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We Don't Need More Stuff, We Need Less (a Lot Less)
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.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.
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! Research2 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.
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 Studies5 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 effects6 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 techniques7 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.
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.
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!
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