The Art of Tidying Up Our Minds

A Different Kind of Tidying Up

When I first read Marie Kondo's best-selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, I was struck by one strong feeling - UGH! Kondo teaches how we can transform our lives and find more joy through tidying up our homes and getting rid of things that do not bring us joy. The problem was I had spent the past decade learning to "let go" of my perfectionist tendencies and feelings of stress attached to the piles of stuff around me. I have worked hard to embrace imperfection and the messiness of life. I havechoseninstead to see the piles of laundry, dirty dishes and clutter around me as signs of a full and well-lived life.  

Kondo's book did make me think, however, about what I had been doing over the past ten years and the value of tidying up something arguably much more important than my closets - uncluttering my mind. Just like our closets, shelves, and countertops, our minds overflow with lots and lots of thoughts -- thoughts of the past, worries about the future, "to do" lists, "shoulds" and much more. All of this mental clutter piles up and is stressful, exhausting and unhealthy. Just like the piles of clutter, many of these thoughts do not bring me joy.  So, I have decided to forgo my closets for now and instead take simple steps each day to declutter my mind.  Here's how you can too . . .

Stop the Madness of Multitasking
Most people report feeling stressed because they have too much to do and not enough time to do it all in. As a result, we feel compelled to multitask, and even take great pride in how many things we can do all at once. For example, we walk down the street while returning phone calls, eat while answering emails, drink coffee while catching up on the news and work on our computers while replying to the endless stream of emails that pop up in our inboxes.  We feel that if we multitask, we are achieving maximum productivity and efficiency.

Our multitasking is essentially the cluttering of our time. And, sadly, the actual effects of our multitasking efforts are much more detrimental to us than we realize.  Studieshave found that, contrary to what we tell ourselves, we are actually much lessproductive when we multitask. Onestudyfound that people are 40% less productive when doing several things at the same time. We are also less efficient because we are more likely to make mistakes. Just like clutter in our homes, multitasking also causes stress and unhappiness. Several studies show that we are less likely to enjoy what we are doing when we are not fully engaged in any one activity. And, we find our time doing several things at once more stressful. Multitasking is also exhausting because we are exerting more energy switching from one task to another over and over again. Someresearcheven suggests that multitasking negatively impacts ourbrain health, decreasing our attention span and disrupting critical neural pathways used for problem-solving and executive functioning.

Keep It Super Simple
To actively reverse the negative effects of multitasking, we have to do one simple thing . . .  keep it simple and declutter each moment! All you need to do is make an effort to do one thing at a time. This super simple solution of focusing all of your attention on just one task at a time is actually much harder than you think because it has become so foreign to us.  Try it for yourself . . .

  • When you are walking, just walk.

  • When you are drinking, just drink.  

  • When you are eating, just eat.  

  • When you are listening, just listen.

  • When you are waiting, just wait.

Sounds super simple, but once you try it you will quickly notice how hard it is. You will also notice the intense pull of your attention elsewhere. Notice the strong urge you have while waiting on the street corner to check your phone, make a phone call, read your email. Instead, notice that urge, stop yourself, and stick to whatever it is you are doing (even if what it is you are doing is nothing for a few minutes). Just like any other type of training, breaking the mental habit of multitasking takes time.  This is brain training and you are actually strengthening your mental muscle to focus your attention and concentrate.

You may start to notice the positive effects of this increased focus right way. One thing you may notice is that each task may become more interesting and even more enjoyable when you fully immerse yourself in it. You may also notice that you are doing things better and with greater ease. And, you may notice that you feel less stressed, less rushed and less exhausted. 

Think about some of your greatest moments of peace and joy  - - watching a beautiful sunset, fully immersing yourself in your favorite song, diving deeply into nature, hugging someone you love. In each of these experiences, you are doing just one thing and doing it with all of your attention. This can bring you intense joy and total peace of mind.

Focusing your attention on what you are actually doing as you are doing it is at the very heart of mindfulness. When we draw our attention into each moment and experience what we are doing as it is happening, we find more moments of joy in each day and feel less stress. We also begin to declutter one very important thing - our minds.  We learn to see more clearly exactly what's right in front of us, rather than spending so much time and mental energy lost in the clutter of our minds.

As the beautiful quote above points out, we can even excavate all that extra stuff from our minds - the "shoulds" and "what ifs" and the endless stories we tell ourselves about who we are supposed to be and what we should be doing. We can instead immerse ourselves in our lives as our lives are unfolding and experience so much more joy.  When we declutter our minds we might even"find ourselves"beneath all that clutter and see what's really there - - our passions, our strength, our talents, our voice, our creativity and our incredible capacity for peace and happiness.