Mental clutter

I’m a minimalist.

But then you look at my life and wonder, “Dang, he’s got a lot of unnecessary stuff.”

Recently, I’ve been giving a lot of thought and action to reducing the mental clutter in my life.

Mental clutter, as I’m defining it, is the stuff that’s sitting in my brain that I don’t need. Like physical clutter, mental clutter seems necessary, like that crucial To-Do list item. When you examine it further, you realize it doesn’t have to be sitting there in your brain, like you could just write down that To-Do list item so you don’t have to think about it.

Or, better yet, remove the To-Do list item all together. That’s where minimalism comes in. Instead of more organizing, minimalism is always asking, “Do I actually need this at all?”

So I’m going through my mental items and trying to pare them down. Some examples:

  • Routine: routine eliminates the need to make decisions. The more I can set reoccurring tasks or actions in a routine, the easier it is to get them out of my head. I write every Saturday morning. I get up every morning at the same time. I’m starting to try to go to bed at similar times each night. We go grocery shopping every week after church. Wear the same set of clothes each weekday.
  • Email: two weeks ago, I deleted or archived all but 10 emails. It’s like dishes. I didn’t realize that it would be this peaceful without all that in there. Now, I’m attacking each email as it comes, but only checking email when I can do something about it.
  • To-Do list: write it down. I have a giant spreadsheet with a bunch of tabs. I’m trying to stop keeping action items in my head. Just write it down and eliminate it from my brain. Don’t worry about forgetting it – my digital brain is keeping track of it.
  • Calendar: this is similar to the To-Do list but with a time constraint. If it’s not scheduled, it’s not going to happen. Instead of leaving stuff floating around in my brain, I’m trying to get it on the T0-Do list but then immediately pull it over to the calendar so it’ll actually come off the To-Do list.
  • Decisions: this is why principles matter so much. There’s the ethical and effectiveness concerns. But we forget how important principles can be for reducing mental clutter. You don’t have to run the decision making process each time. If you know you need to act a certain way in a certain situation, you can decide based on your principles, what you’ve already decided and generalized into advice.
  • Worry: worry is often an unmade decision or a doubted decision. There’s just zero purpose for worry. Write it down, talk it out, pray.

The more I can eliminate or simplify what’s in my head, the easier everything feels, even when there’s still a lot going on.

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