• Teresa Lansing

Mental Clarity Begins By Uncluttering Your Environment


Clear Clutter from Your Life to Find Mental Clarity

I’m late with my blog this month. Know why? Because my life is cluttered! I feel like my laptop sometimes looks – too many open tabs. And, just like my computer, when that happens, I feel like there's a little spinning disk going on in my head but nothing is actually happening! Right now, my attention is split in several directions because I am:

1. One week away from a public presentation for which I feel unprepared, partly because this will be my first, and partly because I am distracted by the rest of my list;

2. In the early stages of a kitchen renovation;

3. On a deadline to complete year-ends for the four sets of books I am responsible for;

4. In the “waiting for inspection stage” of selling our vacation home, which may require a last minute dash to Arizona to complete the transaction for a quick possession date;

5. Trying to work within chaos! Somehow my office is often the dumping ground for things I need to attend to (but not necessarily today). and anything I need to stash out of sight in a hurry! Plus, I find myself interrupted so often by phone calls, other responsibilities, and appointments that I usually just drop everything and run.

The result is that my office looks like this….

I know! How can anyone work in this, right? I guess I forgot to mention that I share the office space with my husband who works away so his desk is often hidden under papers he needs to deal with when he gets home, if he has time. If not, it sits there until next time, another layer deeper. (And I have been known to set my stuff on top - temporarily, of course - when I run out of space on my desk. :-) )

So, even though I have a blog prepared (the #1 rule of blogging: have at least one article waiting in the wings at all times), I have decided that I need to self-coach, AND share tips on organization instead.

There are three important ideas that I always try to keep in the forefront of my mind, really no matter what the topic:

1. Health involves the mind, body, and soul

2. How we are in one area of our lives is how we are in all areas of our lives

3. We cannot have clarity without clearing clutter – from our environment, schedule and mind

Our lives can be filled with clutter. I know mine was, and still is but I am working on it. Boxes of business and personal year-end documents and paid invoices are stacked in the office and in our storage shed. Things we no longer use, or need, clutter our home, garage, vehicles, and storage areas –you never know, we might be able to use it someday!. This situation has led to mental clutter which prevents me from doing the things I really want to do such as keep up on my bookkeeping, focus on my new business, and enjoy our home.

You can try to get out from under the clutter by moving your work to an office outside the home, or by designating a new, larger area of your home or garage as your work area. The problem is that the clutter will follow you because how we deal with one area of our lives is how we tend to deal with every area of our lives. The best and only real solution is to stop trying to escape clutter and begin to organize it.

Not only does clutter affect my productivity but it messes with me emotionally and physically as well. When I can’t find things I end up feeling frustrated and angry – and waste precious minutes, even hours, looking for my papers, files, and folders.

After seeing the above photo you may be wondering how I can function at all! Well, even though most of my home doesn’t look like my office, and I can escape the chaos, you can be sure that clutter will always spill into every other area of my life.

My kitchen is tidy – except for one small counter at the entrance where small items I haven’t decided what to do with get tossed. The dining and living areas are okay, and our bedroom looks fine but behind our closet doors lurk stacks of books, crafts, and boots/shoes I have no storage area for. The laundry room is sharing space with several 5-gallon water bottles, our water dispenser, the dog food bin, and my sewing machine – all of which are sitting on the floor!

The lower level bedrooms and family area are neat; the cold room is fairly organized. But my “workout area” is right at the bottom of the stairs and my light weights, bands, yoga mats, and workout shoes are all pretty much wherever I dropped them because they have no designated storage space. The area is also shared by a stack of ceiling tile left from when we finished our lower level – about eight years ago.

Go out to our garage and you will see my vehicle closely surrounded by building materials left over from building our home, farm supplies from our cattle days, even a saddle (we haven’t owned a horse in thirty years), firewood for our wood-burning stove, my husband’s tools, camping and fishing gear, several totes of supplies related to my husband’s business, items that didn’t sell in my garage sale last summer, plus my recycling bins. Again, most of this is sitting on the floor.

Every time either of us goes into any of these areas to look for something, we experience frustration and overwhelm. It is common to experience a sort of overwhelm paralysis which prevents us from dealing with the clutter, or anything else that demands our time because our “clutter” spills over into every aspect of life.

Clutter, both mental and physical, robs us of productivity and time. Think of all the minutes we waste looking for items that aren’t where they should be. Clutter equals stress because it represents work undone, and destroys our calm. Clutter robs us of clarity and peace; organization and scaling back gives them back. Let’s take a look at where we can start to simplify our lives.

Declutter Your Mind

Take another look at my list, above. Notice that it doesn’t include my daily To-Do list (cleaning, cooking), my everyday responsibilities (errands, shopping), work routine (bill payment, bookkeeping, studies, correspondence), family life, worries, obligations, workouts or self-care. What does your To-Do list look like? How much are you trying to do – how often do you find yourself multi-tasking? How can you NOT have a cluttered mind? You, and I, must start to let go of some of them.

First off, learn to say “no”. Every time you are asked to take on a project, help out a friend, stand on a committee or whatever else can get added to your daily list, think carefully before you agree to it. Contrary to what you may have heard, there are no “Hero Cookies” for those who over-extend themselves. Sometimes you need to remove unhealthy situations and/or relationships from your life. Whether it’s a dead-end job or a negative person, you may need to make these changes to find the time and space to concentrate on the people and things that are important to you.

Allow time every day to unwind and clear your mind, even if its only 15 minutes. Try meditation, yoga, a long walk, a phone call or visit with a friend – whatever relaxes you and clears your mind.

Declutter Your Desk and Work Space

It is impossible to be productive in absolute chaos. If clutter is taking over your workspace, it is time to deal with it.

Create three piles:

1. To Keep

2. To Shred

3. To Toss

Every single thing in your office must fit one of these three categories. Immediately put away the items in your “To Keep” pile. Use file folders, binders, attractive storage boxes, or even large coffee mugs to store pens, flash drives, or binder clips. NOTE: There is no “May Use Later Pile”. If you aren’t going to organize and use it now, it goes in the “To Toss” pile.

My biggest peeve is trying to find something I “just had” because it has disappeared beneath other papers. Don’t stack or pile papers and magazines. Stand them up in magazine holders, or hanging bins. It’s much easier to see and access individual papers that are stored this way than those buried under a mass of other paper. Also, when we stack, we tend to just move the stacks around rather than ever deal with them. Keys and small office tools such as scissors can be hung on hooks, or stored neatly on shelves. Just be sure that everything is visible and handy.

Now, you are ready to branch out…

Declutter Your Clothing Closet

The first step to cleaning a closet is to take EVERYTHING out. Lay every item on your bed or on the floor so you can see what you have. This time your separate piles will be: keep, charity, sell, or toss. You may need to purchase storage boxes or organizing bins, shoe storage, or shelving. You will need plastic garbage bags for trash and donations. You will likely find several items that don’t belong in your closet so be prepared with boxes for those items that need to be moved to another area of the house. Be honest, realistic, and brutal when deciding whether an item is really needed. If you haven’t used, needed, or worn it in the past 12 months, out it goes.

Each item of clothing must pass this test:

1. Does it fit?

2. Does it look worn or outdated?

3. Have you worn it in the past 12 months?

4. Is there some sentimental value strong enough to keep it? Honestly?

If the answers are no, then choose which of the other piles it is going to. Remember a beautiful item that doesn’t fit, or coordinate with anything else in your wardrobe, is better off in someone else’s closet.

Do the same for the closets of every member of the family.

Once you have done this, you should also make every future purchase pass a test, no matter how great a "deal" it may be:

1. Do I need it? No one needs ten of anything!

2. Does it coordinate with several items in my present wardrobe? If it doesn’t, or if you are tempted to purchase other articles just so you have an ensemble, don’t buy it.

3. What are you willing to remove from your closet if you take this item home – if you really need it, there must be something it is replacing so for every new item you put into your closet or dresser drawer, choose something to give, sell, or toss. (And not a pair of holey socks because you want to buy a pair of shoes – play fair!)

Action Plan Tips

Organize in bite-size bits: This job can be overwhelming if you try to tackle everything at once. If you have a few hours to devote to clearing your closet or office, great but if not, set a timer for just 15 minutes every day and organize a shelf, desk, or drawer. Most days anyone can manage 15 minutes. Sometimes, just knowing that you only have to spend a few minutes will make it easier to start.

Handle snail mail only once: Choose a time and place to read your mail regularly. Have a bin to store it in until your designated time when you will open the mail and immediately take action on it. Pay bills, file, shred, toss, or give to someone who might need to see it. Make it a habit to touch each piece of mail once, and only once!

Mainstream email: Read your emails on a regular basis only twice a day. Treat email exactly as you do regular mail. When you open an email, answer it, or otherwise deal with it, immediately and then file or delete. Don't save it for later.

Avoid piles: Save time and frustration by sorting and finding a home for paper as soon as it comes through the door. Avoid stacking papers ANYWHERE. Read it, deal with it, and either file, shred or place in the recycling bin.

Regular purging: This applies to every room in the house including the kitchen and bathroom. Check expiration dates regularly on foods, medications, prescriptions, cosmetics, and vitamins. If you don’t remember how long you’ve had it, toss it. Go through your clothing closet every season.

Purge all spaces and schedules: Use these tips to clear your wallet, purse, coat pockets, mudroom, vehicle, garage, or storage room. Apply the same rules to all parts of your environment, schedule, and your mind. In order to handle everything minimally, make immediate decisions and move on. Never, ever, should there be a “to deal with later” stack of anything. Keep trash, donation, and recycle containers wherever you tend to deal with these decisions –bedroom, kitchen, office, vehicle, laundry room, and garage - and empty regularly. If anything requires repairs, decide immediately whether you can do it yourself or need to take it to a third party. If you aren’t going to act on either option immediately, just toss it – now. (How many items are in your mending basket at this moment? If there are items in it that have been there for more than three months, either repair it now, or get rid of it.)

When asked to do something, ask yourself:

1. Is this something that only I can do?

2. Will it destroy anyone’s life if I don’t do it?

3. Is it necessary, will it enhance my life, and am I looking forward to doing it?

If the answer is no, then let someone else do it.

So, taking my own advice, I am starting with my office.

Once I have a functional workspace, I am confident that I will find my time more productive. And, I can already feel the satisfaction and clarity that a job well-done is bringing to my day.

Once I pushed aside the procrastination and overwhelm, it only took an hour to bring peace to my workspace.

An hour later and already there is quite an improvement! I still have some filing to do, and hubby’s papers are still awaiting his attention, but I have a clear workspace in which to tackle one of my “open tabs” tomorrow and I am getting excited about moving on to those other clutter zones in my life!

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