The other week I received an email from a reader asking for advice on how to declutter your mind—which is actually something I’m asked all the time—so I thought it would be best if I wrote a blog post in response!
To be clear, despite my minimalist lifestyle, I’m still not an expert on this topic and I definitely struggle with mental clutter on occasion. Having said that, I know I’ve come a LONG way from the constantly overwhelmed and stressed woman I was a decade ago.
(Case in point: I remember once going into my office at 11 pm because I couldn’t stop thinking about a project I was working on!)
These days, I’m happy to say my thoughts rarely keep me up at night and I’ve gotten a lot better at doing mental housekeeping when I need to. Here are a few things that have helped me get to where I am today—my top tips to declutter your mind!
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7 Tips to Declutter Your Mind
1. DECLUTTER YOUR HOME
“Clutter is nothing but postponed decisions.” — Barbara Hemphill
Alright friends, let’s start with the basics. Did you know that physical clutter in your home often leads to clutter in your mind?
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, odds are all of this “stuff” is probably weighing you down.
The truth is one of the reasons we have clutter in the first place is because we don’t like deciding what to do with it! It can be annoying or even painful, so we store things away to deal with later.
Of course, we all know what happens next—later comes and goes but our stuff remains. This might seem harmless at first but the problem is that every time you see your stuff, you’re reminded that something has been left undone.
Multiply this by every piece of clutter in your home and is it any wonder that you feel stressed, overwhelmed or even anxious?
I think the connection is pretty clear. If you want to declutter your mind, start with your home. My free decluttering guide, Mindful Decluttering, will help you if you don’t know where to begin. Subscribe below and get your free copy!
2. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
The next step to declutter your mind is to start practising mindfulness.
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 one of the most popular ways to practice mindfulness is meditation.
Now, if you’ve never meditated before, don’t be scared! I know it can sound a bit “woo woo” (I used to think this too!) but there is actual research to back up the many benefits, such as increased focus.
I’ve been meditating for a few years now (admittedly, with varying consistency) but even so, my ability to focus has definitely increased. This is important because when you’re focused, you naturally declutter your mind!
Instead of worrying about everything on your to-do list, you can find sweet relief by shifting your attention to the present moment. (Even if you’re dealing with a difficult task, I’ve found that it’s blissful to quiet your mind and focus on one thing at a time. )
If you’re interested in learning more, then I highly recommend you try out the Headspace app and their free, 10-day introduction to meditation program. I’ve tried other programs but this was the first that really helped me “get” meditation because of their down-to-earth and relatable way of explaining it.
3. DO YOUR DIRTY WORK
Time for some tough love. If you’re struggling with mental clutter, then it’s probably a sign that you need to do your dirty work.
What do I mean by this?
Your dirty work is the hard stuff that 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 still keep procrastinating! (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.
4. MAKE TIME FOR SELF-REFLECTION
If you’re a regular reader, then this won’t surprise you! I think that making time for self-reflection is essential for simple and intentional living, and it’s absolutely key to declutter your mind.
I recommend making time for two types of self-reflection: the big picture and daily reflections.
THE BIG PICTURE
First and foremost, you need to regularly step back and look at the big picture. If you’ve done my signature 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 to reconnect with what matters most so that I can then let go of everything else. 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 important but in all honesty, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters if you don’t have a system of daily reflection to back it up.
If you want to maintain perspective, create the habit of asking yourself every day: 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.
RELATED POST: Why You Should Start a Journaling Habit + How to Begin
5. USE AN “EXTERNAL BRAIN”
This one is a really practical tip that I learned from reading Getting Things Done by David Allen (affiliate link). It has helped me a lot BUT I will admit that it takes some time and effort to get right.
Basically, the idea is that you can create 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. This clears mental clutter 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.
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)
- 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)
6. LOOK FOR THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE
OK—this technique is less about actually decluttering your mind and more about having less mental clutter to begin with: look for the path of least resistance.
This might sound simple but I truly believe that many of us (myself included!) are in the habit of making things harder than they need to be. I’m not sure why—perhaps some cultural beliefs about hard work mixed with inevitable information overload?
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.
Not sure what I mean?
- 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 need to do is get started?
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.
RELATED POST: 15 Things to Declutter (That Aren’t Things)
7. PUT IT ON AUTO-PILOT
Finally, let’s talk about how you can use living on auto-pilot as a way to lighten your mental load.
I know, I know … usually, I talk about the negatives of living on auto-pilot but the truth is there are ways 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.)
Leverage the power of habits. Are there any tasks that clutter your mind on a regular basis? Create 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.
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.
At the end of the day, decluttering your mind requires a mix of inner work, good systems, and sometimes a bit of elbow grease!
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.
Do you have tips on how to declutter your mind? Let us know in the comments! x
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