Conquering Clutter: How to Create Calm

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

In This Post

  • The different types of clutter and how they happen
  • How minimalism can help you with conquering clutter
  • Steps to conquering clutter and preventing it – physical and mental

What Is Clutter?

One way of conceptualising what clutter is anything that doesn’t add value to your life. Clutter can be anything that detracts from your peace, happiness and purpose in life. It can be anything that makes you distracted and stressed. Clutter leaves less time for the things you truly value.

While most of us are aware of the large, imposing things in our lives that cause us stress, clutter can sometimes go unnoticed. Clutter can be small, physically or mentally, but clutter adds up. Making the time investment to conquer your clutter is well worth doing.

The effect that clutter can have on us has the potential to be particularly difficult as it can manifest as low levels of stress, lethargy and anxiousness, while also not being obvious enough for us to notice the origin of the stressors.

One of the key tenants of minimalism is removing things from your life that no longer serve you – and removing clutter from your physical and mental space should be one of the first steps on your journey to avoid these stresses.

Clutter can be both physical and mental, and its effects on our lives, well-being and productivity can become problematic if left unmanaged. The following points consider the different types of clutter, and how you can go about taking control of your clutter, so it doesn’t end up controlling you.

What Is Physical Clutter?

Physical clutter is the easiest to spot and is a great area to focus on if you are looking to reduce the clutter you have in your life. There are lots of different ways to deal with cleaning and decluttering your environment, and depending on your situation and goals, this will dictate what you consider to even be cluttered in the first place. Clutter in nature can be small, accumulate over time and go unnoticed. So, a good place to start is by setting aside a set time to deal with your physical clutter by tidying up your environment.

You could set a specific time, perhaps once a week, month or year, to routinely go through your physical space and possessions, removing anything that doesn’t serve you or bring you joy, fulfilment or meaning. Once you’ve collected the items that you want to declutter, consider how you can send them off in an honourable way, by recycling or donating them, avoiding discarding them unless necessary.

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

How Can I Conquer Physical Clutter?

Some areas in your physical environment where clutter often accumulates are:

  • In your wardrobe
  • The miscellaneous kitchen drawer
  • On your phone, camera roll or download folder (see post here on digital minimalism)
  • Underneath your bed, or any other ‘storage’ areas
  • Letters, leaflets and paperwork

If you start somewhere where you actively know you could do with some structure and decluttering, you will be able to enter the mindset of letting go of items that no longer serve a purpose in your life. This will then help you move on to other areas that may be less obvious, or more difficult to deal with.

For example, sentimental items, or things you feel no strong desire to keep but feel you should. Or perhaps it’s gifts you feel you shouldn’t part with, or expensive items you no longer enjoy but feel pain when you think of getting rid of them. 

The magic of creating a clean, clutter-free environment is that it helps you physically – owning fewer items or simply not having them surrounded by clutter, means they are easier to keep organised and clean.

Removing clutter from your physical space can also help you mentally – by making you feel less overwhelmed, overstimulated, distracted and anxious. Small but impactful changes to your physical space have a real chance to be a catalyst to improving your quality of life – even if those changes are as small as removing clutter from a shelf.

What Is Mental Clutter?

Mental clutter can be as distracting to your goals and happiness as physical clutter, if not more so. It has the same effect as physical clutter – it can cause you to feel more anxious, tired, stressed and distracted, reducing your happiness, and productivity and hindering you on your self development journey. Mental clutter can accumulate from different sources, the news, the friend who is always complaining, the gossip at the office, and the TV.

Think of how much information that isn’t really that useful to you that you come into contact with in one day, let alone a lifetime. The overwhelming nature of this amount of stimuli can create a high level of noise and activity in your mind that leaves your brain constantly occupied, with little meaningful downtime or space to consider more important or fulfilling thoughts and consequently capacity for behaviour.

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

How Can I Conquer Mental Clutter?

Reducing your mental clutter is important as it will help free up more of your mental bandwidth for the things in your life that you want to give your attention to. It will also allow you to be able to access a deeper level of concentration, focus and mental energy, which helps you do the things you want to that is difficult, but ultimately important for fulfilling your goals, like studying to learn a language, or having the focus to write.

Dealing with your mental clutter should focus on removing existing mental clutter, as well as preventing clutter from accumulating. Some helpful tips are listed below:

1. Reduce the Amount of Content You Consume in the Morning and Right Before Bed

These specific times are when our brains are most malleable and susceptible to being overwhelmed by information. The news and social media are particularly stimulating and while you do not have to swear off consuming this type of content completely, saving it for later in the day is much better for reducing the negative impact that this type of content can have on your mental wellbeing.

2. Limit Your Interaction With Those Who Drain You Mentally

It is not possible to go through life without feeling impacted by others, which is why it is important to consider the effects that your friends, family and colleagues are having on your mental well-being and consider if they may be a source of mental clutter.

You do not need to cut people off (although you can and should if you need to!) but simply limiting your interaction, or avoiding conversations which would lead you to feel mentally drained may help you to feel more mental peace.

Paying attention to how you feel after you have interacted with someone is a good indication of if they could be a source of mental clutter for you. Ask yourself after you see your friends and family, do I feel uplifted or drained from having interacted with them, and adjust your actions accordingly.

3. If You Cannot Change Your Life, Restructure It

In life, there are many responsibilities and things we have to do that add mental clutter that we cannot get rid of. If we cannot get rid of them completely, consider restructuring your relationship with them in order to do some damage control and harm reduction. If you cannot avoid seeing a person who drains you, you can limit your time with them, and dictate when you see them and the context in which you do.

You can also structure doing things that add mental clutter to your life with things that take it away. Grounding practices, such as meditation, journaling, yoga, exercise, or seeing people who uplift you can all be paired with the more difficult things in life in order to restore balance.

How Do I Prevent Clutter?

The goal of being as clutter-free as possible isn’t achieved by throwing away the biggest pile of possessions, or by giving up listening to the news or watching TV. Once you have done your initial decluttering, the goal is to create a lifestyle where you avoid acquiring things that will become clutter in your life; this is how you create a clutter-free life. Living a lifestyle guided by the principles of minimalism is one of the most direct ways to prevent clutter from appearing so that you don’t have to go through the process of removing it in the first place.

Minimalism prevents clutter by encouraging you to make fewer consumer purchases in the first place, and those that you do are more meaningful, more thought out, and less likely to be impulse decisions. Minimalist practices for mental clutter allow you to avoid feeling overwhelmed by encouraging you to only attend events, activities and experiences that are meaningful.

Therefore, freeing you from wasting your own time, or feeling guilty. By living minimally and only engaging with things, physically, mentally and socially, that have meaning and purpose, you avoid the clutter associated with doing things you do not truly, at your core level, want to do.

Photo by Roman Bozhko on Unsplash

The Calm After Clutter

Once you have removed clutter from your life and are approaching life in a minimal way, mentally and physically, you are likely to experience more energy, more peace and more capacity to reach your highest potential. By removing physical clutter from your environment, you will be physically freed up to surround yourself with only the things that your find meaningful. In a similar way, reducing your mental clutter will improve your mental well-being, capacity for focus and energy for the things that you truly find fulfilling.

‘Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away’

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

To Put it Minimally

  • Physical and mental clutter can both cause unnecessary feelings of stress in your life
  • Practising minimalism, decluttering, and healthy habits like setting boundaries with your consumption of content can all help you to feel more at peace in your life
  • Making sure you prevent future clutter by thinking through new purchases and evaluating how you spend your time (and who with) will help you when it comes to how often you have to declutter