7 Types of Mental Clutter and How to Remove Them

You may be taking time at home to do some decluttering, and that's fantastic.  Even if you simply remove the easy stuff, trim your wardrobe, help your kids let go of a few toys, and practice keeping flat surfaces clear you'll be able to enjoy more focus, simplify home care, and streamline the trouble spots that can derail your day.

But most of us can benefit from a bit more work.  That's because we tend to hang on to mental clutter just as we do physical clutter.  We worry, we complain, we gossip, we hold grudges.  These things steal our time, spoil our attitudes, and keep us from living with peace and purpose.  To be truly clutter-free, we must deal with these issues as well.

water lily

Areas of mental clutter

1.  Worrying

Worry is a complete waste of time and energy.  We worry about things that haven't happened and may never happen, and it makes us anxious and grumpy.  Most of the things we worry about are out of our control, but even when we have the ability to prevent a negative outcome, we tend to whine about it before we take preventative action.

Worrying (like most types of mental clutter) is a habit, so you have to consciously train yourself to behave differently.  When you catch yourself fretting, stop and change your thoughts.  Focus on what you want to happen, rather than on what you fear might happen.  If you have any control in the situation, take constructive action.  Let your mind dwell on what's already wonderful in your life.

2.  Complaining

Moaning, complaining, and blaming everything and everyone else for your troubles will make you unpleasant to be around.  It will also make you unhappy and unable to notice and appreciate good things when they occur.

Complaining is a type of procrastination – we find it easier to complain than to take steps to solve the problem.  Stop wasting energy on complaints and apply your intelligence toward a solution.

The best antidote to constant complaining is the regular practice of gratitude.  Gratitude opens your eyes to everything that is positive in your life and changes your focus from dissatisfaction to contentment.  Keep a gratitude journal* – the act of writing down what you're thankful for is powerful because it forces you to slow down and really pay attention to the good stuff.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

3.  Gossiping

We gossip to shock and titillate ourselves and others, but it only shows how little of interest and importance is happening in our own lives.

Refuse to listen to or repeat gossip in any form, and decide that you will never say anything about anyone that you would not say to his face.

4.  Unforgiveness

Carrying a grudge is hard and unpleasant work.  Your silent or nasty treatment of the person you resent may hurt her, but it hurts and warps you too.

Forgiveness doesn't mean you're condoning bad behavior or that you feel happy about it.  Forgiveness isn't about feelings, it's about choosing to move on with a lighter emotional load.  Try to see the incident from the other person's point of view, and acknowledge your own part in the situation.  Even if you believe most of the fault lies elsewhere, offer forgiveness when you're calm enough to do so.  Let go of your grievance and get on with your life.

5.  Loose ends

It's amazing how many of us put off until tomorrow things that can quite easily be done today.  For some reason, we resist making that phone call, returning that borrowed item, or completing that promised errand.  But things you've left undone will nag at you, and remembering all of those loose ends drains your energy and makes you feel burdened and tense.

Tie up those loose ends, and reduce your mental to-do list.  And if circumstance won't allow you to keep your promise, it's far better to contact the person and let him know than to just let the situation drift.

expanding space
6.  Restlessness

Many of us find it difficult to "switch off" in order to relax or sleep.  But lack of rest and regeneration makes it hard to be at our best mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Take time in the early evening to talk through problems or areas of conflict with your partner.  Don't stew!  Keep a notebook and pen by your bed so you can write down worries or prayers about issues that trouble you.  Leave those concerns on the page as you get ready for sleep.  Things often do seem easier to resolve in the morning.

You can expand your bedtime list to include all the things you want to remember to do the next day.  Then let yourself forget about them.  If you wake up in the night with more tasks on your mind, just scribble them down and go back to sleep.  At first, you may need to keep a small flashlight next to your bed, but with practice you'll be able to write in the dark.  After a while, you'll learn to get your whole list on paper in one go, and be able to sleep undisturbed.

7.  Information overload

Information is a good thing, but too much of a good thing can be hell.

One gigabyte (GB) of information is the amount contained in 10 yards of shelved books.  I have a tiny USB drive that holds 16GB.  That's 160 yards of books – astonishing!  But it doesn't end there....

  • One terabyte (TB) is 1,024 GB, the equivalent of 50,000 trees made into paper and printed.
  • One petabyte (PB) equals 1,024 TB.  200 PB represents all material ever printed on Earth.
  • One exabyte (EB) is 1,024 PB.  More than one EB of data is created on the internet each day.
  • One zettabyte (ZB) equals 1,024 EB.  Annual global internet traffic exceeds 1.3 ZB.

Is your head spinning?  That's a mind-boggling amount of information.  And it's like the universe – continually expanding.

We could literally spend forever online, but this would steal our lives.  Do you find yourself spending more and more time on the Web?  Has this activity become a substitute for firsthand experience of the real world?  Do you find that a large proportion of the data you're acquiring is not immediately useful but of the "just in case you need it" variety?  If so, it's just as much clutter as the physical kind that some people keep for the same reason.  And data searching can be just as addictive as social networking or online gaming, gambling, or pornography.  If you need help, please get it.

Gain strength in adversity.

One or more of these areas may be a daily challenge for you, but you'll gain so much peace, purpose, and positive energy from dealing with it.  This might make even more difference in your life than clearing physical clutter.

If you enjoyed this post, I think you'll love my book Resilient: How Minimalism Helps You Cope With the Challenges of Life, available on Amazon.  

COVID-19 isn't the first challenge we've faced, and it won't be the last.  But when we let ourselves get frazzled and distracted by too much stuff and busyness, we have less energy to cope, let alone find peace in adversity.

When you know your priorities, it's easier to discard the things that don't support them, whether that's clutter in your closets, bloat in your budget, commitments on your calendar, or persistent mental clutter.

By choosing to simplify, something amazing happens.  While before we could barely keep up, now we have the capacity for patience and flexibility.  We're not depriving ourselves – we're gaining resilience.

Updated March 2023


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