The application of minimalism to ones everyday life is a pathway to a simpler life. Yet, what is a simple life? A life with a limited amount of belongings? A life with less visible clutter, in terms of physical objects? Maybe.
But this explanation is probably too simple. The idea of minimalism is more intricate than the mere reduction of clutter and stuff. Minimalism is a shift in focus; it’s a state of mind. This is helpful to remember, should you find yourself far along on your minimalist journey and the physicality of stuff still find a way to overwhelm you.
What took years to accumulate will take years to evaporate, as it were. But that’s ok; as long as your mind is in it, the rest will tag along, in it’s own pace, on it’s own time.
The art of letting go
Yet, the premise of minimalism is often said to be the ‘art of letting go’. More often than not, we talk about letting go of physical belongings. But, when your closets are cleared and your spaces are uncluttered, and you still feel unease, what then? What else is there to let go of? What other factors prevents us from leading a simple, focused and stress-free life?
For me, personally, it’s the overthinking. It’s the worrying about other peoples perception of me. It’s the worrying about whether people like me or not. It’s the worrying about whether I live my life the right way, to the best of my potential. It’s the annoyance towards other people when they don’t act the way I think they should. It’s the frustration towards all the bad stuff that happens to good people. All of this nags away inside my mind and inside my heart, and disrupts my peace of mind.
The reality of mental clutter
Frankly speaking, our minds are another space that will fill up with unnecessary clutter, if we let it. The act of physical decluttering can of course help in this aspect; a clutter-free living space leaves less to worry about and reduces stress in and on it’s own. Still, for keeping a clutter-free mind, we need to be mindful what kind of thoughts we allow to linger.
Many of our thoughts don’t serve us any purpose. This is especially true for thoughts of the negative variety. Negative thoughts, once allowed to grab hold of us, have a way of fostering other destructive thoughts, hence trapping us in a vicious circle of negativity.
Is it possible to lead a simple life, if we keep clinging to mental clutter, such as overthinking and other negative, destructive thoughts? The short answer is no, because a mind full of clutter and wasteful thinking leads only to stress and reduced happiness, which is the complete opposite of what we want to achieve when adapting to a minimalist lifestyle.
Our life are simply not at all simple if we’re constantly crippled by thoughts of fear and worry. Hence, decluttering our minds and letting go of thoughts and worries can serve as the next necessary step on our journey to simpler living.
But how do we declutter our minds?
Physical clutter is easy. Well, not simple, necessarily, but easy. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and that’s that. But what about mental clutter? Haven’t we all experienced situations where the more we try not to think something, that’s all we ever think of? Yeah, I thought so. Our minds are weird like that.
Thoughts come and go all the time, and most of the time they appear without us having any say in the matter. The reality is that if you know there’s something you should not be thinking about, chances are you might just start thinking about just that. How can we prevent this from happening?
The bad news is, we can’t. The good news is, we can control the way we deal with such thoughts when they appear. After all, thoughts are in fact, only thoughts; they are not dangerous, per ce. Perhaps you’ve heard this metaphor before, where the mind is compared to a river, and thoughts just float by with the ongoing stream? It is actually quite fitting.
Thoughts will appear in our minds, good and bad, stressful and happy. But it’s up to us to decide whether we let them continue on their way and eventually leaving our minds altogether, or if we pick them up for scrutiny. Picking them up for scrutiny is bad, trying to keep them from streaming down the current in the first place is worse.
Other times, it’s not uncomfortable thoughts that occupy our minds. Sometimes it’s just thoughts, only too many at one time, that stress us out. In this case, it’s often our lifestyle that is to blame. Most of the time, we try do to multiple tasks at a time, for effective time-management, even if this leaves us less productive in the long run. And it only contributes to additional stress and physical as well as mental overwhelm.
Below, I suggest four different ways to declutter a stressed and overloaded mind.
4 ways to declutter the mind:
1. Acknowledge and let go
If you find yourself mulling over thoughts that pain you and try desperately to think of something else, like I suggested above, try to acknowledge and let go. Sometimes our minds will have us think of something we might find unpleasing. What helps me is to look at that thought, make peace with the fact that I’m thinking this thought, because minds associate the weirdest things sometimes, and I’m only human. It’s just a thought, and if I don’t give it more importance, it leaves me room to move on.
2. Do a mind-distracting activity
If you are literally stressed out because your thoughts are spinning and you can’t seem to relax it, even by siting still and trying to catch your breath, finding an activity that will shift your focus might work. It could be whatever you like. My own go-to-activities are: reading a book, playing the guitar, singing, drawing, crafting. My favorite one is playing the guitar, as it helped me immensely while I was studying. Whatever you choose, these types of activities demand a different kind of attention, and might just be what you need to stop a busy mind from spinning wild.
3. Wind down
Sometimes it’s not helpful to relax an overworked mind just by diving into a new activity, no matter how relaxing. In these times, the only thing that works (at least for me), is to take some time out of my schedule to wind down. To log off. To just be. For some people, this could be meditation or other mindfulness practices. If that’s not your thing, maybe laying down listening to some soothing music, taking a walk in nature, or just sitting down outside for awhile, maybe accompanied by your favorite hot beverage. A long bath and a nap would also be good options.
4. Do some actual decluttering
Let’s face it, even if we’re talking about mental decluttering here, our minds tend to be more cluttered if the physical space we occupy are cluttered. I notice this oftentimes at work, for example, that a clean up of my workspace does wonders for my productivity. Physical clutter have a way of weighing on our minds, therefore decluttering physical space in our work and living space can do magic for a stressed-out mind. And if it’s not the physical clutter that is overloading your mind, maybe your long to-do-list is the culprit? Decluttering your to-do-list by checking somethings off it, is also a good idea for reinstating peace of mind.
For a more permanent peace of mind, maybe you could consider checking somethings off your to-do-list permanently?