Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, can always be counted on for inspiration and techniques for living a better life. Her latest book, Outer Order/Inner Calm, promises that you can make more room for happiness by decluttering and organizing. This trend towards minimalism, led by Marie Kondo, is not always good news for those of us trying to encourage our customers to buy more stuff – but there are some truths in Rubin’s new book that can help us improve our businesses.

The subtitle of Outer Order/Inner Calm is “Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness.” In the case of a retail store, decluttering can make more room for success if we focus on three areas: inventory, store supplies and paperwork.

“We value things more once we own them” is part of a phenomenon Rubin describes as The Endowment Effect. Is that true of some of the merchandise on your shelves? Once you have brought in a line, you want it to sell well. Your reputation as a skilled buyer is at stake, and it’s hard to admit you’ve made a mistake. Instead of marking the goods down and making room for something new, we often hold on too long.

She describes this as The Duration Effect – the longer we’ve owned something, the more we value it. This is especially true of lines we’ve carried for years. Most types of merchandise eventually peak in popularity and then decline. It’s sometimes hard to admit that it’s time to move on.

When it comes to store supplies, she suggests that you track whether something has been used, or is just being saved in case you need it. We’ve received odds and ends of gift boxes, for example, from stores that have closed. Since they were free, we added them to our stock – but they’re not sizes we usually reach for, and some have been around for years. The office also has shelf space being taken up by computer cords and other items we haven’t used for a long time – and could replace if we needed to.

Rubin has succinct advice when it comes to facing all the papers that are part of running a business: don’t get organized. “Your first instinct should be to get rid of stuff. If you don’t own it, you don’t have to organize it.” There are of course some files that the IRS requires you to keep for a certain number of years (you can find that information here). Most of us probably hold onto more than we need to, in part because getting rid of papers isn’t very satisfying. But the less you have on hand, the easier it is to find what you need – and much of what we really need is stored on our computers anyway. (Which is a good reason to make sure you have a cloud backup for your data – think of it as a rented off-premises storage unit.)

To circle back to the first goal of getting rid of merchandise that isn’t selling well: you of course want to get as much money as possible out of sales goods so that you can invest those dollars in new lines. But when you get down to odds and ends that don’t make a good presentation, consider donating these items to a food pantry. We recently heard of one in Austin, Texas that sets up a “serendipity table” for its clients, and allows each person to select one gift item when they’re done getting their groceries. While you are making more room for success, you’ll be helping someone else add a bit of happiness to their day.

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder