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We Don’t Need More Stuff, We Need Less (a Lot Less)

We Don’t Need More Stuff, We Need Less (a Lot Less)
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Roughly this time last year I was hit with a sudden, overwhelming feeling of stress. I would come back to my messy, cluttered room, my mind on studies, social life, plans, life choices, my bank account, and the crazy ending to the season finale of The Walking Dead. I’d rest for a bit and then leave to go to either the library, class, or work. I came to realize that my mind was as cluttered as my bedroom.

Our minds and lives can be weighed down by unnecessary extras (clutter) affecting our thoughts, behavior, and health. Lots of little things can become pretty heavy, and though things in our minds have no physical weight, they nonetheless can weigh us down. It makes you wonder how much is really needed.

What can be done?

We have come to think that having our lives and minds cluttered is just an ordinary part of life in the 21st century — that it’s part of being an adult because with age comes…stuff. However, that isn’t the case. You need to ask yourself what you actually need. Much like your bag becomes lighter when you take out unnecessary items, cutting stuff from your mind makes it lighter and your life easier.

It’s often very difficult to ascertain what is necessary and what is unnecessary, but you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Here is a list of ways to declutter your mind and your life, and walk unburdened by unnecessary weight. Don’t worry. I’m not going to suggest getting rid of everything and living off the grid although that might work, too! First let’s try baby steps.

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1. Declutter your house.

We form emotional connections with our possessions. They may represent a future we want, or a past that we don’t want to forget, so choosing what needs to be eliminated can be difficult. It takes time to sort through our belongings. Things that you want can be organized and put away; things you no longer need can be donated. (Being charitable has been shown to have a positive effect on your mood.)[1] Decisions may be tough, but they are worthwhile.

2. Declutter your yard if you have one.

This follows a similar logic to decluttering your house. The tidiness of your entire living space has an effect on your mental well-being. However, whereas sorting and clearing clutter in your house may have a long-lasting positive impact, your yard will require continual attention. This isn’t due to an abundance of things, but rather to the processes of nature. If ignored, the growth of grass and weeds can get out of control and turn your yard from a place of relaxation to a tangled mess. The solution is to tool up and garden! Research[2] has shown that gardening is a great stress reliever. The act of removing offending weeds and overlong grass will lessen stress in your life.

3. Find peace of mind with meditation and mindfulness.

Before you click away, this article hasn’t taken a sudden turn for New Age solutions! What was once the domain of yogis, Buddhists, and slightly strange young men, meditation has recognized health benefits through decluttering the mind and calming runaway thoughts.[3] Though meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, only recently have the myriad benefits become widely known, and its popularity has exploded.

Through simply sitting comfortably, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breathing, you’ll increase mastery of your mind and thoughts. You’ll be less prone to distractions, become generally more relaxed, and stresses in your life will seem less severe. Though meditation is pretty close to literally doing nothing, its positive effects are numerous and far reaching.

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Meditation is an ancient practice, yet there are countless classes, websites, and books, as well as the religion of Buddhism which will give you understanding of it. It’s not just decluttering; it’s making more mental space.

4. Sharpen your mind with sleep.

Our bedrooms have long ceased to be places for mere sleeping. These days they have become vaults for stuff or even offices or mini-gyms, allowing us to do many things at the expense of good sleep. Our rooms are full of so many distractions that sleep becomes more difficult.[4] Studies[5] have shown that the light emitted from a phone or laptop screen at night signals to your brain that you need to stay awake, regardless of your intention.

Sleep deprivation has numerous serious effects[6] which harm your health, your cognitive abilities, and lead to depression and anxiety. Having these distractions is just not worth it. The solution to this is to declutter your room, removing any potential distractions. (It may be a good idea to consider setting up a sleep regimen ensuring you get the vital eight hours of sleep that your body needs.)

5. Cut your bad habits.

We all have little quirks–everyday actions that we hardly notice. It could be something as innocuous as cracking our knuckles, or as serious as regular weekend benders. Some may be affecting your health, so what do you do about them? There are numerous techniques[7] for stopping bad habits and some are surprisingly simple. Merely being aware of them is a great step towards their eventual elimination. One effective way to cut out bad habits is to replace them with good ones, substituting positive behavior to declutter or de-stress your life.

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6. Eliminate your addictions if you have them.

This is a more serious version of the step above. Addictions have more negative effects than habits. This paragraph isn’t going to provide the miracle solution to a smoking or drinking addiction, or the over-usage of certain (cough) websites. However, if decluttering your life is your intention, you will likely find few things as profoundly powerful as eliminating negative dependencies. Addictions may seem a core part of your being but have a severe impact on your physical and mental health, so their elimination can be a good thing.

7. Declutter emotional baggage from your friendships.

If you are like me, then your friendships are the single most important part of your life. However, there may come a time when communication with a friend becomes strained and difficult. Were they not a friend you could cut them from your life, but you generally enjoy their company. Such difficult situations may be causing you significant stress.

The key to resolving this is in communication.[8] Try to become aware of particular words and phrases you use which may be having negative consequences. For example, if in conversation you use the word “not” frequently, it adds a negative tone. Instead of “I’m not going to that” (which implies “with you”) try “I think I’d rather stay at home” or “I think I’m going to X”. (It may sound small and nit picky, but consider what you would rather hear. You may have experienced a pang of negativity when someone structured a sentence poorly which made them seem brusque with you.) Even though these are small steps, over time you may find that your relationship improves.

8. Declutter negative people.

This may be severe, but the people you surround yourself with have an effect on you. Even if you intend to become a more positive person, this will be tougher if the people around you are obstinately negative. You don’t have to do something as drastic as getting rid of friends, but merely increase your social circle to surround yourself with people who are how you want to be and you will find it easier to become more positive.

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9. Declutter your fridge.

It is important to be mindful of your weight and eating habits and it will be easier to do if your fridge is clean and organized. This can affect your physical and mental health. There is a link between mood and eating well or poorly.[9] If someone feels stressed, they are more likely to overeat or eat poorly. If their eating habits are causing them unhappiness and stress it can start a vicious cycle. A clean, decluttered fridge stocked with healthy choices can help us make more effort to eat well.

10. Declutter your work life.

There are many ways to do this. If you have a desk or work station that is a mess, it could be causing you extra stress at work. If you find yourself overwhelmed by a ridiculous number of tasks, then taking some time to plan and prioritize your tasks and to organize your work area will make the job a little easier.[10]

If you consider and put into action the above ten steps, then you will find the clutter in your home, life, mind, and work fall away. Life doesn’t need to be so stressful!

Reference

More by this author

Arthur Peirce

Lifestyle Writer

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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