4 Steps to Decluttering Your Mind and Thinking More Clearly
I started decluttering my home about a year ago. Six months in I found out that I was not alone, but there was a whole movement and mindset to it. Today I am calling myself a happy minimalist. My cellar is empty, my drawers are organized and cleaning is easy. My apartment seems bigger, yet cozy and very calm. I wish my mind would look the same.
Reducing my stuff did save me a little bit of stress. I no longer worry about what I need and spend very little time searching for things, but those were only minor changes. If my head were a house, neighbors would gossip about the dodgy compulsive hoarder who lives inside and never greets anybody. My brain was full of unfinished, unnecessary, disorganized and often negative thoughts. The main causes of anxiety, stress and frustration sat comfortably between my left and right hemisphere.
Thus I was wondering if I could simply apply the same magic and finally get my thoughts organized and focused? Unfortunately our brains don’t work like our homes, we can’t throw thoughts away or know it back. There are other tricks though and luckily I am not the first one who came up with that idea. Here a couple of posts by the leading minimalists on that topic:
• Zen Habits: 15 Can’t Miss Ways on Decluttering Your Mind
• The Minimalists: Decluttering Your Mental Clutter
• Lifehack: 5 Ways to De-clutter Your Mind
• Becoming Minimalist: The Single Principle You Need to Clean Out the Mind Clutter for Good
As with all advice, one has to remember that some of it works for you and some of it doesn’t. I can’t wrap my head around meditation (yet) or therapy. Therefore I adopted some of the tips and added a bit of my own. Being a very practical person I need specific instructions, ideally some I can practice immediately. Thus I simply took the steps and habits to declutter my home and applied them to my mind. Here is the list:
1. Buy less = Consume less
The buzz that a new fashion trend or technology causes at the beginning usually calms down very fast and is neither worth the money nor the energy to pursue. Therefore I keep timeless favorites in my closet and tend to buy the second latest edition of the gadgets I want. Not all that is new is good; waiting a little tends to pay off in terms of price, quality and especially quantity.
Information consumption is quite similar, not all that is new is hot. That heavily debated but disappointing new series, facebook updates from the girls you never talked to in school, or celebrity gossip. These things are like little bugs, eating one minute here and there and make you say that you don’t have time to go to the gym by the end of the day.
To reduce these little mind polluters, clean up your radar. Remove sites and people from your social media feeds and delete useless newsletters. A lot of these are just there because we often do not care enough to clean our information feed.
2. Throw the junk away = Think: “STOP!”
We tend to keep a lot of trash, either because we forgot or never took the time to get rid of it. Terrible gifts, mispurchased items or simply stuff we associate with negative memories. It’s a waste of space and creates weight, yet we keep it.
Self-loathing and guilt-tripping thoughts are the same. There is no use to them, none whatsoever. Instead of doing something, we sit or lie there obsessing about alternative scenarios in which we are the cause of all mischief in our lives or just simply replay past failures in our head. These thoughts pop into our minds and we let them, mostly because we are not used to halt such ideas immediately.
However, some thoughts need to just be cut off before they turn into mindsets. Try this: Identify some of the very obvious ones, such as “Nobody loves me”, “I am not enough”, “I can’t do this”, “I will fail anyway”, etc. Whenever these self-crushing words pop up again, say STOP, in your mind. Start moving, think of something else or just consciously say: “That’s rubbish.” It will drastically cut the time you waste on putting yourself down and you can get back on track more easily.
3. Define what is necessary = Take notes, write and rewrite
While decluttering my stuff I first got rid of the completely unnecessary and as a second step started to determine what was really necessary to me. I went through my stuff asking myself whether I really need this and that (in surprise of how little that was). This process made me think about my values, needs and what I wanted. I learned to prioritize and focus on the essentials, not the clutter.
Do the same in your mind. After reducing your unnecessary information influx and self-diminishing thoughts you need to organize what remains. In order to work with your thoughts you need to see them, literally see them. Write and record as much as you can. You will feel an instant relief and here is why:
– Fewer ideas will slip away, when you record them instantly. (Use a note app on your phone, that way you will never have to search for pen and paper.)
– Some stuff you just need to get off your chest.
– It is comforting to know that you can come back to ideas any time, as they are stored safely.
– Once you do get back to it, you can edit, delete and distinguish their importance.
– If you do rewrite again and again, you form your thoughts into more clarity, depth and basis, which will ultimately help you express yourself.
– With prioritizing your influences and ideas, you soon will be able to detect specific topics of interest. (I used to be a person interested in everything, until I realized that that was not a product of excess curiosity, but a short span of attention.)
– Recording your thoughts and events on a regular basis will also give you an incredibly precious source of amusement and insight in ten years from now.
You will be able to track, review, order and prioritize a lot of what is going on in your head. It does not matter if you are good or bad at writing, you don’t do it for an audience. View it as recording and organizing rather than a craft.
4. Continue every day = Continue every day
The first effect of decluttering is a more organized and neat looking home. When I continued to sort out stuff, I noticed that my shopping behavior also changed as my needs changed. Soon I noticed that minimalism is not about stuff, but the way you live your life.
We overestimate the change that can happen after a month and underestimate the effect that a year can bring. This is not only the same for decluttering your mind but applies to pretty much anything.
Therefore do not stop to manage your “information nutrition”, mute counterproductive thoughts, note edit, write and share. First you might get some clarity on a few issues, but with time you will change the way you think. You will be able to single-task, define your areas of interest, deepen your knowledge and express yourself more clearly. Your thought patterns will be formed more consciously and less messy.