Does anyone else out there start the new year by telling yourself you are going to be better organized? This year, you are going to be less forgetful, more proactive and less reactive, more in control of the flow of your schedule-and then if you’re like me, you still end up making list after list, note after note (often misplacing them all), and running out of hours in the day to do all that you really needed and wanted.
Is this dream even a reality? How do we get there? We have to get rid of all of the clutter.
- an untidy state.
“to run in disorder”
“Decluttering is not merely eliminating, but gradually transforming our space so that we surround ourselves only with things that express our purpose.”
We have to make room for the important things in our life, and for each of us that might look a bit different-but for each of us, it starts with a really hard look at our lives. Clutter is anything we don’t need, want, or use that zaps our time, energy, or space – AND this is BIG- destroys our peace and serenity. It can be our “maybe one day” clothes, paperwork from 15 years ago, disliked or unused gifts that we feel guilty parting with, meaningless activities, ancient grudges and resentments, or toxic relationships.
We often think of clutter as just being what is around us in our physical environment and tend to neglect our mental environment. When your mind is cluttered, it wastes your time and mental energy. It also creates mental confusion, distractions, and disorganization that prevents you from creating clear priorities, making decisions, having focus, and being productive. When your mind is cluttered, you are not present, which causes you to lose connection to yourself, your environment, your relationships, and the moment you are in.
It’s time to let go of our mental clutter! In order to build healthy mental muscles and declutter your mind, you need to become intentional about where you place your attention and how you spend your time and energy. Then, it becomes much easier to unravel all the tangled thinking patterns that keep you stuck chasing your tail.
A cluttered mind can include:
- Focusing on the negative
- Worrying about things outside of your control, or as I often say, “managing the universe”
- Holding onto negative emotions and experiences, including resentment, past hurt, anger, and sadness
- Keeping a mental to-do list, including incomplete dreams and goals
- Having external distractions and constant sensory input
Here is a New Year’s Top 10 List from Chopra that you can use to begin cleaning out the clutter:
If you are not getting enough sleep, the most common effect is sleepiness, of course, but also brain “fog”—the general inability to think straight or remember anything. Sleep deprivation disrupts your brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, leading to temporary mental lapses.
- Meditate or Pray
You will never be able to declutter your mind if you don’t make the time to meditate on what is actually keeping you stuck. By committing to practice of mindfulness and meditation, you take your mind to a place where clarity is natural.
- Transfer Thoughts to Paper
One of the best ways to help you declutter your mind is to take all those thoughts and tasks floating around in your brain and write them down. Getting them on paper takes them out of your head because it allows you to let go of the responsibility you have to remember them and declutters your mind in the process.
If you’re the kind of person who constantly generates new ideas (great!), you may want to look into a way to store your ideas, rather than keeping them all in your head, which could quickly become like a rotating hanging rack at a dry-cleaning store! To create some headspace, try finding an app or carrying around a small notebook so that you can jot down your fresh ideas. The goal is to pick one place to store them and stick to it, so you know where to find them.
If simply listing your thoughts, feelings, etc., down doesn’t quite stop you from ruminating, you have other options. For example, if you are trying to problem-solve an issue and don’t have the mental space to do so, or you haven’t quite fully explored yourself and your personal beliefs and need space to do that—the next step is to journal. Journaling is an exploratory form of writing and is a great way for you to ponder important things so you can come to a solution.
Journaling can also be therapeutic. It helps you organize your thoughts and understand your emotions, which is a healthy practice for your overall well-being.
- Set and Complete Priorities
You may have a long to-do list and feel overwhelmed on where to start, which keeps those items stuck in your mind, and taking up valuable real estate. Once you data dump by writing down your tasks (see above), you can begin to categorize them in order of importance.
If you find that everything that you are writing down feels important, you can further identify items that are urgent—meaning if you don’t complete them today, it will have serious negative consequences on your life.
Then, start evaluating the value of all the other important items. What items are most in line with your life goals? Those should be your next priority, after your urgent items. Keep assigning value to your items until you have prioritized everything on your list.
- Reduce Multitasking
Did you know that we are not multitaskers by nature? Multitasking may seem efficient on the surface, but studies have shown that multitasking actually reduces productivity and fills your mind with too much activity. Instead, go down your list of priorities and focus on one task at a time to avoid mental overload. To avoid getting lost in time, you can set a timer for how long you want to spend on any given task, to ensure you manage your time well.
- Practice Being Decisive
“Mental clutter is simply delayed decisions.” –Barbara Hemphill, SpotOnOrganizing.com
Life is fundamentally a series of choices, right? Some decisions are simple; others are difficult and can stir an uproar of emotions, causing you to avoid the decision-making process completely. In fact, procrastinating is one of the greatest enemies of mind clutter because it causes your brain to become overwhelmed by all those pending decisions you have put off. It can be an honest mistake though—we are all constantly bombarded with so many options and “what ifs?” that it can quickly turn a decision into analysis paralysis.
- Challenge Negativity
Negativity can be debilitating and take up a lot of room in your mind. Feeling sad and disappointed is healthy, but toxic self-talk magnifies your misfortune, skewing your perceptions of reality.
To change your mindset, you need to start challenging yourself. Is the thought accurate or is it distorted? Each time you prove to yourself that the negative self-talk is incorrect, your mind will start to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. And when that happens, your mind will shift from feeling heavy, cluttered, and chaotic (negativity) to lighter and free (positivity).
A part of challenging yourself is to start gaining more positive experiences. Practice gratitude and compassion by doing something to make your life or someone else’s life a little bit better. When you catch yourself thinking negatively, do something that helps you or someone else. That way, the next time you experience negative self-talk, you can acknowledge that your brain isn’t always right.
- Schedule Time to Worry
We all worry; it’s natural to have fears. Where you can get into trouble is letting your worries consume your mind to the point where it interferes with your life. Rehashing the same things over and over in your mind—such as second-guessing your decisions and coming up with an endless list of hypothetical situations—won’t help you.
To avoid spinning your mental wheels, schedule time—maybe 15 minutes a week or a day—to worry and ruminate. During that time, don’t hold back; let it all out! When you start to worry between your scheduled worry times, remind yourself that you set aside time and then let those worries go. By confining your worries to a scheduled time, you don’t allow them to take over your mind and life.
- Confide In a Loved One
If you’re feeling mentally overloaded, try sharing the burden with a loved one. Unloading your thoughts and feelings can help you gain perspective and clarity, break the cycle of ruminating, and lighten the burden of carrying everything in your head.
Let’s challenge each other to use these tips to help clean out the clutter in 2023. Remember, that the goal isn’t to “empty” your mind, but to help simplify your life and build new mental habits that increase your productivity, clarity, awareness, organization, and well-being. Next time life throws you a curveball, you’ll have the space and tools to flex your mental muscles.
-Tonya Hitschmann- Managing Director, Care Services