No one can deny that we currently live in a world that is cluttered. Whether it is with cars, things, information, or negative energy people are feeling overwhelmed, and the desire for "space" is starting to take hold with more and more people turning towards minimalism, meditation, and overall simplified living to help carve out more space in what has become a very crowded world.
But with busy jobs, families, social media and everything else that society throws at us, how exactly do we start creating space for ourselves, and even more importantly how do we even begin to recognize that we need to?
In the post, I wrote about "how to embrace minimalism without throwing out all your belongings and moving into a tiny home" I talked a lot about the internal work, and mindset shift that needs to happen before true, impactful change can really take place. So if you haven't checked out that post I highly recommend you do before continuing reading. But after you have taken the time to reflect on your life, and have begun to change the way you are choosing to consume, how exactly do you go about clearing up all the clutter that may still exist?
How To Create Space In A Cluttered World
First, let's start out by acknowledging that there is both physical and mental clutter that takes up space in our lives. The physical clutter is easier to visually see as it probably is taking up space in your kitchen, closet, garage, workspace, etc. What is interesting though is that in many ways this physical clutter is actually a physical representation of the mental clutter that exists within your mind. Which brings us to the next kind of clutter, which is not tangible, but I would argue takes up more space in our lives than anything physical.
This mental clutter is the energy we consume every day and the thoughts that take up space in our mind. It is the "noise" that keeps us from seeing the world through a clear lens. Think about mental clutter like glasses that are the wrong prescription or a windshield that is all fogged up. We can kind of see what is going on around us, but it certainly isn't clear, and we aren't 100% confident in the decisions we make as we continue driving.
So while clutter may always exist, in the way that your windshield will most likely at some point get fogged up, there actually is so much that we can do to manage the daily clutter in our lives, which will then only allow us to become better at noticing when the clutter begins to fog our vision the next time.
Clearing Up The Physical Clutter
While I absolutely adore the shift that we are seeing to create more space in our lives for the things that bring us joy, like I mentioned in this post all the good intentions that come with this philosophy go out the window if the intentional, internal work wasn't done first.
So before you even think about "clearing out your closet" or throwing out everything in your garage, make sure you have taken the time to really reflect on why these things are in your home to begin with.
How did they get there? What actions or emotions led your closet to become a revolving door each year with bags and bags of clothes to be donated, only to find yourself in the same position the following year. What keeps piling up on your counters, and how does it keep getting there.
Physical clutter does not create itself, we create it, with our actions and emotions we unconsciously bring it into our lives, which means that if we don't determine what is the root cause of this clutter, it never is going to stop.
Start By Taking A Hard Look At Your Habits
Do you find that your closet keeps filling up because everytime you feel a little sad or want to reward yourself for something you hit up the closest H&M? What other ways could you make yourself feel better, or reward yourself? Could it be with a long-walk by the water, or treating yourself to a yoga class you have been wanting to try, or a facial you have been putting off? Are there ways that you can feed those emotions without physically needing to bring anything into your physical space?
Also start to think about why you feel the need to always fill up the space around you. This most likely is going to do with some of the mental clutter you are carrying that we are going to address in a second.
Find a journal and start writing down the different ways you consume on a daily, weekly, monthly basis and be brutally honest with yourself about why you consume these things in this way. Once you identify the why behind your actions the next steps will be so much easier.
Write these why's down and brainstorm non-material alternatives that could better support them. Place this list somewhere that you will see it often, or keep a photo of it on your phone for a quick reminder.
Take An Inventory Of What Is Taking Up Space
Once you have done this reflecting it's now time to take inventory of what is taking up physical space in your life. Some things will be obvious, while others will be less obvious. A good rule of thumb though is that if something never seems to have a home it probably is taking up space, and if an area of your house generally gives you a more stressed feeling, there probably is too much clutter.
Notice how you feel when you walk into your bedroom when everything is clean, and there is nothing that is not "put in it's place", now open up your closet and notice if that feeling changes. Are you overwhelmed by the overflowing hangers? Are clothes and shoes piled on the floor? This is a good sign that this could be a good place to start.
Start one space at a time, DO NOT TRY TO DO THIS ALL AT ONCE, and instead be really mindful and reflective about this "clearing" experience. With your intentions about the life you want to live and the space you want to create in mind be very critical about what "things" both bring you joy, and serve a purpose.
If the answer to that question is neither, then this item most likely has to go. But before you start throwing everything away and create a lot of waste, think about what items you can sell, and what items would really be useful to donate.
Less than 10% of all items donated to organizations like GoodWill are actually ever sold, with most of the items shipped overseas in the form of what we like to call in the global health community, "global aid dumping". Something that in theory sounds helpful, but in actuality is crippling to local economies. So before you run to GoodWill with ten trashbags, really think carefully about what you are choosing to donate.
How to start "de-cluttering"
Start by creating three "piles":
- Keep (I love and use/wear this item all the time): These are the no-brainer pieces that you usually daily, weekly, or monthly.
- Revist: You may not adore these items but you also aren't 100% ready to give them up yet. Place them in a bin and revisit them in six months. If you didn't miss them, it is time to let go.
- Sell/Repurpose/Donate: This item is in good shape but it no longer serves me.
- Look into selling the item via Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or second hand clothing sites like ThredUp and Poshmark.
- If the item is not in good shape think about if it can be recycled, or torn into squares and used for rags.
- Lastly, if something is in good shape, but isn't worth enough to sell look into take-it-or-leave it donating spots in your community. Donate books to the local library, and think really carefully about any clothes that you are thinking about donating, and be honest about whether or not you truly think they will be used.
- For instance coats in the winter time given to a shelter would be greatly appreciated, but maybe not that stained graphic tee-shirt from your high school soccer team.
As you work your way through this process you will naturally begin to feel the effects of a clutter-free space. Everything will have a home, and if you want something new it will come with thought and intention around where this items home will be and what need it will fill, or what it can replace to be sold for another owner to enjoy.
However, if you are finding that literally everything is falling into the "keep" category you most likely have some more internal work to do. Before you can start to critically look at the clutter in your life, you need to let go of this desire to continue to live in and create clutter.
Taking inventory of your mental and emotional clutter
Mental clutter can be a little more difficult to clear up than physical clutter because you can't visually see it, but I would argue that it is the key to truly seeing the world with open eyes, and being able to be true to yourself.
To get started it is important to address that absolutely everyone has mental clutter, and mental clutter is something that will always come and go throughout our lives, so it's more about how to keep that clutter from building up rather than preventing it from ever coming in the first place.
First begin by paying attention to your own actions and feelings. Write them down in a journal at various points throughout the day, or each morning and night. Ask yourself these questions:
- What do you wake up thinking about?
- What do you go to bed thinking about?
- What makes you feel stressed or anxious?
- What triggered a bad mood?
- How do you use your time throughout the day?
- What takes up your time in the night before going to bed?
- Who in your life affects the way you feel about yourself?
- How much technology do you take in during the day?
- What thoughts repeat in your mind throughout the day?
- How often are you on social media?
- How do you feel after being on social media?
- What do you think keeps you from doing the things you love?
- On days you feel very scattered what is going on?
- What do you do that makes you feel calm and relaxed?
Once you have taken the time to go through these questions and have really been honest about your daily habits you will have a much better understanding of what is taking up space in your mind, and what is currently not serving you.
clearing up the mental clutter and creating space
Now that you have identified what areas are creating the most clutter in your mind it is time to start doing the work to create more space. My favorite way to do this is by first choosing one area that you think is taking up negative, or unnecessary space in your mind and develop a support system that will help you allow it these thoughts and energy to move through you, rather than staying caught in your mind.
For instance say that you have a really difficult family member or work colleague that you cant just avoid, but whom is also taking up a lot of your mental space. Write down the way that you feel this person affects you, what you often are thinking about when you think of this person, and what you can do that would help change the way this person affects you and how much space in your mind they take up.
Next, choose to either take a gentle yoga class, meditate, or go for a long walk with the intention of sending optimism and self-love/compassion towards the situation with that specific person. Visualize the space in your mind that those thoughts are holding and then visualize what that space would look like if it was cleared. As negative or stressful thoughts come choose to replace them with positive affirmations, and work on allowing the thoughts to flow through your mind, but not fill that space you just visualized clearing.
With practice, the optimistic thoughts will begin to take hold, and the way that you allow this person and the thoughts/emotions you have about them to clutter your mind will dissipate. You will begin to find that while the person may not have changed, the way you are allowing them to take up space in your life has.
This exercise can be done with absolutely anything from technology, to work stress, to financial stress, to hypothetical future stress. The more you practice using techniques that allow you to create a clear, and positive space around these thoughts, the more you will be able to let them pass right through you without getting caught in your mind and body.
I always recommend starting with something that is the easiest to address first, and slowly working your way up to the bigger stuff. With time the momentum you gain by clearing more and more space in your mind, will lead to a clearer vision of the energy you allow into your life and you will have more energy available to tackle the harder stuff that at one point may have seemed so impossible.