Clearing Mental Clutter In The New Year

Another rotation around the sun is almost over. Whether that excites or terrifies you, it’s coming. You can pretend it’s not and try to float gently into the New Year, or you could be prepared before it comes. December is packed with to-do lists, to-do moments, gatherings, and (hopefully) gifts. If your yearly cycles are anything like mine, December is full speed and January comes abruptly with a hint of, “What do I do now?” If you run a business, maybe this is time to look at numbers and regroup. If you are a mother, possibly you are looking at the next semester of school for your children. If you are a student, you are either approaching graduation soon or trying your best to live through the next semester. Whoever and however you are, we can all do better to make space for what’s to come in the New Year.  

Happiness is an inside job, of course, but there are a handful of things we can do right now to to have less buzz in our brains.

Let’s talk about your phone. Did you flinch? Are you about to stop reading? Don’t. When was the last time you set boundaries for screen time? When was the last time you turned your phone off on purpose without it dying? If you said, “recently,” a huge congratulations to you. If not, I get it, but we can all strive to pull our minds out of the internet and into our immediate surroundings. Being present is part of having a mind that works with you instead of against you.

Examining our phone usage and what we have on ours isn’t about being the person that proudly owns a Nokia flip phone and wears socks with sandals. There’s nothing wrong with either, but a problem can (and, sorry, will) arise when we are mindless about our phone usage. From bad habits to anxiety, phones grip us more than we realize. We only have so much memory, so much time, and so much energy to devote to each second, minute, day, and ultimately our lives. So, do yourself a giant, friendly favor and consider creating a life with healthier phone habits.

Yeah, there’s a lot happening on that miracle rectangle in your back pocket. It can do almost anything, and it houses almost everything. Where to begin? Your contacts. Really. Every single time you scroll through your contacts to find someone, you scroll past and ultimately think about people you will probably never speak to again. This applies to that guy you met on Tinder once, a girl you made friends with and meant to call but never did, and the old roommate that you didn’t actually like. Okay, those are all directed at myself, but you have a list too. Is there a boyfriend you broke up with three years ago but don’t speak to? Glad to hear you’ve moved on to be with better men or women, but it’s time to delete his number. We should value what has our attention just as much as what has our time. Once you scroll through all of your contacts and delete every person that doesn’t need your mental attention on your phone, email, snapchat and anything else with a contact list, take a deep cleansing breath, because we’re going to examine social media.

Be picky about emotional attention.

Facebook has taken over the world. At the very least, it has taken over the world I live in. Meet someone? Add them on Facebook. Signing up for a generic site? Sign in with Facebook! Want to find that old embarrassing photo from a decade ago? It’s probably on Facebook. Other than the fact that Facebook uses your information in shady ways/if you actually read the terms and conditions, you’d delete it right now, Facebook is capable of grabbing a lot of your attention. Have you ever sat on the toilet and scrolled? You said it was to see what your friends were up to, but somehow you ended up reading an article that either inspired or infuriated you. How does Facebook work? It knows (for real) that we are more likely to click and share if we are passionate (angry or inspired) about what we just saw. I don’t know about you, but those two emotions are big emotions for me, and I’d like to reserve them for things I value in my life real life, not a sloth sanctuary. You could possibly make the argument that you find awesome, inspiring things on Facebook, and it doesn’t take away from your life to see those things. You could believe that and be partially right, or you could be reminded that life happens outside of the internet. Inspiring things happen every single day in every single city. Instead of seeking out that kind of rush from the internet, seek it out in everyday life. I promise, it’s there.

Limit Facebook.

Now that we have, hopefully, agreed that scrolling doesn’t add value to our lives and life happens outside of the phone, it’s time to say no to reading about things that aren’t happening in your life and yes to things that are. Delete Facebook from your phone. Find a different way to keep in touch with someone other than being Facebook friends. Be a little more honest about whether or not you actually want to keep in touch with that person. If you own a business that relies of Facebook, consider hiring a Virtual Assistant for a few hours a week/a day to check in on it, or only get on Facebook on your computer. Limiting Facebook to a computer and never our phones is a good boundary no matter how you use Facebook. When was the last time I checked Facebook? Over five months ago.

When we meet new people, it’s up to you how to keep in touch, but I don’t believe Facebook is the answer. We should do what we did to our contacts to our Facebook friends list. If your friend is having a baby and you just had a miscarriage, it could possibly be in your best interest to remove them and be happy for them at a distance. Having them on your friend list diverts mental space towards something that is most likely negative. If you haven’t spoken to someone and don’t plan to, if Jenny from the block makes you jealous of her picture perfect life, or if Lester is annoying and posts pictures you don’t like, hit delete. If you are saying yes to angry Facebook rants, you’re saying no to peaceful headspace. If you feel compelled to completely delete your Facebook, I totally support you. I’m able to have a healthy boundary with Facebook by never allowing it on my phone. Whatever your boundaries are, make sure you have them. Mental clutter is real, and it can add up quickly. Be picky about what you allow in your mind.

Stop scrolling.

Are you having a love affair with instagram like me? Instagram is something different to every one. That’s amazing but can also be bad. It has that sexy algorithm that keeps us scrolling for possibly hours. Tony Robbins recommends keeping a tiny journal in our pockets to record our small moments. Did you just scroll through instagram for two minutes? Twenty minutes? Write it down. This forces us to be mindful, be accountable, and also to show us exactly how much time we spend on our phones or truly, wasting time. Whether or not you take on this journaling challenge, stop scrolling. I said it, and here it is again. Stop. Scrolling. I’m so guilty of this, and, when I was feeling like I had a problem, I deleted instagram from my phone for four months. I brought it back to be more intentional and post more. I’m still working on both.

Use social media to bring joy.

Your instagram feed should do one thing and one thing only: bring you joy in some form. If you follow someone that makes your heart sink a little or makes you feel any less awesome about your life, hit that unfollow button without hesitation. Take the time to be intentional about every single person you follow. If you are giving them space on your phone, you are giving them space in your mind. Go through your follow list one by one and find out if you are saying yes to people and companies that should be no’s. Do you know someone personally that posts and you just don’t care about their pictures? Unfollow them. A neutral feeling toward something we give our attention to is just as much of a “Nope,” as something we really dislike. If it’s not, “Hell yes!” it should be a “Hell no.” If they say something, remind them it’s not personal, but you wanted to be more selective about your feed. Then, move on. Also, try deleting instagram from your phone and only redownloading it to post and respond to messages. Promptly delete it again.

If you are saying yes in one area of your life, you are saying no in another.

What other things on your phone do you give attention to? Weird bird games? A facts app? Whatever it is, examine whether or not it deserves space in your life and deserves your time. If you are saying yes, remember you are also saying no to another part of your life. Do not be afraid to sit without looking at your phone. Leave it in the car during dinner. Leave it at home one day a week. Let it go to voicemail. Call someone instead of spending two hours texting. Go deeper into your real life instead of deeper into your virtual life. If you find yourself reaching for your phone instead of sitting still, remind yourself to be still and slow down. Your thoughts are not so scary, and great ideas come from boredom.

Physical clutter. = Mental clutter.

Just as much as mental clutter comes from the things we give our attention to but shouldn’t, our physical clutter will create mental clutter. Giving our actual physical space to something that doesn’t belong in our life will surely take up space in our minds that we’re going to want back. Entire books have been written on physical clutter, and this is a moderate length article, so if you are interested in getting your ass kicked into gear by a small asian woman named Marie Kondo, read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It is truly life changing and magical. I’ve read it twice, and at least one person gets a copy every Christmas.

Without taking on a giant life overhaul lead by Marie Kondo, focus on what you can accomplish today. Redirect your attention to what you look at every day. Out of sight out of mind? Right? This is probably your kitchen, your closet, and your office if you have one. Physical clutter creates mental clutter. Do you have a shirt that you just know you’re never going to wear? Give it a kiss, tell it you’re thankful for how great it looks on the hanger, and get rid of it immediately. There’s no time like the present and other common time sayings are said for a reason. They’re true! So, actually look at what surrounds you. You may not have five hours to go through your entire closet, but for sure there are items you may have never worn or may never wear again that come to mind right away. It’s time to say goodbye to them. Do you have a broken worn out anything? It belongs in the trash, not in your house. Have you been meaning to hang that great painting you bought? Hang it or get rid of it. Do you have an air fryer that has been used twice? Regift it and start real frying. You already know what needs to go, and that’s exactly why it creates mental clutter. Every time you walk past it, you are reminded of how much you spent on it, and it’s just sitting there. You’re reminded that you won’t be a size two again or ever when that too little black dress hangs in your closet. You think about a lamp you bought that was cool on the box, but it actually puts out harsh light, and this frustrates you. Tiny annoyances can manifest as stress. We already have stress, so why allow more?

What you tolerate, you allow.

We all eat, and it takes up a handful of our day. Subsequently, food takes up a lot of our mind. We are wired to think about it, crave it, and devour it. Because of this, we must do our best to have a healthy relationship with food. I, personally, am a vegan. I spent a large amount of mental energy thinking about my food and decided what was best for myself mentally, emotionally, morally, and physically. Now that I’ve done that, I am happy when I eat and have less decisions to make regarding food. The more decisions you can make upfront, the less it will occupy your mind. This can happen with basic planning. Do you want to eat breakfast every day? Decide if you’re going to wake up in time to make it, if you’re going to make it ahead of time, if you’ll buy something frozen to zap in the morning, or if you’re going to get something on the go. Making this one decision starts your day off without the morning rush of, “What am I going to eat for breakfast? Do I even have time?” If this doesn’t resonate with you, find areas of your food life that could be refined.  Perhaps you’ve been meaning to switch to organic produce. Instead of having a mental dialogue every single time you shop, and then again every single time you eat, decide that you will be shopping for and eating organic produce from now on. If you have been eating out a little too often, decide on which nights you will eat out, or vow to cook for yourself for a month straight. One of the biggest ways to clear mental clutter is to have an important talk with yourself once, not over and over. Make up your mind about things that are important and unimportant to you.

Stop avoiding hard things.

The last thing you can do right this moment to have a quieter mind is stop avoiding hard things. I guarantee that even if you have physically skirted that responsibility or uncomfortable conversation, you will be thinking about it. It will be one of the weights on your shoulders. You won’t have peace when sitting in silence. I can’t know what these hard things are for you. Maybe it’s a text that will make you want to vomit when you hit send. It could be as big as admitting to yourself that you want a divorce. It could be as small as telling your mom she texts you too often. Big or small, if you are avoiding it, stop avoiding it today/tonight/now. The peace of removing a piece of mental clutter and lifting a weight from your shoulders is far greater than the pain that could be experienced from doing hard and scary things. If it’s been in your mind to spend a year in London, but you’re afraid of planes (and need to take one to get there), lean into your fear, and do hard things. You will grow. Not all of the hard things we avoid are actually terrible. Some of them are just terrifying. Not everything scary will hurt you, and fear is mostly a waste of energy. Do not allow negativity to poison your peace. Almost everything you avoid, you will have to face. Do not spend another day allowing stress or fear or laziness, when you could be doing something that moves you forward. All of the hard things you do in life will move you forward even if it doesn’t seem so at that time.

How you spend your day is how you spend your life.

How you spend your day is how your spend your life. Spend your days filling your mind with things that benefit you. We can craft our lives, and they will craft us in return. Who are you becoming? What are you becoming? December is halfway through. January is approaching. What will your headspace feel like in the New Year? Before making resolutions and going to the gym again, vow to start the New Year with only good things in your mind and space for even greater things to come.