Does mental clutter leave you feeling stressed and overwhelmed? If so, here are seven tips to help you declutter your mind.
As a mum of two young children, with a small business and all the responsibilities of “life“ on my plate, I know what it’s like to suffer from a cluttered mind.
It’s the mental load, isn’t it? Like an invisible weight on your shoulders—that constant feeling of something you’re forgetting or should be doing.
I’m a minimalist, and I’ve made great strides in decluttering my physical space over the years. But in all honesty, my mental space is much more challenging. The pressures of daily life compound, and sometimes, it’s hard to tune out the noise.
Hard, but not impossible.
While I’m still a work in progress, I’m also proud of how far I’ve come over the years. There are small, practical things that have had a massive impact on my mental energy, and that’s what I want to share with you today.
If you’re looking for tips on how to declutter your mind, keep reading for real-life advice, tried and tested on a very imperfect human being!
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7 Ways to Declutter Your Mind
1. Declutter your home
It was Barbara Hemphill who wrote, “Clutter is nothing but postponed decisions,” and while I don’t wholly agree (the roots of clutter are far more complicated), there’s no denying the impact of your possessions on your mental state.
Think of it this way: that pile of paperwork on your kitchen counter, those unworn clothes in the back of your closet, and the who-knows-what under the bed in the guest room … whether you realise it or not, these loose ends weigh on your mind. They are physical reminders of undone tasks, like a living, breathing to-do list you can never escape because you are physically living inside it!
It is enough to make you want to bury your head in the sand, which is one of the reasons we have clutter in the first place. Decluttering decisions are complex and often painful, so we store things away to deal with later.
But of course, we all know what happens—later comes and goes, but our stuff remains, and so does the mental load.
The solution is decluttering because following through and making decisions is the only way to close those open loops. But I acknowledge it isn’t easy (as a highly sensitive person who struggled with clutter for much of my life). How you do it matters; choosing compassion over bullying yourself is essential, and it will take time.
If you’re looking for guidance, my free Mindful Decluttering guide has helped thousands of women worldwide, offering a fresh approach to decluttering you may not have experienced. Simply fill out the form below and get instant access to your copy.
2. Practice mindfulness—on your terms
The next step to decluttering your mind is practising mindfulness, and yes, I know you’ve probably heard this advice before.
Maybe you’ve tried meditation, and it wasn’t your cup of tea?
If so, don’t give up. Mindfulness is defined as “a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them” (source), and while meditation is undoubtedly a powerful tool, it’s not the only one.
Personally, I’ve tried meditating and enjoyed it (the Headspace app has a great beginner’s course). Still, I can achieve a similar state of flow, where my mind feels clear and grounded in the present, by doing simple tasks I love. Little things like caring for my houseplants or doing small projects around the house are a great way to get out of my head and into my body.
I’ve also been enjoying a paid app called Clear Mind Hypnosis. The guided instructions are really helpful, I like having someone walk me through various meditation practices, and I genuinely look forward to my sessions.
3. Do your dirty work
It’s time for some tough love—and I say this with compassion because 99% of the time, the following advice is something I need to hear for myself!
When you’re struggling with mental clutter, it’s often a sign that you need to do your dirty work.
What do I mean by this?
Your dirty work is the hard stuff you keep putting off: maybe it’s doing your taxes, cleaning out your garage, or signing up for the gym. While the actual “work” will be different for everyone, there’s one thing that’s always true—your dirty work is what you know you *should* be doing, yet you keep putting it off.
(And the longer you procrastinate, the more it clutters your mind and stresses you out.)
I won’t pretend this is easy to do (admittedly, I have some “dirty work” on my to-do list right now too!), but here’s something helpful I read recently:
“This resistance we feel towards complex and productive tasks isn’t distributed evenly across working time—it’s usually concentrated at the beginning of when we start these tasks [.] For example, while it might take weeks to summon the energy and stamina needed to clean the garage or bedroom closet, once we do it for even just a minute, we could keep going for hours. […] Starting provides enough momentum to carry out our intentions.”
—excerpt from pg 126 of Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey (affiliate link)
In other words, do whatever you need to just get started! Tell yourself you only need to download the tax forms or spend five minutes cleaning the garage. If you want to declutter your mind, then give yourself permission to take the smallest possible step, and odds are, you’ll find the momentum to keep going.
I also find that a good brain dump, where you get your thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper, can be a lifesaver. I have a hard time processing big tasks, but when I break it down into small steps, it’s not nearly as overwhelming.
4. Look for the path of least resistance
This tip is less about decluttering your mind and more about having less mental clutter to begin with: look for the path of least resistance.
This might sound simple or obvious, but I truly believe that many of us (again, myself included!) are in the habit of making things harder than they need to be. I suspect it’s due to cultural beliefs about hard work mixed with inevitable information overload.
But regardless of the cause, when faced with a problem or obstacle, it’s so common to look for the most complicated solution first, instead of the simplest.
Here are a few examples:
- Have you ever had a problem with your computer, spent an hour on hold with tech support … only to be told to turn your computer on and off? ?
- On a more serious note: have you ever sensed something was wrong between you and a friend and then spent an entire day feeling worried, stressed and upset … instead of simply asking her if everything is OK?
- Or have you put off pursuing a dream or big goal (the one you can’t stop thinking about) because of a thousand imaginary obstacles? When all you really needed was to take that first step?
This isn’t to say that a problem will never require a difficult solution, but at least consider the simplest way first. In the words of a good friend of mine, try asking: “What would this look like if this was easy?” Don’t create extra stress and worry until you’ve at least tried to take the path of least resistance first.
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5. Set aside time for self-reflection
If you’re a regular reader, then this tip won’t surprise you! I think making time for self-reflection is essential for simple and intentional living, and it’s absolutely key to decluttering your mind.
I recommend making time for two types of self-reflection: the big picture and daily reflections.
THE BIG PICTURE
First and foremost, step back and look at the big picture. If you’ve done my course, Values + Vision, then you’ll know that I do this by conducting a personal audit every three months or so.
My personal audit is an opportunity to take an honest look at how I’m spending my time and energy.
- Are my thoughts and actions in alignment with my values and priorities?
- Or am I investing too much in things that aren’t worth my time and energy?
This process helps me recommit to what matters, and conversely, let go of what doesn’t. It’s definitely a powerful tool for clearing mental clutter (and it’s helpful for physical clutter and unnecessary commitments too!).
Taking time to look at the big picture is helpful, but I’ll be the first to admit that when my monkey mind acts up, my good intentions go out the window. The vast amount of information we absorb everyday floods my system, everything feels urgent, and the important things fall to the back burner.
This is why it’s important to have a daily reminder, some system of reflection, to reconnect to the present moment.
Healthy habits like journaling can help you maintain perspective.
- Can I give myself permission to put down anything that’s weighing on my mind?
- Am I giving too much space to small dramas or worries that don’t deserve it?
It’s not a huge time commitment; just take a few minutes every day to reflect and watch as the weight lifts off your shoulders.
6. Make use of an external brain
This one is a practical tip that I learned from reading Getting Things Done by David Allen (affiliate link), and it has helped me so much! However, I’ll be the first to admit it takes some initial time and effort to get right.
Here’s how to begin:
- The general concept involves creating space in your actual brain by using an “external brain” to help carry the load.
- This involves creating a system of capturing your thoughts and then following them up at the right time.
- Your ’brain clutter’ reduces because you no longer have to worry about things once they’re captured; instead, you trust that your system will remind you at the right time.
A lot of people get the first part right (capturing your thoughts—after all, who doesn’t like writing lists!) but the real challenge—and magic—is in the second part. Your mind will only relax and stop thinking about what you captured if it trusts that you will follow it up in the future.
My system involves using Google Calendar for appointments, Google Tasks for tasks, and Notion for resources and more complicated projects. But the software matters less than your habits and routines.
Again, this takes practice, but if it’s something you’re interested in learning more about then here are a few resources to help:
- the original book Getting Things Done by David Allen (affiliate link) NOTE: I do not recommend the audio book as it can be a touch dry to read. A hard copy is better for reference.
- this article on how to use Trello* as your external brain
- this article on how to use Evernote* as your external brain
* both Trello and Evernote are free online programs for organising information (although they do offer paid premium versions as well).
7. Put it on auto-pilot
Finally, let’s talk about how living on auto-pilot can help lighten your mental load.
I know, I know … usually, I talk about the negatives of living on auto-pilot but here’s the truth: you can leverage automation to simplify your life (as long as you’re intentional about it).
Here are some examples:
- Use automation to take care of regular tasks, so you don’t have to worry about them. For example, if your rent/mortgage is the same every month, can you set up an automatic payment? Or is there something you use regularly (toilet paper, deodorant, or laundry detergent) that you can order via a subscription service? Have it automatically delivered each month and you’ll never run out!
- Outsource tasks that cause you stress. Are you always fighting with your husband over whose turn it is to clean the toilet? What if you hired someone to help with the cleaning instead? (I know this is an expense not everyone can afford, but if something is causing a lot of stress in your life, I highly recommend you consider the trade-offs. Perhaps you can give up something else to make up the difference.)
- Create a personal uniform or use a capsule wardrobe. If you wear the same thing every day (or at least, have fewer choices) then that’s one less decision you have to make! Fewer decisions = less mental clutter.
- I even apply a similar philosophy in the kitchen; you can read more about how I practice simple eating in this blog post.
- Leverage the power of habits. Are there any tasks that clutter your mind on a regular basis? Create mental space by creating new habits. (Habits are really just a type of automation where you use your subconscious mind instead of technology!)
After all, you don’t stress out or even think about things like brushing your teeth or making your morning coffee, do you? More than likely, these are habits you do every day without much thought and you can create even more mental freedom by creating more habits.
For example, if you fill up your car every Friday on the way home from work, then you never have to worry about getting gas on the weekends. It’s a small habit but over time, these small choices add up.
If you need help creating habits, my favourite resource is Atomic Habits by James Clear (affiliate link).
Final Thoughts + Further Reading
At the end of the day, decluttering your mind requires a mix of inner work, good systems, and sometimes a bit of elbow grease! But I hope this article offers a fresh perspective that moves you in the right direction.
It’s not easy and it’s imperfect; you will never completely clear the mental clutter—and that’s OK. Give yourself grace and remember that sometimes what seems like a mess can give birth to the most beautiful things.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:
- A Minimalist’s Guide to Using Social Media – Social media is a powerful tool for connecting with others and learning new things. But too much time online can lead to intrusive thoughts, feelings of anxiety, and so much more. Here are some of my top tips on finding the mix that’s right for you.
- 3 Important Lessons on Finding Balance in Life – Are you searching for that elusive work-life balance? Here are a few things that have helped me, and it’s probably not what you’re expecting!
- How to Define Your Priorities in Life + Why It Matters – Perhaps the best way to deal with mental clutter is to have clear priorities because the more you understand what matters, the easier it is to see what doesn’t. Here are a few simple actions that will help you cut through the noise.
Do you have tips on how to declutter your mind? Let us know in the comments! x