I think mental clutter is a lot like physical clutter. Something lying around in an inconvenient place that requires some action by you. It starts with the thoughts that fly through your head all day. You know the ones.
- I have to make a well-check appointment for my little one.
- I need to remember to bring my computer home from work today.
- I need to call my mom.
- I signed up for a conference at school, I wonder when that is.
- I really need new shoes.
- My purse is a mess, I should clean it out.
- The kids got flu shots but I haven’t yet.
- And on and on.
If you’ve read my guide or some of my other articles, you know my strategy when I have those thoughts is to act on them right away. That way I’m not adding to the mental clutter. If I don’t do them or schedule them, they will just be in my mind until I finally take care of them. Like the physical clutter, I may not notice it but it’s there. When I try to think about it, it doesn’t immediately come to mind. It just hangs out there in the back of my mind causing stress.
Getting Started Again
I’ve been reading this book called The Slight Edge, and there was a part that really hit home for me. The author, Jeff Olson, talked about how hard it is to start something again after you’ve stopped. It made me think about returning to work after maternity leave. With my second child, I spent the majority of my maternity leave holding my baby and lying around on the couch reading. My older daughter was at daycare so it was just me and the baby at home. She was a really good napper, but she often took short naps and I never knew when she would wake up. So when she slept, I would read. The excuse was that I didn’t know how long she would sleep. The point is, I stopped doing pretty much everything else.
I obviously stopped going to work, but I stopped doing a lot of other things too. Getting dressed every day. Leaving the house every day. Getting out the door by a certain time every day. Not to mention all of the other little things around the house that I didn’t do even though I had time.
Then I went back to work and suddenly had all of those things, and more, again. It was hard. I didn’t ease myself back into it. I went from almost nothing back to everything, just like that. I didn’t even think about how having two children and doing all the daily tasks would affect my life. Since I was just thrown into it, I didn’t have time to think about it. I did the bare minimum to get by everyday and then collapsed in a heap on the couch at night.
Right after Olson talks about how difficult it is to start something, he talks about the Power of Completion. He asks, Do you have unfinished projects? Commitments you haven’t fulfilled? Promises you haven’t kept?
I have a mountain of them. I have a coffee table half full of unfinished knitting projects. I have the remains of my closet declutter on the shelf in my room. I have a chair full of sewing repairs. We have a door that my dad told us needed to be painted two years ago. We never got a foot for the stove like the inspector told us to do when we bought the house 6 years ago.
There’s more recent stuff too. Sometimes it’s a pile of the kids’ artwork that I haven’t photographed. Mail I haven’t dealt with. Piles of receipts, coupons and old grocery lists in my purse. That phone call I haven’t made. That trip to Vienna I haven’t planned. And on and on.
When You Just Can’t Finish Something
This post turned into one of those unfinished projects that was hanging over my head. I realized yesterday morning that I started it two weeks ago. I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t finished. I should have finished it by now, why was it still on my to-do list?
It was time to do something about it. So, I decided to practice what I preach, like I wrote about here. I reached out for support and talked to someone about it. OK, a few people. You see, I’ve been reading a lot about self-development. I made some great changes to my attitude. I was on track. But when I started writing this I realized I still have a mountain of unfinished projects. I still have things that I put off. It makes me feel bad. I can tell by my list of unfinished projects that I was holding myself back. I added “more recent” stuff, but I still shied away from putting some things on there that had been on my mind.
Writing about mental clutter brought up feelings I wasn’t ready to feel. I started on the downward spiral I was on before. I didn’t finish the post (or a million other things), so I felt bad. I didn’t have any energy. I was mad at myself. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, but I wouldn’t even admit it to myself, until today.
I didn’t want to acknowledge feeling like I’m not good enough to write a post about mental clutter because I still struggle with it. Or thinking I’m not good enough to help other women change their lives because I’m not exactly who I want to be. That I’m not enjoying my children enough. I’m not successful enough to quote The Slight Edge. I can’t write a post as good as Melissa Camara Wilkins. I got frustrated because my daughter didn’t know how to play a game so I’m a bad parent.
I know better than to take these thoughts at face value. I know I should question the stories I tell myself. I’ve been working on that, but right now it’s making me feel even worse. I wasn’t confronting them. I was doing my best not to notice them. I wasn’t just failing myself and my family, I was failing my readers. Those people that read one of my posts and thought I had something interesting to say. (And there are more of them than I thought there would be.) I’m failing my friends and mentors that believe in me. What can I say that can help others if I can’t help myself?
Well, one thing I’ve learned recently that I’m good at is putting my emotions out there. So instead of writing the best post you’ve ever read about how to deal with mental clutter, I’m bringing you an example of what that looks like for me. And I’m practicing another one of those things I mentioned in the other post, writing about it. Some of this came out when I reached out for support today. Some of it didn’t come out until I started typing it.
It’s amazing to me that I could be so blind about it. It’s like when Gretchen Rubin talks about being clutter-blind. I was blind to my own mental clutter. I was avoiding it. And I can tell you, it didn’t feel good. I wish I could tell you what the signs are, but I’m obviously not great at recognizing them myself. And I have a feeling they’re different for everyone.
I know a couple of mine, though admittedly I don’t always recognize them for what they are. One is lack of energy, just feeling worn out. Another is restlessness. Also, putting things off. This is a tricky one though because your mind will come up with a completely logical explanation for it and you may be able to convince yourself that it’s true for quite some time. That’s what I was doing. I couldn’t finish writing the post because my little one woke up before 6 every day last week. Sounds reasonable, right? It could be the answer. Alas, it was not.
I also usually have to go through some teary-eyed moments to actually confront the issue too. It’s not a neat thing (and I mean neat like tidy). It’s a messy, emotional thing. I was going to say it can be a beautiful thing but I don’t want to get too Danielle LaPorte on you. It’s probably not that, but it is worth it.
To confront it and move on is worth it. The funny thing is, all of those emotions I was going through, all the conversations I had about it, led to this post. If I wouldn’t have felt that way, this post wouldn’t be what it is. My friend Vanessa said something the other day when we were on the phone, and I said “I’m writing this down right now.” I meant it, it was that good. She said:
Why can’t you just enjoy the ride?”
Indeed. Why can’t you just enjoy the ride? You know what, I think I’m learning to enjoy it. Even if it’s sometimes full of turmoil.
I guess the lesson is, sometimes to get something done you’ll have to confront thoughts and feelings you don’t want to confront. It probably won’t seem fun when it’s happening, but you’ll feel so much better afterward, when you get it off your chest. You’ll finally be able to move forward. So friends, what do you need to confront?