Remove Mental Clutter to Find Peace of Mind

Written by on June 8, 2015 in Emotional Mastery, Self Awareness

Mind ClutterTypically 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.

Prioritize It

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.

Decide

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.

Park It

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 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.

 

Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Hi Marquita,
    It is indeed a great joy to be here today, I am here via Donna’s page wherein you and your page is mentioned as a Wise Blogger!!!
    Good to know that your wonderful way in which you present the things! Indeed the post in mention is worth reading! When I read the title my mind went or thought about the material clutter as you mentioned that that is the general thinking when you hear the word “Clutter” Oh my! Nice to know that there are other clutters too! Those are more serious than the material one~ LOL I like the wonderful quote you posted in the intro: and I would like to quote it again: “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 Oh My!! The physical and the mind clutter! This is indeed a great read! In fact, this made my day! Thanks Donna for this great share Best ~ Phil
    Philip Verghese Ariel recently posted…Google The Giant Search Engine Reveals Some Surprising Secrets!My Profile

    • Welcome Philip! Thanks so much for your kind words and especially for letting me know you enjoyed the article. I have to say it was quite an honor to be included on Donna’s list, especially since so many new people have visited as a result of the article! Hope to see you here again. 🙂

  2. Enock Machodi
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Marquitta,
    Great post you have here. I never knew this site existed until I was redirected here…I feel the connectedness and hope to have more of this. Best thing is that we enjoy motivating and inspiring other people but I need to think about what you’ve written here. Some of the points never crossed my head.
    Enock Machodi recently posted…Warning Bloggers! Are You Doing This The Wrong Way?My Profile

    • Welcome Enock! So glad you found your way here and thank you for taking the time to share and contribute to the conversation! Delighted to hear that you found my article thought provoking – it’s the best kind of reward for those of us who aspire to inspire. 🙂

  3. Hi Marquita,

    I believe this is my first time here. I found your blog on Donna’s blog. Nice to meet you. 🙂

    What a great post here. I really like it!

    Yes, we had to eliminate things that are unimportant. I like the way you deliver a message about making a decision.

    Indeed, we do not need to worry about right decision or wrong decision. All we have to do is decide something. With that, we can learn to sharpen our radar for a wrong decision. 🙂

    Each decision will teach us something. That’s how life works, I guess. 😉

    Thanks for sharing this motivating post with us, Marquita.
    Have a great week ahead!

    ~Nanda
    Nanda Rahmanius recently posted…9 Must-Read Articles When Your Passion on Blogging DownMy Profile

  4. Adrienne
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Marquita,

    After seeing Donna had mentioned your post in her recent one I thought it’s been a while since I’ve been by. Thought I’d stop in and see what you shared.

    I have to say that I’m very neat and organized so everything in my home has it’s place. My mind is somewhat like that as well. After going through your list I was thinking check, check, check, etc. I got to the relationship inventory and I’ve done that too but it’s been a while ago because I’m all clear of that clutter too.

    Not that life is perfect by any means but things are very calm over here in my household. I live alone so it makes it really easy to handle things.

    I can appreciate this post though and will be sure to share it as well. Thanks for these tips.

    ~Adrienne
    Adrienne recently posted…What Cruising and Building Relationships Have in CommonMy Profile

  5. Liz Delaney says:

    Decluttering….an endless task some days. At the moment I am decluttering the house as we are downsizing. This process is great but can also add to the clutter in my mind. I find walking early and breathing in the crisp air helps my thought processes. Writing lists to help is also great. Thanks for a terrific post, Marquita
    Liz Delaney recently posted…How to Easily Add Plugins to a WordPress SiteMy Profile

  6. Joy Healey
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Marquita, First time on your blog, I think. I came via Donna.

    Great tips for de-cluttering the mind. I am just going through a serious de-clutter of my mind and I can say how much better I feel for doing it, even though it’s not finished yet. Getting started was a real challenge, but I’m so pleased I have done so..

    I seem as if I push so much rubbish and angst onto myself and then I suddenly “flip” and have to have a mega-clear-down.

    I guess what I need to focus on is not getting to that state in the first place, so thanks to you and your commenters for some really useful tips.

    Joy
    Joy Healey recently posted…Quotes About DogsMy Profile

    • Welcome Joy, so happy you decided to visit and I’m glad you found value in the article. I really believe the scenario you describe about the slow build up of clutter is pretty normal for most people because so many things are small and easy to overlook. There’s no question that self awareness and being more mindful can help prevent ‘build up’ over time. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. 🙂

  7. Renard Moreau
    Twitter:
    says:

    [ Smiles ] Splendid advice!

    However, I am going to need a lot of practice in regards to avoiding those mental reruns.
    Renard Moreau recently posted…The Zen Blogger: Living A Life Of EquilibriumMy Profile

  8. Kimba
    Twitter:
    says:

    Love the “mental time-out” idea. I should be able to find 15 minutes a day to sit down and empty all the “stuff” out of my head! “Dump the Unnecessary” might just be my new life bumper sticker.
    Kimba recently posted…We Interrupt This BlogMy Profile

  9. William Rusho
    Twitter:
    says:

    We do have a lot of mental clutter. It can build up over such a long period of time. I do think we need to have a “Yard Sale” on our memories and problems every so often. We should try to remove those things that no longer are valuable, but seem to take up space. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  10. I call all that clutter “Energy Drains.” The physical stuff is obvious and lots of ways to attack it. The harder one is the mind clutter. And not all of it is bad. Sometimes my mind is just too full of what I want to do or write. That can be as overwhelming (but not depressing) as the negative clutter. You’ve provided some great ideas to clear it out so you can have room for “Energy Sparks.” I’m sharing your post on my FB page.
    Diane Howell Topkis recently posted…Are your stories limiting your choices?My Profile

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Diane and I like your ‘Energy Drains’ term. Excellent point also about the fact that not all clutter is bad stuff – I’m right there with you in that regard. Sometimes I get so many ideas for things I want to do and write about that I need to take a break and a walk down to the park with my dog always helps in that regard. 🙂

  11. Suzie Cheel
    Twitter:
    says:

    Marty So timely I went to bed last night feeling in slight overwhelm knowing I had some mind clutter releasing was in order. Journal is at the ready and here is your challenge. Thank you I know I have been spreading myself too thin.trying to do too many things, etc etc.Then paralysis takes over. Time to let go and get clear. Love how you in sync with me asgain. xx
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…Do You Ask Your Heart Whispers To Guide You On Your Why?My Profile

  12. Erica says:

    I imagine I have quite a bit of mind clutter. I tend to easily get lost in thought and I imagine a bit of that has to do with my “clutter”. I like how you talk about writing everything down. I’ve tried journaling before, but never really understood the point of it. The way you describe it, it does make sense to me to write things down to handle the clutter. I will give it a try again. Thank you.
    Erica recently posted…The Truth About Low-Fat DietsMy Profile

  13. Mark
    Twitter:
    says:

    Boy M I can certainly relate to your many excellent definitions of clutter!LOL!

    And as I was reading your list of the many potentially destructive forms, I gradually started to realize just how cluttered life can get, without us necessarily realizing it!LOL!

    And I absolutely love your suggestion of doing periodic relationship inventory!

    That’s a great way to describe purging things and certain people and destructive attitudes from our lives.

    It’s pretty easy to notice that physical overflow of clutter, that we just store in that one room and or drawers in the house!

    But what about effectively dealing with all that mental clutter neatly stored away out of mind!

    It just builds and builds!Thanks for not only pointing this out!

    But for providing a solid blueprint, for how to effectively deal with it!
    Mark recently posted…Marketing Strategy: So What Is It You Can Learn From Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry Character?My Profile

    • Hey Mark, I’m so glad you found value in the article and hope that you can put some of the suggestions to use. Always appreciate your thoughtful comments and insights!

  14. Alex says:

    Thanks for your interesting and useful article! I am, on the whole, a disciplined person. And, to prevent the formation of clutter, I just force myself to keep everything in order – because it is easier for me to act in this way than to get rid of full-blown clutter. But what I really suffer from are “mental reruns” you mentioned. So, I think I should learn to get rid of them. Thanks again for the post.
    Alex recently posted…How To Get Over ShynessMy Profile

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Alex, and you surely are not alone as far as issues with mental reruns. I think everyone suffers from that at least occasionally.

  15. Marquita — sometimes our minds become cluttered because we have an important decision to make and we do so much research we can’t organize it all. I found recently when I had to make some important decisions about my future that it helped to ask myself, “What is my clarity of purpose?” That is the bullseye I had to focus on. After I had answered that question, the things I had to do fell into place.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…Timing Isn’t Anything, It’s EverythingMy Profile

    • Good point Jeannette, and of course there are MANY reasons our minds become cluttered with things, people and issues depending upon what’s going on in our lives. I like your use of questions, they can be so useful and there are many questions in addition to purpose that can help to guide us. Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation!

  16. Pamela Chollet
    Twitter:
    says:

    This is such a great post Marquita, there’s so much helpful information. At times my mind becomes like a n over-stiffed piece of luggage. I know when it’s too full because my thoughts spin like a centrifuge.I know then I have to stop and get out in nature or meditate. I have noticed that there seems to be a connection between the external clutter of material things and the internal clutter of mind. when I organize and clear my desk, my mind feels lighter and more open.
    Pamela Chollet recently posted…3 Reasons Why Your Performance At Work Is Not What It Should BeMy Profile

  17. Lenie
    Twitter:
    says:

    Marquita – love the post. I never thought about mind clutter before but my mind definitely gets cluttered at times with the ‘why’s’, ‘if only’, especially during sleepless nights. This statement really stood out for me – “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.” I know I can’t change anything in the past and pray the serenity prayer. I will be putting some of your ideas into practice.
    Lenie recently posted…25 Unusual Ways With MILKMy Profile

  18. lynne says:

    Hi, a very informative post. Decluttering our mind will definitely help us focus more on our priorities in life, moreover, it gives us inner peace. Thanks for sharing. Great Post!

  19. Am I showing my age to write: Right On? Can’t help it, that’s what occurs to me when I read this blog. An organizer friend says that clutter is unmade decisions. So right–whether it’s that drawer or like you said–what is going on inside our heads. As a writer, I like the idea of spilling it all onto paper and from there figuring out how to deal with it!

    • It’s interesting that someone commented to me the other day that they were surprised to see a reference to journaling because they didn’t think anyone does that anymore. I think it’s quite the opposite, more people than ever have discovered how powerful it can be to record your thoughts and work through all manner of things in writing. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and – again – delighted you joined our ERL community Rose!

  20. I love this blog – it’s timing for spring! Declutter for inner peace. I recently revamp my closet. Remove clothes that overwhelms me to get ready everyday. I forgot what article that I read about this. But your blog truly brought reminded me about the basics: prioritize, simplify and live freely.

    Awesome post!
    Mahal Hudson recently posted…Dare to talk about the “Itch”My Profile

  21. Tim
    Twitter:
    says:

    There has been a few times in my life when I have gone through a purge and you are right, the end result is always a sense of ease and freedom. But that’s the physical stuff so chucking it in the bin or giving it away is an easy method. Traveling, especially in Asia, tends to do the same thing for my mind clutter. I remember once I had arrived in a place that has always been special to me. Almost immediately I could feel the minds rolodex doing a reshuffle and re-prioritizing everything. It is a great feeling.
    Tim recently posted…Soweto’s Stark ContrastMy Profile

    • I am a big fan of traveling as well. While I’ve been fortunate to travel pretty extensively (though certainly not to the remote areas where you’ve been!) my personal favorite will always be a good road trip. 🙂

  22. Like Jeri, I have found that journaling has helped relieve my mind clutter for many years! It is such a relief at times to get it out of my head and onto paper. But I find this true also if I have one of those great heart to heart conversations with a close friend. It’s almost as if releasing those words makes me free of the feeling, or at least helps me clarify it! This was a great post Marquita. I don’t think a lot of people think of mind clutter or the need to straighten it:)
    Jacqueline Gum recently posted…Thinking For Yourself… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

    • So glad you enjoyed the article Jacqueline, and great point about the value of being able to unload on a valued friend. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the conversation.

  23. Jeri
    Twitter:
    says:

    Writing in my journal definitely helps me get a handle on my mind clutter, or “monkey mind” to use the phrase from the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Looking back over the past few years, I wrote in my journal the least amount of time I have since keeping a steady one since middle school. That is so telling. The clutter kept on building. Not writing was my way of avoiding certain issues I didn’t want to think about too deeply. Also too, I used to be more prone to rumination, but have made lots of effort to quell that aspect of my mind as well. It does no good to think about stuff incessantly. Redirecting the mind to other tasks works wonders as a way to consciously avoid ruminating too much.
    Jeri recently posted…#AuthorInterview: Kristin D. Van RisseghemMy Profile

    • I’m also a fan of journaling Jeri. I know a lot of people use it to make notes about gratitude, and that’s terrific but I think it’s a wonderful tool for personal growth. Glad you found value in the post, and thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation!

  24. Beth Niebuhr
    Twitter:
    says:

    By coincidence, I just cleared some clutter out of my closet, not something I do very often. And now you tell me that I have to declutter my mind too? I hadn’t thought of writing everything down as a way to accomplish that. I’m happy that I have already purged the people whom I find toxic. Nothing like moving to another state to do that. I do dwell on the “wish I could do overs” but usually only in the middle of the night. Nice post.
    Beth Niebuhr recently posted…Why New Entrepreneurs StruggleMy Profile

  25. Donna Merrill
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Marquita,

    Thanks for these wonderful solutions to clarify the clutter in our minds. Being a type of person that likes things neat and orderly around the house, I cannot function if it is cluttered.

    The same thing goes for my mind. There are times when there are deadlines, new things to create, keeping up with all business DMOs. And also “what am I going to eat tonight?” kind of things. It can drive me to the point of overwhelm.

    Now I’ve been there once and never want to return. I do find that writing things down does help so much. Even if I cannot get everything done, it is great to prioritize.

    When doing this, it does give me a chance to toss some things out by crossing them out (what a good feeling that is!) Also, as I check off the things I have accomplished a happy dance is in order.

    A cluttered mind can be a stagnant one. I like to move forward and make strides every day. Even when I’m on vacation, there are the things to do lol. So there is always something in mind.

    I do have my notebook and will follow the above procedures a little more carefully. Thanks for the “push”

    -Donna
    Donna Merrill recently posted…The Nature Of Your BlogMy Profile

    • Glad you found value in the article Donna – and I’m with you on the importance of prioritizing and how good it feels to cross things off our lists. I also think it really helps to have a good system to keep track of the tasks we complete, not just for the sake of organization but so we can celebrate at the end of each month and refer back to as we begin planning for a new year. Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation – always appreciate your valuable insights!

  26. Donna Janke
    Twitter:
    says:

    Interesting post. We don’t often think about mental clutter, but it is there. Journaling or taking 15 -30 minutes to write whatever is on one’s mind, just keep writing, is something writers are often encouraged to do to clear their minds. Writing things down (and making lists if one must) are good ways to get things out of the head. As to the lists, they can sometimes just be more clutter for me. Tackling the toughest or the one thing that will give me the most ease is a way to deal with that. And then sometimes, I find I need to clear up the physical space around me (how can a desk can so messy over time?) to help clear mental clutter.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Colorado River Story – Part 2My Profile

    • I hear you about the potential dangers of list Donna! Personally I’d be lost without my trusty list and the satisfaction I get crossing things off. But one trick I learned long ago was to be realistic about my daily priorities. I set 3 main priorities and then a couple of extras – if I get to the extras that’s a bonus – but my goal is to just achieve the 3 most important things. Really helps to keep things in perspective.

  27. Dave
    Twitter:
    says:

    That first step is most critical to me – taking the time to reflect. It’s easy to recognize the physical clutter in our lives. I am reminded of it every time I open up my bedroom closet as it begins to accumulate too much “stuff”. It is much more difficult to find the mental clutter unless you take the time to look for it.

    Great ideas to help clear the clutter that gets in our own way sometimes. I have actually found, for me at least, that dealing with physical clutter actually helps to address the mental clutter. Maybe it’s a similar process, maybe it’s a shift out of some “rut”, or maybe it’s just the conscious decision to change.

    Thanks Marty – it’s definitely about time for some belated spring cleaning in my life 😉
    Dave recently posted…MailboxMy Profile

    • Glad I could help with a nudge Dave. 🙂 I don’t function well with physical clutter at all so while I have plenty of books and plants on shelves, if you had a view of the surface areas of my office right now the only thing you’d see is my laptop and my coffee cup. My mind is going a mile a minute under the best of circumstances so the chaos a cluttered environment could conceivably cause would be pretty scary! I used to work for a man who was really nice, but a total hog when it came to his office. Piles of folders and papers everywhere and he’d rather get a fresh cup for coffee than take the time to clean one of the dirty ones sitting around on the shelves. Ironically at least once a day he would come downstairs to my office – close the door – and put his feet up on the corner of my desk because he said he couldn’t relax in his own office!

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