Mental clutter is no joke. Just as an untidy physical space can weigh you down, having too much noise in your head is also going to hold you back. Too often we try to plough through that feeling of overwhelm, without a strategy or pausing to compose ourselves — and that’s when we make mistakes, oversleep, run late or start to feel the walls closing in because it feels like there is too much to do. Marie Kondo is famous for overhauling how we deal with physical stuff in our lives, but in an interview with Time magazine she explained how she also uses her decluttering tactics on her mind. Here’s how to attain a sense of calm and clarity from the inside out:
1. Clear your mind
To attain a clear mind, it makes sense that you need to first do a purge. Just as Marie Kondo suggests going through all your possessions, you need to similarly go through all the thoughts in your head. Make a list of all the things you need to do, ideas you have and feelings you have about work, then do it for your personal life. Get absolutely everything down on paper.
2. Organise your list
Don’t take too long with this one, because that is just procrastination. Group tasks in a way that makes sense. Gather all the errands you can get done in the one trip, or all the calls you need to make, and set aside some time to get all those things done. Maybe what’s on your list isn’t a task, but a thought or a feeling. You could be worried about the direction of a project, or insecure about your performance at work. It’s just as important to get that down on the list too — that’s the first step in tackling it. You can group those emotions too — perhaps seeing them alltogether will help you see how they're connected.
3. "Does this spark joy?"
We’re not kidding — Marie Kondo’s infamous strategy for getting rid of unnecessary clutter from our lives works just as well for the brain. Is there something on your to-do list that you have been putting off and it makes you feel awful just thinking about it? Maybe there’s a client you are dreading dealing with, or you have to paint your kitchen. Delegate the task, cross it off the list or find some way around it, rather than letting it weigh on you. If it would make you happier to not have to deal with it, why are you taking it on?
When it comes to feelings or emotions you have on your list, treat it the same way. Does your frustration with a colleague spark joy? Obviously not. While you can’t throw the colleague away (as much as you wish you could cut them from your life) there is a way to try to tackle the situation. Chances are you have just been putting off dealing with it, or accepted the situation as it was. But this just makes the negative emotions fester in your mind, which will make the situation worse.
4. Stop postponing
There are always going to be things we put off doing, that are important but not urgent. Having these thoughts in your head however is a distraction that will keep coming back around, or worse, you will put it off until a deadline draws near and you’re really under pressure. Dedicate some time to tackling those non-urgent but important projects and tasks so that they are not looming over you any longer. And again for those non-physical items on your list, like the tense feelings with your colleague, stop avoiding the situation. Schedule a meeting with your boss or the colleague sooner rather than someday.
5. Tackle it
It may seem like a big task, such as arranging an event or finally deciding on a new car. It can be daunting to have a project like that ahead of you, but the easiest way to get it started is to break it down into manageable steps. When it’s not a project but a feeling or a negative thought that’s swirling around your mind, in that case, write down a word that describes it, such as ‘low self esteem’, ‘frustration’ or ‘anger’. Have a think about why you might be feeling that way and write that down too. Then, and this is the important part, write down a positive solution. It may seem unnecessary to work through thoughts these way, but actively addressing those niggling concerns and doing what it takes to find a positive way forward is better than letting those thoughts linger. So for that uncomfortable work situation you’ve not addressed yet? Having a think about how you are feeling and why, and coming up with a positive solution, will better enable you to express your thoughts to your boss/your colleague, and improve your chances of finding a resolution. Another important aspect? Set a deadline. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll try acupuncture, work on your confidence skills or talk to your boss ‘someday’. Setting a deadline will make it happen.
6. Make it a habit
Clearing your mental clutter regularly will help you to become more familiar with what gets you down, and help you to develop strategies to cope with it. You might also notice patterns that make you feel this way, whether you start feeling low after hanging out with someone who drains you, or if you start to feel edgy after a few night’s poor sleep. You will also be able to tell if these are emotions from a past event, and coming up with a way to feel better will help you move on.
There are specific times when it’s useful to get everything out of your head and down on paper; it can be a regular appointment in your diary. Try these times out and see what works for you; at the end of the work day, before you go to sleep, at the start of the week. Whether you use your brain purge to plan your week, to clear your mind before sleep, or to assess your progress from the work week, processing it in this way will really clear your mind. What gets measured gets managed, as the saying goes, so staying aware of your mental clutter will help you deal with it better.
Hopefully, this strategy will help free up some headspace to focus on what makes you happy and gives room for more creative, productive thinking. It's definitely a practical way of checking in and keeping on top of your wellbeing.
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