The black hole of clutter

If you’ve been around simplicity thinking for any amount of time, you’ve heard a lot about decluttering.

Getting rid of unnecessaries lets us breathe a bit easier and have fewer things to deal with on a daily basis. When my space is too full of stuff, I spend too much time and energy moving it around (or being frustrated that I’m not).

Clutter is a black hole for freedom, living life, getting things done, and inspiration.

The same is true for mental clutter.

The black hole of clutterMental clutter is the stuff jostling for attention in your brain everyday, like replaying conversations (real or imagined), fretting over situations, or trying to hold on to important information (does anyone else have the WORST time just writing that thing down?).

As with physical clutter, mental clutter is anything you don’t love or need that takes up space.

Think about it: is your mind currently filled with things you love and enjoy being in there? Or is it filled with junk that’s taking up space and sucking your energy dry?

Right now I have a lot happening in my world.

Between pioneering a therapeutic-style school for kids who’ve never entered a classroom, trying to grow a small business from half a world away, walking the impossible journey of maybe or maybe-not having an abandoned and neglected troubled teenage boy move in with us, and trying to stay personally sane in the midst of it all, there is much, much to be anxious about.

The majority of everything remains undone right now as all my energies are being poured into my (growing?) family relationships and just doing the bare minimum to get to tomorrow.

It’s in seasons like these when purging mental clutter is crucial.

The black hole of clutterLuckily there’s one simple practice that brings relief to the mind and soothes the soul.

Make a decision.

Decide “no”, decide “yes” (along with details and next action steps), or decide to postpone decisions you can’t make right now.

1. Decide “no.”

Oh the freedom of giving a “no.” It’s addictive really.

Often several tasks and future decisions are cleared from the mind with a single “no.”

The only problem? If your no is in response to requests from others, some people dislike you for it.

In my experience, though, those people are often the same ones who drain far more life energy than they give. When they get frustrated at my inability to meet their needs they usually decide to find another friend to ask.

They make this good-for-them decision and take with them the requests that were draining my sanity.

Think of it this way, do you really really really cherish that relationship? No? Then let it go.

There are exceptions, of course, but in general, a “no” decision is both possible and profitable.

The black hole of clutter

2. Decide “yes”.

Saying yes is nice, too, when it’s the right yes.

If it’s something you care about, it’s something invigorating for you, or something you feel God has asked you to do, it’s a great time to say yes.

But here’s a decluttering tip: when you say yes, decide the details at the same time.

For example, let’s say you agree to take donuts to small group on Friday. You love your small group, you genuinely want to take a turn bringing breakfast, and donuts is what you can manage.

You’ve said yes. So right when you say yes (or the next time you’re wherever you are when you get the brain spins), decide the rest of the details: Where will you buy the donuts from? Will you buy a single kind? Two kinds? A crazy assortment? How many will you buy? What time do you need to leave the house Friday to buy them?

Capture your thoughts wherever you capture things (bullet journal, calendar, phone reminders, whatever), and it’s finished. Nothing left clogging the synapses.

3. The Can’t-Decide-Right-Nows.

This is legit.

Often we don’t have the information or mental energy we need to make a decision. Other times we need to see how a few things develop before we can really move forward.

In these cases, thinking about it now isn’t all that productive since things will inevitably change before we’re ready to make a decision anyway. But just because we can’t make that decision doesn’t mean we can’t make a decision.

The black hole of clutterMake an active choice to postpone the decision. Then, pick a date on which to revisit it.

In the meantime, when you find yourself thinking about it, gently remind yourself that you’re free to think about it again after the date you’ve chosen.

I often say out loud to myself, “Lucky me I don’t have to think about that right now!” It helps me switch gears and move on.

On that future date it’s not unusual to postpone again.

Go through the same rubric you did before: Will you say no? (Hallelujah! It’s the easy one!) Will you say yes? Yes, you’re going to have that difficult conversation? Who will be there? Where will it take place? How will you approach it? Who might be helpful to talk to as you think it through?

Bonus benefit: deciding these things immediately gives your mind a little time to present you with helpful tweaks to your original plan.

Still not ready for all of that? Decide a date and postpone again. Sweet relief.

Whatever issue is disproportionately draining you right now, try to phrase it in a yes/no way and run it through the rubric. I’d love to hear how it goes!

p.s. Limits in your life are actually helpful.

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7 Comments

  1. Katy Hope

    I love this, thanks for sharing. So much of the clutter we focus on is the physical clutter, but there is so much mental clutter too. I started meditating this year to help cut that back and it is a great way to start your day. http://www.hopepostkids.com

  2. Rita

    I like your idea of what to do when I decide on Yes – to get all the details worked out and captured! Thanks!
    I kinda do what you suggest about the postpone one in that I say to myself “New Topic” and put that one off to the side. However I think coming up with a new date/time to think about it is good, so it’s not gone for good. Thanks for your wise words/tips!

    • Amber Black

      “New Topic.” I’m going to use this!

  3. Jess

    Amber-
    Your presentation was greatly appreciated. I really like the idea if yes is the answer to make the plan immediately or as soon as my head stops spinning. Works best that folks have those details and a reminder is made before hand, so that the . Gets on the I and the t is crossed.
    Keep writing the challenged need you and appreciate you.?

    • Amber Black

      Thanks, Jess!

  4. Maggie

    “In my experience, though, those people are often the same ones who drain far more life energy than they give.” – Amen to that!
    Completely agree with this statement. What I do not understand is why, after so many years, it still takes me so long to figure this on out. Only after being completely frustrated I tend to let things go, up until than I still try to please others so much so that I go above and beyond for people until I just had enough. I wish I could just put a stop to it all before I get frustrated and frazzled.

    • Amber Black

      Isn’t it funny how easily we “forget” what we already know? I’m wrestling with this in so many areas of life right now. I “know” a thing, but my practice of it slips and then I find myself palming my forehead. I’m so with you!

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