A period of lockdown seems the ideal time to clear out cupboards and drawers. It is a job that I hate but I always get a sense of satisfaction knowing that I have thrown away things I no longer need and created some order to help me find the things I do need. It must be four or five years ago that I last went meticulously through all of my personal belongings to do a clear out. Since then, I have emptied my parents’ home and so more things have found their way into the eaves of my house, to sort out later. The trouble is, later never comes and every time I open certain doors, everything comes tumbling out.
Clearing the home of a person who has died or is moving permanently into a care home brings into sharp focus the amount of stuff we acquire in a lifetime, most of which we do not need. It is of course much easier to decide what to throw out and what to keep when we are doing this for someone else. We hang onto things because of the memories associated with them because we might one day need this thing, or just because letting go is hard.
As I look in dismay at the disorder of my once organised drawers, cupboards, and the eaves of my house, I cannot help but draw an analogy with the clutter of thoughts that cram my head. Just as physical clutter creates visual stress, mind clutter creates emotional and mental stress. We cannot find what is important because it is lost in our jumble of thoughts. Sometimes we need to declutter the mind so that we have more clarity over what is important to us and can work on letting go of the thoughts that no longer serve us.
Let’s start with the surface clutter: the to-do list, and the distraction of social media. The thoughts that have us darting our attention from one thing to another and achieving very little. Call it our sock drawer!
Make a list of what needs to be done, break it down into tasks for the months, weeks, and days. I have a marketing plan for my novels. There is so much I want to achieve that I have a to-do list that realistically will take months if not years. Every time I find a marketing tip, something that I should do to promote sales, I add it to my long list. Then, I prioritise for the month setting an achievable goal. Each week, I work towards this goal, breaking down the steps. My desk diary has tasks for each day. I stick to this. Every time I think of something else I should/could do, I add it to the long list and return my focus to that day’s tasks. Before I established this discipline, my mind was like a bluebottle buzzing from one thought to another never settling long enough to complete anything.
Socks paired and sorted – time to tackle the knicker drawer. Social media can rob us of time and drain our energy unless we create some order. I turn off notifications when I am working so that I am not distracted by pings and messages. I love spending time chatting with Twitter and Facebook friends but I try to set boundaries around the time spent on this. Scheduling tweets for the week using Buffer helps. Also, a system such as Tweet deck. When I am being very focused I set a timer and interact on Twitter from Tweet deck where I can be intentional in the way that I network. I also indulge in a bit of chatter when relaxing, but I recognise that I am making this choice over other relaxation activities so that it does not become a habit.
Sorting out our drawers is the easy part. Now, we will go a bit deeper and tackle the cupboards. Open the door and thoughts come tumbling out. The constant chatter that replays past events finding fault, and worries about the future. The to-ing and fro-ing from past to future leaves us feeling giddy and ungrounded. We need to be mindful of the present, to still our mind. Exercise helps as we focus on our breath and become aware of the physical sensations in our body. Being close to nature is also good. If you practice mindfulness meditation for a few minutes each day you will soon take back control of these troublesome thoughts.
Now, into the eaves of the house. Maybe you have an attic or basement. It’s where you have stored long-held beliefs and memories. Part of you knows that they are there, waiting for your attention – much like the treasures I brought back from my parents’ house. The thoughts that we feel an attachment to and are reluctant to let go of. Maybe it is a childhood memory. A past hurt or grievance. Or a negative belief about ourselves. Sorting through these thoughts needs time and care. Let’s take one of these thoughts at a time. We will sit quietly where we are comfortable, safe, and cannot be disturbed and then lovingly unwrap the thought. Why have we held onto it for so long? Is it serving us or holding us back? Maybe we thought we would need it one day; how else would we remember not to make the same mistake again? If it is time to let that thought go, do so with compassion for yourself. Meditation has helped me to discover these thoughts and to let them go. I have found Tara Brach’s talks and meditations particularly helpful.
Decluttering the mind is an important part of self-care. Just as our homes can become disorganised, so can our minds. When we spring clean our home, we throw away what we no longer need, and tidy the things that are important to us so that they are easy to find. We feel energised and more in control. The same is true when we manage our thoughts.