Clutter and how to control it

As it turns out, more stuff won’t make you happier.

More and more studies have shown that clutter raises cortisol (especially in women), it impacts your concentration because your mind is overly stimulated, makes it harder do relax (physically and mentally), creates feelings of guilt, increases procrastination and inhibits creativity and productivity.

None of these are things I particularly want in my life.

There are several types of clutter, and you can find many lists of these online, but for the sake of simplicity and supporting YOU in having the most power for change, I will stick with 3.

TYPES OF CLUTTER
Clutter can be grouped in 3 types:
Physical
Digital
Mental

Mental clutter can still be subdivided in many ways – emotional, spiritual, relational, etc – however, let’s start simple, and you can always work up to more detail if that is something that you want to work in your life.

Physical
Physical clutter is the most widely talked about, and the most straightforward to deal with – as daunting as that sometimes sounds. Physical clutter is anything that you either don’t need/use or don’t love.

Here is the first hurdle we need to conquer: NEED. We actually need a lot less than we usually live with, and this honest assessment is what will take you from clutter to organized. Need is different for different people, but there is always a point where you can, when being honest with yourself, identify where you are coming from something other than need or love for an object.

Some examples of physical clutter could include:
– a kitchen cabinet full of plastic containers (more that what holds your leftovers and a couple of extra)
– an office desk with dozens of pens, all with the exact same function
– a closet full of clothes you do not use (a great trick to gauge this is to start a season with all your hangers facing backwards, whatever you use gets washed and put away in the right direction, at the end of the season you know what you didn’t use – you can probably get rid of that…)
– a bathroom cabinet full of half used products

There are many many benefits of dealing with physical clutter (as shown in the beginning of this article), one of the MAJOR benefits is simply this: taking control of you physical clutter helps you take control of your digital and mental clutter. The simple act of going through some things and decreasing your stuff is powerful to your sanity.

Digital
Digital clutter is any clutter that comes in the form of a file, app, document, tab, etc. This is the clutter that stays on your devices and that can grow to literally unlimited size and never be dealt with.

The tricky part about digital clutter is that since you can tuck it away it can build up and be “out of sight out of mind”, however, that saying isn’t actually true… it’s out of sight, but if you open your email, if you look at your computer, if you try to look at photos from this or that vacation – it is most definitely NOT out of mind.

Dealing with digital clutter not only frees up space in your hardware, it frees up space in your mind. All those emails to be answered or read = stress. All those photos you never did anything with = sadness, frustration, sense of failure. All those files on your desktop = overwhelm. All those tabs on your browser = lack of accomplishment.

These are examples of feelings that can come with digital clutter, but I’m sure you can come up with your own list in 10 seconds if you give it thought.

The common ground? None of these feelings help us create a life we love, enjoy, and more importantly, none of these feelings create breathing room.

Mental
Mental clutter is such a vast subject but I will stick to the simplest definition: thoughts, beliefs and self talk that need to be revised, changed or eliminated.

There are so many things that we “know for sure” that aren’t true. Sorting through mental clutter is the mindful process of going through our thoughts and beliefs to get to the root of the right ones for our lives and strengthen them, and to realize the wrong ones and change them or eliminate them.

Negative self talk has been widely studied and the more negative we are in our internal dialogue the more damage we are doing to our brain and the more we hinder our own objectives and capability of success – whatever success means to you. The practice of counteracting negative self talk with positive/uplifting self talk is not a smooth road, but it has the power to change firstly our relationship to ourselves, but also our relationship to others.

Relationships, spiritual clutter, emotional clutter – all these things are part of the big mental clutter umbrella, and the hard work is the heart work of finding truth and living it out.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
The best environments are those where what surrounds you inspires you (eg. photos of my kids), brings you joy (eg. my memory rock collection), or is useful (eg. a computer).

Step 1
Look around your space.
Is it working for you or against you?
Does your space inspire you, energize you?
Do you WANT to be in your space?

These questions help you see where you need to start making changes, and what you want to nurture. As you work through your physical spaces you can begin to work on your mental spaces and tackle your digital spaces as well.

Step 2
Start applying the RULE OF 1

Clutter happens no matter how tidy you are, the issue is to find a way to get rid of it quickly, because the longer you leave it (1,000 emails, 10 piles of paper, where is all the underwear? later…) the more daunting and time consuming it will be.

Here’s ONE thing you can start doing today to minimize clutter. In the moment of putting away anything, just put it where it belongs instead of putting it somewhere else to go where it belongs later.

Examples:
When you go in the house, put your shoes in the cabinet – 1 step (not on the floor to be put in the cabinet later – 2 steps). 

When putting away groceries, remove unnecessary packaging before putting the item away – 1 step (instead of opening the extra packaging every time you need the item – multiple steps).

When dealing with email, complete the cycle – read, take action, eliminate (archive or delete) – 1 step (instead of leaving it in your inbox creating a visual to do list – multiple steps).

The Rule of ONE is powerful because it makes you do it ONCE, so you don’t have to do it over and over.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Barbara Hemphill said it best when she said clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions. The Rule of 1 helps you decide NOW – on physical, digital and mental things – small daily decisions that have the ripple increasing effect of less clutter in your life.

Keeping it simple,
AK

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