Reviewed by Aaron Sommers
You probably know that person.
The one who’s always late and forgetful. The one who loses things never throws stuff out, or— worse yet—throws out the wrong stuff. The one who’s all over the place. The one that’s, more often than not, a hot mess. Sound familiar? Author Gretchen Rubin knows the type, and in Outer Order, Inner Calm, she makes the case that a disorganized, cluttered house, work area, even car, invites the same kind of messiness in our moods and overall health. A lot of us need to clean up our act, Rubin testifies, and it starts by accepting the fact we live with too much stuff.
The author of the enormously popular Happiness Project eschews any philosophical or quasi-spiritual digressions here. Instead, Outer Order reads as a practical how-to guide for those who seek to simplify. It’s no easy task, and Rubin acknowledges the challenges her readers face when squaring off with possessions that likely hold sentimental value, but also take up essential space. In doing so, she maintains, we confront the reasons why we’ve held onto the stuff for so long in the first place.
The more value we place on products, a cynical Karl Marx once opined, the less we’ll place on people. In a consumer-driven culture, the need to spend can reach a pathological level, explains Rubin, and only by stepping back and taking inventory of what should stay and what should go can we live a fulfilling and healthy life. Perfection isn’t the goal, it is an improvement. Outer Order aims to help the reader create a livable, comfortable space, and that can be a lengthy process.
Rubin concludes that we’ve all been that person—the one who’s a veritable train-wreck of disorder— and it’s nothing to feel anguished nor guilty about. But if you want to see what really matters in your life, you’ll have to clear away all the detritus in front of you.
About Aaron Sommers
Aaron is a writer and teacher. His short stories have been published by The Emerson Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, and The Olive Tree Review, among others. You can read more about him over at aaronsommers.com or follow him via Twitter (if that’s your thing) @aaronsommers. He lives in New Hampshire, where he’s polishing his first novel, in a house set deep in the woods and on the more inaccessible side of a mountain.