Have you heard of mental clutter? Sometimes managing the details of life, work, schedules and to do lists can feel out of control. Even the simple day to day things can start to add up without a good way to manage them. This is mental clutter my friend.
You know how it goes, running late, missing appointments, forget to pay the bills, always searching for things and just generally feeling like a mess. Do you ever feel this way?
Your mind may feel like it is overloaded with things that need your attention. How much better would you feel if you had a simple way to manage it all?
What if you had a way to conquer mental clutter and keep it in check by doing one simple thing each week? Would you do it? You really can organize nearly every area of your life and put it into a simple, actionable plan. I will show you how.
Clear the mental clutter
Do you know what is causing mental clutter for you? It can be really hard to get to the bottom of it until you sit quietly and really listen. A great way to pinpoint mental clutter is with a mind dump. If you have never done a mind dump, it simply moves everything that is on your mind onto paper. If you are ready to get started grab a journal or notebook and a pen and move to a quiet, uncluttered space to do some deep thinking.
Start writing everything that is on your mind whether you think it is mental clutter or not. Seriously, write down every little thing because you are unloading here. Spend as much time as you need to feel satisfied that you have gotten it all out on paper. I usually spend about thirty minutes thinking and writing but you may want to take a little longer for your first time.
You should write down things from all areas of your life not just your to do list or work concerns. Mental clutter comes in all shapes and sizes. For example, do you have tons of things to get done around the house? What are they? Are you planning a special dinner that requires special ingredients? Write it down. Need to schedule a visit to the vet? Add it to your list. You get the idea.
Here are some broad topics that may help you along:
Things you need to do:
Tomorrow, this week, next week, this month, next month, this year, calls to make, things to buy, the grocery list, the budget, bills due, housework, outside work, etc.
Things, people, events in your life causing:
Worry, fear, anger, frustration, stress, anxiety, happiness, joy, contentment, positive feelings
Making sense of it all
Great things can happen when you transfer your mental clutter onto a paper:
- You can visually see it
- The intensity can change
- Your mind can rest easier knowing thoughts have been acknowledged, sorted and recorded
- It can be simplified
- Your attention is directed to what is most important
- Next steps can be pin-pointed
- Clutter is removed to free your mind for other, better things
Are you amazed by how much mental clutter you have been storing in your mind? How does it feel to see all of it on paper?
No matter what you have written, you will notice two major themes to your entries:
They are either Action Based or Emotion Based.
Anything on your list that requires an action from you such as: grocery shopping, meeting someone for lunch, cleaning the house and so on is action based. Things you have written that deal with emotions such as worry, anxiety, concern, feeling angry, and so on are emotion based.
Next we will use these two categories to sort and organize your mental clutter list.
Action Based Mental Clutter
For now, we will only focus on action based mental clutter and will separate them into categories by using different colored highlighter markers. Use the color code below to begin sorting your mental clutter list.
- Green: These are your top priorities that probably have deadlines and consequences if they are not completed
- Orange: Any activity in the home such as housework, yard work, caring for animals, organizing and so on
- Purple: Phone calls
- Pink: Activity that takes place at any type of store
- Yellow: Activities that don’t need to be scheduled and may be done over a long period of time
If these categories don’t fit your life change them up and make them work for you.
You may find it is easiest to start with one category/color at a time and then move to the next one. When you are finished you should have a colorful list and also some items that are not highlighted. The non-highlighted mental clutter items should all be emotion based and we will get to them soon.
Now for the fun part! Let’s transfer your highlighted list of action based mental clutter into an actionable plan in your calendar. Opt for a planner type calendar for optimum space and the option to be as creative as you want. If you prefer to use a phone app for your calendar it will also work just fine but be sure to choose an app that will allow you to use a variety of colors.
You will need to decide how you want your calendar to flow. In my planner the top third is for anything important, the second third for thoughts, ideas, stickers, drawings or whatever and the bottom third is to track the things I would like to get done (usually around the house) and anything that doesn’t have a hard deadline. Once you have made your decision, start adding highlighted items from your mental clutter list into your calendar using the guidelines below.
Find the first item on your mental clutter list that is a green non-negotiable item. When do you need to have this completed? Find the date in the calendar and enter the item. Add a green bullet point in front (or highlight it) so you know that it is important and non-negotiable. After you enter all of your green items into the calendar move on to the next category.
At Home (Orange)
There may be several items on your mental clutter list that have to do with home upkeep and other projects. You will schedule these as orange items in your calendar. You won’t always complete all of the orange items so at the end of the week you should move things over to the next week.
I keep these items in the bottom third of my calendar on the days I think I have the most opportunities to do them. Use the side bar of your calendar for bigger projects that may or may not happen that week so that they are visible to you but not scheduled. Keep your calendar organized by using an orange bullet point (or highlight) as they are added.
Adding phone calls you need to make to your calendar is a great way to make sure they are not forgotten. How many times have you thought about making a call for an appointment and a week later realize it was never done? If your life tends to get hectic, this purple category may be very helpful. The best way to make sure these calls are completed is to schedule them by choosing a date when you know you will have the time. Place the phone call at the top of your calendar with a purple bullet point (or highlight) and add the phone number if it is not easily accessible.
How is your calendar looking? Have you added several new entries? Does it feel more manageable? Is the overwhelm of too much mental clutter starting to lift a bit?
As new things come up during the week add them to your calendar using the color coding above. At the end of the week you will move anything that was not completed to the next week following the same procedures as before.
The place I struggle the most with mental clutter is at the store. I know there is something I really, really need to buy but I find myself covered in a cloud of mental clutter and absolutely can’t remember what it was. Does this ever happen to you? Well, no more forgetting things at the store because you are about to construct the ultimate shopping and to do list!
Grab a notepad separate from your mind dump journal that you don’t mind carrying around. You can use your phone to do this but if you live for that small sense of accomplishment every time something gets physically checked off (like me) you will want to opt for the notepad. Besides, your visual and creative side will feel so inspired!
At the top of the page write Buy. Underneath, transfer all of the non-grocery items from your list and mark each one with a pink bullet point. This might be things like: a birthday gift, a dress for an event, toner or ink for the printer or anything you cannot get from the grocery store. Don’t forget to leave some space to add any new items that may come up during the week. You will create a separate list for the groceries.
Under your Buy list, create a new category called Returns for anything that needs to go back to the store. Returns are so easy to forget about which is why you should create a special area to store them so they can actually make it back to the store. Keep a reusable shopping bag, a small plastic bin or a basket either in the car or near the front door so you can just grab it and go! For this to be effective you will need to gather the items on your list along with the receipts and place them in your Returns area. I have a place in the car that I keep my returns so I don’t have to worry about remembering them on the way out the door.
If you regularly declutter your home you will have things to go to donation or consignment. Don’t let these sit around for too long because many of those items will just end up back in your home! To get them out quick add the donation or consignment stops to your list with a pink bullet point and then load it all up in the car.
On a separate page start another list and call it Groceries. I like to create categories such as: dairy, produce, meat, and so on to make the list easier to use. Once you decide on your categories go ahead and transfer anything you wrote during your mental clutter mind dump. Be sure to leave some space under each category so that you can add to it if you need to.
If you use coupons attach the one’s you plan to use to your list so that they are together and not forgotten. It can be so frustrating to get to the store and discover that your coupons never made it into your purse. Or even worse, standing at the register with a big line behind you trying to fish through your purse for that coupon you could swear was in there! Those days are over because mental clutter has met its match!
And that’s all there is to it! You have dealt with all of the action based mental clutter that was holding you back from doing the things you need or want to do. You have scheduled your activities and created your shopping lists. Doesn’t it feel great to free up all that space in your mind? So now let’s move on to the emotional mental clutter!
Emotion Based Mental Clutter
You should have entries left that were not highlighted on your mental clutter list. These are things on your mind that are affecting your emotions either positively or negatively. What did you write about that brought you happiness, joy, comfort or any other positive emotion? Can you make those things part of your regular schedule somehow?
For anything that is having a negative impact on your life ask yourself these questions:
- Why does this upset me?
- What can I do about it?
- How would I feel if I wasn’t worried/upset/angry/jealous?
- Can I let it go?
Consider taking action by having a discussion, evaluating choices or asking someone you trust for help if your negative entries are tied to the same person, place or situation. If these negative entries are greatly affecting your life it is important to seek out solutions. Mark entries to address either now or in the future. Recognizing the issue is half the battle therefore once you realize what is holding you back you have the ability to start changing those things.
You can remove mental clutter from your mind, keep your calendar and lists up to date, and reign in all the emotional stuff by doing a weekly mind dump. As you move forward it will get easier to do mind dumps and will take less and less time to complete. Don’t forget to add your mind dumps to your calendar! I am confident that you will feel more in control of your life and you will have more time for the things you really love. Now that’s what I call Harmony!
I challenge you to try mental decluttering and then let me know if it has made a difference in your life!
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Thanks for reading!
Check out how you can deal with physical clutter here: http://www.harmonyorganizing.com/how-to-finally-break-free-of-clutter/