This is a chapter from my new book, Uncluttered.
Most of us 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.
7 Types of Mental Clutter and How to Remove Them
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.
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 are thankful for is powerful because it forces you to slow down and really pay attention to the good stuff.
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.
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, simply that you're 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 are 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 things off until tomorrow when they can quite easily be done today. For some reason, we resist making that phone call, returning that borrowed item, and 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 is far better to contact the person and let him know than to just let the situation drift.
6. 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.
- One terabyte (TB) is 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.
That's a mind-boggling amount of information. And it's like the universe -- continually expanding.
We could 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 are acquiring is not immediately useful but of the "just in case you need it" variety? If so, it is 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.
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.
Photo by Ghislaine Guerin on Unsplash.