an organizing/clutter clearing book, but when I saw Gretchen Rubin had one out, I picked it up one day at Target. I absolutely loved Gretchen’s The Happiness Project so I hoped this would have some great info and something new, or a new outlook at the very least. 

The ‘Does this spark job’ method of clearing clutter doesn’t always work for me, as random things (say my rice maker I use weekly) don't spark joy necessarily, but is needed, so I did like the Ruben way of keeping or getting rid of a possession.
When trying to decide the fate of a possession, ask yourself:

Do I need it?

Do I love it?

Do I use it?

Overall, this was a quick read with some good ideas, but nothing special, new, or especially interesting. I liked it well enough, but after reading so many of these types of books it takes something special to wow me.
Profile Image for Teri Martin.
27 reviews3 followers
April 9, 2019
I really like Gretchen Rubin's books I feel like she spends a lot of time doing research before she writes her books and I always feel like I am better educated and understand myself more after reading them, but this book is just felt like a boring rip off of Marie Kondo and other how to organize your home for a better life books. I am a bit disappointed I didn't think she would write a book like this just for the sake of writing a book and that is what it felt like. If you need some common sense guidance and want to read this book I advise getting it from your local library because I felt it wasn't worth the money.
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,120 reviews42 followers
November 9, 2020
I appreciate the author’s logical approach to decluttering along with her direct and to the point advice and tips. She offers practical perspectives and decisive actions to instill organization and order in your home while also acknowledging that people view and approach clutter in different ways. We don’t need to get rid of everything, especially if those things make us happy, but we can be more proactive in instilling positive habits for increased order and greater calm in our lives.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
724 reviews
March 11, 2019
Let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of Gretchen Rubin. I’ve read all her books on happiness and habits, I listen to her podcast and I follow her on social media. While this book is full of tips to understand and deal with clutter, I felt like I’d heard it all previously, either from her books or podcasts. I’m disappointed there wasn’t more original content. I also felt it was somewhat superficial, and lacking the deep research she normally provides in her books. Book would be best for someone new to Gretchen Rubin.
Profile Image for Monica Kim | Musings of Monica .
509 reviews534 followers
March 12, 2019
per my last update of this book, I decided not to rate this book because it does not deserve so. And I was not going to write a review because of my huge disappointment & frustration; but after much deliberation, I decided to write one (mainly venting) for my goodreads friends as a friendship courtesy because you guys deserve to know not only why I’m feeling the way I am, but in hopes of saving you time, money, and energy.
I know the author is on this site, but someone needs to say it, and I’ll do it. This is mostly going to be me venting my frustration at the author, publisher, and publishing industry, so if you’re looking for an in-depth review of the book and/or not interested in reading a reader venting, feel free to stop here. Please respect & understand that people will have differing opinions & thoughts regarding an author and/or book, and I try to never cross the line of writing negatively about the author, I always try to stay focus on the book in itself. There are few instances where I do have to mention something about the author, it happens mostly for nonfiction books where I can be more matter-of-factly, where I deeply feel they could’ve done better for the level they’re on, and when I strongly feel that their fans and/or readers deserve much, much better.
From here, I’ve taken bits of my own review of Bernstein’s “Judgement Detox” because I felt exactly the same after finishing Rubin’s book. Whenever a book doesn’t work out for me, I always say — there are no bad books, just bad timing or chemistry. First of all, I’ve read all of Rubin’s books and listened to her podcast for awhile, but no longer do. Not a fan per say, but somehow ended up riding along her popularity. You guys know, I love self-help, personal-development, and spirituality books, so I’ve read it all, heard it all. I want to be respectful of author’s effort & time, I know it’s a lot of hard work & not easy putting your work out there and certainly feel they should be rightly compensated for it. However, this book is just wrong. It shouldn’t have ended up in a book form, she should’ve kindly shared it in a blog or as an article. To put this ultra-popular declutter concept and writing it as if it’s something of your own and/or making it sound like such a revolutionary concept just seems really silly to me, also unfair to the readers & her fans. I cannot be the only person that felt like this book was written just for the sake of writing a book, just to put something out there — nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing groundbreaking, but certainly could be useful to some people. It’s like, “here, let’s declutter, so buy a book!”
I know, there really isn’t anything “new” out there, per say. If you think about it, everyone is just “borrowing” each other’s ideas and writing it in their voices, for their readers. Even for Marie, it wasn’t that her idea was new or fresh, but she took initiative to bring it mainstream & popularized it, so many people thing she created the concept.
As someone considered as though-leader, expert, and guru of our generation, she could’ve done better. We deserve better as readers who is also spending hard-earned money. I never want to say don’t buy a book, but try borrowing it from the library first. This is where I’m upset about the publisher & publishing industry, I can’t even believe that the editors didn’t say, we can’t publish this. Is this something worth the value? There’s a popular topic/concept, Rubin’s considered expert in living best life, so let’s put together a book. I know Rubin is well-known for her painstaking research for her books, but this was like gather ideas readers already know & wrap it in a nice cover w/easy-to-read formatting. I am pissed of as an avid reader and someone who have supported her work that she thought this was deserving of our attention, money, and time. I am pissed off at the publishers taking advantage of readers with a popular is topic & popular author. It’s frustrating that this will be one of the biggest & bestselling books of the year, and I guess that’s why publishers will publish it. I am mad at myself for falling for it, again. I know this wasn’t fun to read, but if you made it to the end, thank you! It certainly wasn’t fun to write it, but someone needs to say it. If you’ve never read a book on this topic, you may like it or find it helpful, it’s a pretty quick read.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,948 reviews38 followers
May 19, 2019
Gretchen Rubin drew me close right away, as if she were there in my living room talking with me. I remained in her thrall, as I gobbled this book up! In fact, I need to buy this book, so that I can refer to it again at my leisure and apply it to my daily life and pattern of storing things neatly in containers rather than dealing with them.

In the first section about making choices Rubin includes 25 possible explanations of why we might want to keep an item. One explanation jumped off the page, "I never had this thing as a child, so I want to have it as an adult." This is a good illustration of what I think the author does so well, which is to bring our attention to our emotional attachment to things, so that we can make a better reasoned and accepted decision, rather than a rash, or unexplored one.

I loved the way Rubin ignited my interest and enthusiasm and then gave me options that were practical and achievable for creating an environment of "outer order inner calm."
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,603 reviews2,575 followers
March 14, 2019
(3.5) What with all the debate over Marie Kondo’s clutter-reducing tactics, the timing is perfect for this practical guide to culling and/or organizing all the stuff that piles up around us at home and at work. Unlike the rest of Rubin’s self-help books, this is not written as a narrative but as a set of tips – 150 of them! That means it’s not so much a book to read straight through as one to keep at your bedside or on your desk and read a few pages of – whether in sequence or at random – to summon up motivation for the next tidying challenge.

Famously, Kondo advises one to ask whether an item sparks joy. Rubin’s central question is in three parts, and a little more down-to-earth: Do I need it? Do I love it? Do I use it? She’s also, I suspect, much less ruthless than Kondo in that she understands that we attach emotional meaning to our belongings. But that doesn’t mean we need to hold onto all our childhood finger paintings or college T-shirts; just keep one of each. We can still buy holiday souvenirs, but make sure they’re small and easy to display, like Christmas ornaments.

Although the book is divided into five sections, the advice seems in something of a random order and can be slightly repetitive (making the same point in a different way, a corollary of another tip, etc.). With no index, I feel like it’s a bit difficult to navigate; any time I want to find my way back to a certain section, I’ll just have to flip through until I find it. But since this is really meant as a book of inspiration, I still think it will be a useful jumping-off point for anyone who’s trying to get on top of clutter. It’s been put together attractively, with lots of illustrations by Jon McNaught and various pages of quotations, bullet points or aphorisms.

Here are a few pieces of advice that stood out for me:
• Be selective about what you acquire in the first place: “If you never possess an item, you don’t have to store it, dust it, find it, or figure out how to give it away.”
• Deal with all those half-finished projects: “The easiest way to complete a project is to abandon it.”
• It’s easy to neglect certain rooms or corners: “Make sure that no area in your home smells bad, feels dirty, or seems abandoned.” Then your whole house will feel usable.
• Don’t nag other people about their clutter (always a challenge for me in dealing with my husband). Instead, let your tidying set an example: “people often get inspired to clean up their own areas when they see other areas getting cleared.”
• A few time challenges: never put off any task that takes a minute or less to complete (e.g. hanging up your clothes); finish every (work) day with 10 minutes of tidying; and each week schedule a “power hour” where you achieve all the cleaning and organizing you’ve been meaning to do.

I also plan to go through her closet checklist before I pass on this book to my sister – who’s still dealing with a whole basement full of extra stuff after she and her second husband merged their households and families. Since I work from home I tend to wear just the same few sets of very casual clothing all the time, so there are a lot of unworn items in my closet and in our spillover wardrobe, including lots of dress/work clothes I haven’t found occasion to wear in years.

If I could add one page/spread to the book, it would be a flowchart of what to do with unwanted stuff that corresponds to the latest green recommendations, i.e., refuse, rehome, repurpose, reuse and recycle, all before the last resort of putting something in the trash. A phrase like “get rid of” is too open-ended because a lot of people, through ignorance, laziness or lack of imagination, will simply throw a thing away rather than get it to someone who will use it.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,653 followers
May 27, 2019
Gretchen Rubin has jumped on the decluttering bandwagon. "Outer Order, Inner Calm" is an inspiring collection of tips and tricks for getting rid of unnecessary things, with the goal of making your home/office a happier place to be.

This book is a fast read — I think I read it in less than an hour — with some good advice about how to finally let go of stuff you don't need any more. A lot of these tips I've seen elsewhere (Rubin does reference Marie Kondo's bestselling books about only keeping items that spark joy for you) but it's always good to be reminded about the benefits of decluttering. Recommended.

Opening Passage

In my study of happiness, I've realized that for most of us, outer order contributes to inner calm. More than it should.

In the context of a happy life, a messy desk or a crowded coat closet is a trivial problem —yet getting control of the stuff of life often makes it easier to feel more in control of our lives generally.

When I'm surrounded by a mess, I feel restless and unsettled. When I clean up that mess, I'm always surprised by the disproportionate energy and cheer I gain, plus I'm able to find my keys. A friend once told me, "I finally cleaned out my fridge and now I know I can switch careers." I knew exactly what she meant.

By getting rid of the things I don't use, don't need, or don't love, as well as the things that don't work, don't fit, or don't suit, I free my mind — and my shelves — for what I truly value.
1,016 reviews
March 4, 2022
Profile Image for Amina.
227 reviews5 followers
March 11, 2019
This “book” is like a collection of sidebars from good housekeeping and real simple, spread out on small pages with soooo much white space, basic graphics, and quotes to take up space. (Reminded me of students who turn papers in with big margins and huge fonts.)

Really, it’s 99% recycled content that her readers and listeners have heard before, in print with decent design. You could read this “book” standing in the aisle of a bookstore.
Profile Image for Michelle.
11 reviews
November 21, 2018
Looking forward to this one. Will it be a little too much like KonMarie and others who’ve gone before? Hope not - here’s to Gretchen bringing a fresh take to things. I’m hopeful that she will address this from the Four Tendencies perspective; I’d like to learn how to use my Rebel-self for good in this space.
2 reviews
March 9, 2019
Very disappointing. I’ve enjoyed Gretchen Rubin’s prior books and listen to her podcast regularly. This book has nothing new. I’ve heard it all before on her podcast. Most of it are suggestions from her listeners. Gretchen Rubin is capable of so much more than this book.
On the positive side, it is a quick read and is designed as light and breezy.
If you want to read this book, get it from the library. Don’t spend good money on it.
Profile Image for Emily.
Author 3 books68 followers
March 8, 2019
I really loved this book. It came at the perfect time for me, because I'm moving, so this was a great energizer to get rid of things I don't need as I head into that. The book is easy to read and inspires the reader to create outer order through daily habits and other tools. If you've read Gretchen's other books, particularly The Happiness Project or Better than Before some of this will seem familiar, but there's enough fresh material to make it worth reading. It's also a very focused book, as opposed to the other two, which had a wider scope. I found it so helpful!
Profile Image for Karen O.
45 reviews40 followers
April 3, 2019
Well, huh. I have lots of teetering piles of books cluttering up my apartment, and usually I have a terrible time getting rid of any of them. Somehow I don’t think I’ll have much trouble with this one.
Profile Image for Ami Zelkova.
27 reviews1 follower
March 6, 2019
A great little book for those unfamiliar with Gretchen Rubin's other work. I've read them all, listened to the podcast, read the blog, hung out on the app, etc. so this was all review. There's nothing in here that wasn't already in a book or blog post or podcast episode, but it compiles all of Gretchen's tips on an orderly home and office in one place, and does that job well.
March 20, 2021
Ця книжка наче "Марі Кондо здорової людини" - без історій про розмови з речима і всякими дивнощами))
Але! Читаючи Марі Кондо хотілось прибирати і говорити з власним одягом.
Читаючи ж цю книжку - ніде не тьохнуло))

п.с. Але якщо ви хочете нарешті розібратись з мотлохом і не хочете занурюватись у цілу філософію прибирання - то ця книга може стати в нагоді. Тільки це не точно)
183 reviews4 followers
March 11, 2019
As a devoted listener to the author's podcast, many of these ideas were familiar to me, but even then I found that these tips were random and not as practical as I was expecting. However, that being said, the general mood of the book will make you want to declutter, so that's a good thing
Profile Image for Kaytee Cobb.
1,852 reviews364 followers
March 20, 2019
I hate myself a little for my opinion of this book. Let me preface by saying I am a HUGE fangirl of Gretchen Rubin. I have all her books. I listen to her podcast every single week. I get her emails. I preordered this one as soon as it was announced.

So, with all that being said, maybe I'm not the right audience for this book. Because I felt like I had heard it all before. It felt like every page included something that's been discussed on the podcast or explored elsewhere. I really feel like Gretchen has taught me SO MUCH about happiness and habits and such, and this tiny (literally) book was just not that. It was full of quippy advice, rarely longer than a paragraph. It tries to acknowledge that one size doesn't fit all with regard to culling your possessions, but instead of giving us varied techniques, she just gave us random little tidbits. It felt scattered and redundant. I'll be creating Inner Calm by removing it from my shelves, unlike the rest of her books, which get pride of place in my home.
Profile Image for Mardi.
32 reviews
March 7, 2019
I really like Gretchen Rubin & have followed her for years; since buying The Happiness Project in 2012 while on holiday in NYC. Her podcast is my go-to when I’m driving. And maybe that’s why this book was disappointing - as it had no new insights. Not one thing I haven’t heard her say before. And for such a short book, it’s been coming for soooo long. Lengthy advance promotion built unrealistic expectations, perhaps. On the plus side, it’s a quick, easy read & ticks off another book towards my 2019 reading challenge.
Profile Image for Katie.
117 reviews1 follower
March 31, 2019
I was so disappointed with this book. I loved Happier at Home and Better than Before for the way Rubin embedded her ideas about happiness/habits into short stories and personal examples. Most of this book was recycled material. Why do blogger/podcaster/authors keep doing this? I enjoy her podcast and looked forward to this book for the past year, but there was no new material in it. This didn't feel like a book as much as a blog post/bulleted list. Her idea about thanking an object before giving it away was so reminiscent of Marie Kondo. I'm just sad about this book.
Profile Image for The Story Girl.
1,290 reviews73 followers
June 28, 2020
This book was more of a collection of tidbits and random advice, nothing really structured. It never made me want to get up and immediately start organizing or de-cluttering, which Marie Kondo's book and possibly others have done.
4 reviews
December 25, 2018
This book is appropriately stripped of clutter, revealing a series of pragmatic tips for decluttering, managing possessions and ultimately maintaining a good mood. It may seem trivial, but little things like a made bed, clean closet and clear desk can have an outsized impact on mood and productivity. Rubin is ever careful to not prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather to provide pointers to help each reader discover what works for him or her. I may be leaving this book out for a while, as any random page can serve as a daily inspiration. But if the book ever becomes clutter, I'll know how to deal with it.
Profile Image for Rachael | Booklist Queen.
367 reviews160 followers
March 12, 2019
I expected more from Gretchen Rubin

I love Gretchen Rubin and I love reading about minimalism, so I expected to get a fun, well-researched book like her previous works. Instead, I received a collection of tips, quotes and sayings with little depth or research placed together in not the most orderly fashion. I appreciate that we was trying to keep the book minimal, but the whole thing felt half-baked, tired and far from original.
Profile Image for Katie.
42 reviews1 follower
March 8, 2019
This book was ok, but disappointing against what I was expecting based on her other books. It was a very quick read, mostly containing quick pointers about clearing clutter. It lacked the research and personal narrative that I really enjoyed from her other books. Having read Marie Kondo's books along with others, I didn't feel like I gained much from this one
Profile Image for Diane.
205 reviews
March 22, 2019
No one ever regrets changing a lightbulb. Ha! Never label a box miscellaneous. Quick little review of her other books. A good kick in the pants to get decluttered once again! Just what I needed!
Update -- 7 days later I have a spotless house again.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,930 reviews

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