“If there’s no inner peace, people can’t give it to you. The husband can’t give it to you. Your children can’t give it to you. You have to give it to you.” Linda Evans
There’s ample research out there demonstrating that minimalism has mental health benefits worth exploring. In a study about the connection between materialist consumption and well-being Mario Pandelaere of Ghent University states that “there is a robust, negative relation between materialism and well-being.” Rik Pieters of Tilburg University has shown a link between materialism and increasing loneliness over time and as well as a correlation between loneliness and depression. Of course minimalism is about more than simply downsizing your material possessions and living with less. It’s also about learning to manage your internal landscape to decrease clutter in your mind. While external and internal minimalism are obviously interrelated, and decluttering your external space will inevitably have a positive impact on your mental health as well, the benefits of intentionally decluttering your mind cannot be overstated.
31.1 Go to the Root: Addressing Underlying Issues
“You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.” Eckhart Tolle
Lots of blogs and self-help articles will give you a list of ways to deal with stress and declutter your mind. While it’s helpful to have such strategies in place, the most important thing is to actually address the source of your internal buildup. There may be many external factors causing you to have a never-ending stream of things to do, to remember and to worry about. However if having an over-full mind is a regular occurrence there are likely certain things you could be changing in your approach to life itself, rather than just using band-aid solutions every time you feel your mind spinning out of control. In other words, if you keep running into a wall maybe you should think about ways to get around it, or even demolish it, instead of how to deal with the pain in your head every time there’s an impact.
Some common ways of being/thinking that lead to excess stress and mental clutter are; the desire to please and never wanting to disappoint others; the internalization of performance pressure we received as a child that makes us feel we always have to be “the best” at everything; diving into hyperdrive mode as a way of avoiding deeper emotional issues; the secret belief that we’re not “good enough” or valuable simply for being who we are and so have to prove our worth through constantly doing; insecurity leading to constantly comparing oneself to others and so trying to “outdo” them.
There are nuances to be added here and there, but those are some of the primary issues that might be creating your mental clutter. Before trying to deal with your mental clutter as something that’s just par for the course, sit with yourself and consider if there are some deeper issues in need of acknowledgement. You may be simply pushing yourself way to hard as a result of one of the above internal dynamics. If you can identify with any of them and feel like it’d be worth exploring deeper, consider getting counselling or therapy from a professional. On the other hand, some people just have huge amounts of energy or are intensely passionate about their work. When this energy isn’t channeled properly the mind can become a bit hyperactive, in which case the following ideas are super important to put into practice!
“Accept where you are, accept what you have, accept who you are – do what you can with all of that and let it be enough.” Nikki Rowe
A regular meditation practice is one of the best ways to reduce your mental clutter. The art of focusing on only one thing is an incredibly useful skill set in all spheres of life. If you’ve never meditated before there are several very simple techniques that you can practice and hundreds of courses both online and off. It’s important to find a technique that works for you. People will push their own ideas of the “best” form of meditation on you but everyone’s needs are different. Here are two very simple meditation techniques that you can try out for starters.
For more advanced or detailed techniques, check out the myriad books, videos or courses out there! Try and integrate a meditation practice of some sort into the beginning and/or end of your day for maximum mind-clearing benefits. A minimum of twenty minutes on either end of the day is ideal, but even five minutes will make a cumulative difference if you really work it into your routine. If you find sitting and focusing on one thing too challenging you can also integrate movement into your meditation. Many people practice “walking meditation,” but you can also try out something more structured like Qigong or Tai Chi. Anything centered on mindfulness should help you get to that decluttered zone you’re looking for.
And speaking of movement, integrating a healthy amount of movement into your daily routine is another absolute essential when it comes to keeping the mind free of excess “stuff.” Most people these days do not have highly active lives, yet physical activity is one of the number one ways to reduce things like anxiety, insomnia and depression. The Anxiety and Depression Association of American cites “psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout…they demonstrate that a brisk walk or other simple activity can deliver several hours of relief, similar to taking an aspirin for a headache.” In other words, you don’t have to become a marathon runner to experience the benefits of physical activity on your mental health!
Having an active lifestyle is just that – a lifestyle. In addition to working exercise or movement-oriented leisure activities into your schedule, it also means sometimes choosing to do things “the hard way” if it allows you to move more, e.g. biking or walking to work instead of driving or taking the bus, or walking up the stairs instead of taking the escalator.
For those of you not ready to start running 5 miles a day, many health professionals are now recommending Tabata exercises as an easy-to-integrate workout that can be done anywhere! It’s based on high-intensity-training (HIT) where you do one exercise all out for 20 seconds (e.g. “burpies” or squat jumps), rest for 10 seconds, and repeat for a duration of four minutes. It’s also touted by researchers as one of the more effective means of burning calories, if that’s one of your personal goals. It’s definitely recommended to warm up and cool-down in order for maximum benefits and to protect joints, but for those of you looking for something you can do at home with limited amounts of time, this can be a great option.
It’s important to find ways to actually enjoy whatever movement you work into your life, otherwise it’s unlikely that you’ll actually continue doing it. Whether you enjoy the activity itself, the feeling of getting better at something in a consistent way (measuring your progress can be a great motivator!), or you find some way of “rewarding” yourself (in a non self-sabotaging way! I.e. not vegging out in front of the TV or eating a bunch of junk food…) for getting it done, focus on the pleasure side of the activity rather than the “one more thing I have to do” feeling.
31.4 Reduce Information Intake
“Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” Wayne W. Dyer
An important factor in mental clutter these days is the amount of information we unconsciously take in every day. The amount of input we receive has augmented drastically in just a couple of decades. Decluttering your mind will almost definitely involve cutting down on some of your unnecessary information intake habits. Primarily this means doing simple thing like unsubscribing from listserves, deleting emails on a regular basis, reading and watching less things that include commercials (you can get adblockers for most things these days online) and generally scrolling through social media less. At home, try turning off your router for certain hours of the day – this creates an extra barrier between you and mindless “internetting.”
More and more tools are available to help people focus and not get sucked into the rabbit-hole of web surfing as it’s becoming cause for serious concern among many. Many former executives of various social media giants have even banded together in recent years to raise awareness about the way these sites “exploit a vulnerability in human psychology” by creating “social-validation feedback loops” Former vice-president for user growth at Facebook Chamath Palihapitiya went so far as to say “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.” All that to say, awareness of the effects of social media on your mind is absolutely key to reducing mental clutter. You may still want or need to use it as a tool, but you need to be disciplined in doing so.
31.5 Externalize Your To Do Lists (a.k.a. Write It Down!)
The quintessential mind decluttering tip, this one may be cliché but it does actually help…a lot! When your mind is overwrought with things to remember or flashes of insight popping in and out about different projects, writing it all down somewhere is the next best thing to having Dumbledore’s pensieve on hand. Physical or virtual sticky notes, a daily “to-do” journal, a whiteboard…whatever works for you! Make sure you have something to take notes in that’s easy to carry around with you and which you know you’ll use. Having an actual notepad next to your bed is a good idea whether or not you prefer virtual note-taking however, as the blue light from screens of all types has proven negative effects on sleep, and if mental clutter is something you’re struggling with then sleeping well is likely also a bit tricky sometimes.
31.6 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!
“Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” Saint Francis de Sales
Mental clutter is one of the leading issues in the information age we live in. You’re not alone in looking for ways to become a practiced minimalist of the mind! Here are some of the main ways you can kick internal chaos to the curb…