Typically the word clutter immediately conjures up images of piles (or drawers) of stuff that needs to be sorted and put away. Annoying but harmless … or is it really?
The nature of clutter is that it has a way of gradually building up over time which is why it’s so darn easy to put off dealing with it. Then one day you find yourself facing a pretty grim mess – like that junk drawer or hall closet, we never manage to get around to – and not really sure where to begin to clear it all.
What you may never have considered before is that there is also mental clutter; it’s the habits, grudges, unresolved emotional issues, demanding relationships, attitudes, and the ever-present commitment glut that over time grows to weigh us down.
Clutter isn’t just the stuff in the closet. It’s anything that gets between you and the life that you want to be living, whether it is in your home, in your head, in your heart or on your hips. ~Peter Walsh
Of course clutter in your mind is a little trickier to identify than piles of physical clutter. Typically we attribute feelings of stress and overwhelm to too much work and too little time, but sometimes the true cause is information overload and over thinking or hanging on to issues long after their expiration date.
How to Remove Mental Clutter
You can declutter your mind with simple actions that can make a surprisingly big difference, especially when used in combination. Try the following basic steps to get started and see how they work for you.
Schedule Review and Reflect Time
Begin by giving yourself a ‘time out’ and spend 15 or 20 minutes (or as long as you need) to write down everything on your mind – don’t analyze it or trying to figure it out at this point – the goal is to just get it out of your mind and onto paper.
Not all mind clutter has to do with emotional or people issues, sometimes we just try to mental store too many bits and pieces of information. Once you get your thoughts on paper it will be much easier to see what needs to be done to remove that clutter from your mind. Going through this on a regular basis, for instance by writing in a journal each evening, will go a long way toward preventing mental clutter from building up.
Regardless of the source of mental clutter, your next task is to prioritize the information and issues that have been rattling around in your brain. You’ll to need to be brutally honest with yourself with this process because it’s going to be very tempting to deal with the easy stuff first as you try to convince yourself how that’s going to free up your mind so you can better think about what to do with the more complicated issues. The problem is emotional and people clutter ends up parked in our minds in the first place because we either don’t know how or don’t want, to deal with them.
So while setting up a system to organizing everything you need to do for that great vacation you have planned may clear some mental space and give you a short-term sense of satisfaction, it won’t give you the emotional freedom the same way finally dealing with that grudge you’ve been hanging onto will. The point is if you really want to clear the stress and overwhelm associated with mental clutter you need to focus on the things that are most important to your overall peace of mind.
Dump the Unnecessary
It’s just as important in this process to identify and remove the things that have been needlessly cluttering your mental task list. Sometimes we burn up energy worrying over things for which we have absolutely no control, and other times self-esteem issues get in the way as we try to do too much in an effort to feel better about ourselves. Those of us who have tendencies toward perfectionism or people pleasing, in particular, go out of our way to make our lives more complicated in our ever present need to make things “just right” for ourselves and others.
As you make your list honestly ask yourself if this really is something you should be investing your time and energy on and if so, why.
Struggling to make decisions can be frustrating and leave you feeling like you’re stuck in the mud, worse yet it doesn’t take long for indecisiveness to lead to the destructive habit of procrastination. We struggle to make decisions when we fear the thought of making mistakes, looking foolish or feeling vulnerable. Maybe you made a bad choice in the past and now you’re over analyzing every decision in an attempt to prevent a repeat of that unpleasant experience
It may sound simplistic, but the way to push through tough decisions is to just DO IT. Think of it like building a muscle, you learn to make good decisions by making more decisions. Commit to learning from each choice – right or wrong – and you’ll keep improving your decision-making muscle.
When it comes to information related mind clutter the best gift you can give yourself is to get organized. Part of the clutter in your mind is not just things you need to do, but rather things you want to remember. You might try using a tool like Evernote or OneNote to capture this information in digital format that you can access from anywhere. But keep in mind, the only good system is one you’ll actually use.
Stop the Mental Reruns
It can be helpful to reflect on an unpleasant event to learn from the experience. For example, if you make a whopper of a mistake at work, you might think, “Okay, that wasn’t fun at all, but what can I learn from the experience to do better next time?”
On the other hand, allowing this thinking to go on until it becomes a finely tuned rerun as you constantly think “I should’ve …” or “If only I’d said …” is not only a drag to carry around, it serves as the worst kind of toxic mind clutter.
Even if you don’t experience ongoing reruns, most people keep a large collection of mistakes, opportunities missed, and past hurts stored in the back of their minds. To “let go” we need to find the lesson in the experience and then accept that rehashing them will never – ever – change anything no matter how fiercely we want to believe it.
Take a Relationship Inventory
In an ideal world, we would have only positive, supportive people in our lives … unfortunately, that’s not always the way life works. Some people are positive and mood elevating while just being around others can make you feel physically tired, drained, sleepy, weak, and generally suck the joy right out of you.
It’s a waste of time and energy to attempt to change anyone but yourself, so once you identify one of these people in your life you then need to find a way to either remove them or at the very least minimize your exposure.
But what if you actually like the person, but they just make you crazy? Look, we’ve all known people who are likable but are always late, unreliable or play the “victim” or “drama queen” role to the hilt. The truth is these people may be annoying at times, but are seldom the source of serious mind clutter. The rule of thumb for how to handle this kind of situation isn’t that difficult. Keep them in your life if you care about them enough to accept their behavior; not out of guilt or because you feel sorry for them and definitely not because you think you can “fix” them.
Your greatest gift to yourself, family and friends is to be relaxed, happy and fully present. Wherever you are, be all there. ~Author Unknown
We may not be able to see it, but that doesn’t make mental clutter any less draining. Our minds are good for so much more than to-do list storage. Imagine what you could accomplish if you ditched the clutter and practiced being fully present and focused on the things that really matter.
Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald
Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.
She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.
To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click “here“.