This post, like its predecessor, was written about a year ago for another blog where I was concerned with decluttering and my journey towards minimalism. This blog died, but the thoughts I voiced here are still relevant to me. The entry is not edited in any way, although I’d probably not use the same didactic tone I used in this entry (and it’s follow up, which I will re-post shortly) where I to write it today.
Contrary to what intuition might tell us, clutter does not have to be physical. It can also be mental and it can appear in all shapes and sizes, disguises even. That is possibly the kind of clutter which is harder to identify and to deal with.
In fact, identifying physical clutter is relatively easy. Take a walk through your home an put everything that no longer works, that you don’t really like anyway, or that you haven’t used during the last six months in a box, and you will see immediate success. Physical clutter has a tendency to creep into our homes unnoticed, but once identified, getting rid of it is fairly straight-forward: Most things can simply be trashed (true, some need a kind of “incubation phase” where you keep them a little longer just to figure that you indeed do not need them), many just need a proper place, and some need returning to their real owners.
Some few, tricky things need finishing, and those border on the line between physical and mental clutter. In fact, mental clutter can also be physical – that unfinished pair of socks you wanted to knit, those letters you wanted to answer -, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes, mental clutter is just things you wanted to do but never got round to, things you thought you should be doing but don’t really want to, or things that you can not come to terms with.
Some would say that physical clutter is the outward representation of mental clutter – you can not let go of events, thoughts and ideas, and thus you also can not let go of things – but this is not always the case. In my experience, mental clutter has a tendency to especially build up with people who do not have too few ideas and things to do, but too many. Too many ideas, too many plans, too many things they’re interested in. Sometimes, they are very well-organised outwardly, but their mind is still a mess and they’re constantly running after things that still need to be finished.
What is especially difficult about mental clutter is that very often the process of getting rid of it either involves a lot of effort – you have to muster all that mental strength you did not manage to come up with all this time to finally push yourself to the end – or it involves some serious thinking about priorities, wishes and who you really are (or want to be). Often, it is both.
This, I believe, takes a lot more courage than simply dumping an old pair of shoes. Because we have to stop pretending to be a person we are not and face who we truly are. Because we have to stop lying to ourselves – and we have to admit that this is something that we all like to do. Because we have to rethink, reevaluate, reorganise – including the realisation that some things are just never going to happen.
Getting rid of mental clutter also involves coming to terms with our previous decisions, since we often have a tendency to beat ourselves up about the fact that our priorities of today are not the priorities of our past. Even if you now wish that you had written that letter months ago, it is not going to help since obviously something else was more important at the time. The only way we can achieve this is through forgiving ourselves for making decisions which have been proven wrong by hindsight (procrastination, especially) and by accepting all others. This may be the hardest step of all, forgiving, for while we readily forgive others, we rarely ever do ourselves.
However, not only thoughts are involved when dealing with mental clutter, actions have to follow. At some point, we have to sit down and make a list of all the unfinished, unlived things in our mind and decide what to do with them. There are only two options: Finally taking action or dumping them. The first of these things involves a clear plan of which steps to take next, the second involves honesty. Both also need time.
So do not worry if this process of mental decluttering takes time – and more importantly, try not to get impatient if it does. We’re getting there, one baby step at a time!
PS: It took me quite some time to fully understand all this (and not simply know, which is something different altogether). In fact, I’m still playing catchup on all things mental that I think require finishing. Letting go of everything else is a step which yet lies before me.