Clutter isn’t just the stuff on your floor and filling the back of your closet. It can also be in your head – as mental clutter. The thoughts, ideas, feelings, reminders, to-dos, lists, etc. floating around in your head taking up your precious time, energy and mental space!
Today’s post is all about mental clutter – what it is, and simple ways to help reduce and better manage it in your life.
What is mental clutter?
“Clutter is found in so many shapes and sizes. We can find it on our kitchen tables, under our beds, in our cars and in our heads.”~ Katrina Mayer
Mental clutter is anything making your mind feel over-full, distracted, overwhelmed, frazzled and stressed out!
The thoughts, ideas, to-do lists, things to remember, emotions, etc. adding to your mental load and making you feel like it’s just too much!
The impact of mental clutter
The problem with mental clutter is it adds stress to your life and can leave you feeling overwhelmed, anxious, frazzled and even burnt out.
Carrying too much mental clutter can slow you down, leaving you feeling less productive and less focused. Your brain is working so hard to keep up with all the mental clutter you might even start missing things, forgetting things, making mistakes or making poorer decisions.
Simply because there is so much clutter weighing down your mind that you can’t function at your best!
Finding ways to reduce and better manage mental clutter not only helps reduce stress and increase productivity and focus. But it also creates space for you to feel more peaceful, calm and content. You might even feel happier overall when you clear some of the mental clutter and develop habits to better manage it moving forward.
Motherhood and mental clutter
The transition to motherhood was when I noticed a big increase in the mental load and the mental clutter I was carrying. There is so much to keep track of, remember, do, monitor, etc. that it can feel really overwhelming.
But no matter what season of life you’re in, mental clutter doesn’t have to get the best of you! Use these 13 simple tips, strategies and techniques to start reducing the mental clutter you’re carrying. And learn how to better manage it moving forward!
How to reduce and better manage mental clutter
1. Brain dump
The quickest way to reduce mental clutter is to literally get it out of your head. And a brain dump is the perfect way to do that.
Grab a piece of paper and write down everything and anything that’s currently in your head and on your mind. Don’t worry about making a neat and tidy list just yet. Instead, focus on getting everything out of your head and down onto the paper.
A brain dump gives you a place to keep everything you were carrying around in your head so you can stop carrying it around with you.
After getting everything down onto paper, you can sort through what you wrote down and organize it.
Make a list of all the things you need to do. Add things to remember to your calendar. Make note of things you need to spend time thinking through or processing. And most importantly cross off anything that doesn’t need to take up your time or mental space!
2. Use a prioritized to-do list
Next, use the information from your brain dump to make a to-do list. But the key to using a to-do to manage and reduce mental clutter is to keep it simple, realistic and prioritized.
Make an actual list, digitally or on paper, rather than mentally keeping track of what needs to be done. Remember the goal is to reduce mental clutter, so get those to-dos out of your head!
Start by organizing every “to-do” from your brain dump in order of priority. Starting with the things that need to be taken care of ASAP. Then start scheduling when you’ll do each task.
Prioritize what’s essential. Remove or put off the things that aren’t essential right now. This helps you focus on what needs to be done now and let go of what doesn’t need to take up your time or energy right now.
After making your master to-do list using your brain dump, try making a daily to-do list for yourself as well. Keep it short, realistic and prioritized so you don’t overwhelm yourself.
Try starting your list with your top 3 priorities that need to be done each day. If there are more things you’d like to get done, list them after your top 3 priorities so you focus on what needs to get done first.
And remember, keep your list at a realistic length for what you’re actually able to accomplish. Adding more than you have time for will only leave you feeling overwhelmed, discouraged and frazzled.
3. Schedule future tasks
Another great way to reduce mental clutter is by scheduling future tasks that don’t need to be done immediately in your calendar. Include all pertinent links or information with the task scheduled in your calendar for when it needs to be completed.
Scheduling tasks you don’t need to do right now is a great way to get them out of your head now, so they aren’t taking up mental space unnecessarily.
When you do need to do the task, it will already be scheduled with any information you need to get it done, ready and waiting. Making your life easier in the future as well!
4. Keep workspaces clutter-free
Cluttered spaces can make focus and productivity difficult. Making it hard to work efficiently, and adding stress and frustration to your day.
A tidy space, on the other hand, can help encourage mental clarity, focus and efficiency. Things are simply easier when you don’t have to work amid and around clutter!
Start by clearing anything non-essential from your workspace. Only keep the things you use, need or love. Then make sure everything you’re keeping in your workspace has a place to keep it to help keep your workspace neat and tidy.
And just to clarify: “workspace” doesn’t only apply to a desk where you do paid work. Your workspace is any space you use to get a task done. It could be your kitchen when your task is cooking. It could be your laundry room, craft table, etc.
Clutter-free workspaces can help you do any task more easily, enjoyably and efficiently!
5. Develop routines, rhythms, systems and habits
A quick and easy way to reduce mental clutter and the mental load you’re carrying is by having routines, rhythms, systems and habits in place to get tasks done without much extra thought or planning required.
Create routines, rhythms, habits and systems for anything you do that needs to get done regularly. The more you can automate these tasks, the less mental clutter they’ll add to your life!
Having routines, rhythms, habits and systems in place for things like meal planning, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, etc. are all great examples of ways to reduce mental clutter related to these tasks.
For example, a cleaning routine means you’ll never have to worry about what needs to be done and when you’ll do it. Instead, you’ll already have a plan in place for these tasks.
Developing a master grocery list is a great system to help make grocery shopping faster and easier. Without having to worry about mentally keeping track of the basics you need each week.
A master meal planning list you can repeat every month is another great example.
Sometimes developing these routines and systems takes a little bit of time and energy invested in the beginning. But in the long run, make life a lot easier and help reduce mental clutter.
6. Add margin to your schedule
Trying to do too much, all at once, can quickly contribute to mental clutter. But leaving yourself some margin in your schedule is a great way to reduce mental clutter, make you feel less rushed and make your days feel a little easier too!
When planning your days, as much as possible, aim to only schedule what can realistically be accomplished. And when possible, slightly overestimate how long each task will take. Giving yourself a bit of extra time should things take longer or something unexpected comes up.
As tempting as it can be to plan to multitask during the day, very few people can multitask effectively. Most often, trying to do more than one thing at a time increases stress levels, decreases productivity and leaves you not doing your best at any of the tasks.
Instead, try single tasking. Focusing on one task at a time to get it done with more efficiency and accuracy.
Adding some margin to your schedule also gives you opportunities to rest as well. Rather than rushing from one task directly into the next, a bit of margin gives you time and space to pause, rest and refocus.
And sometimes the most important thing you can do for your health and productivity is giving yourself opportunities to rest!
7. Schedule downtime
Rest is important to your overall health, well-being and productivity.
If you’re someone who struggles to slow down and take rest on a regular basis, work on adding it to your schedule (and then taking time to rest, guilt-free!). Scheduling time to rest is a great way to make sure you’re giving yourself and taking opportunities to rest and recharge.
Stop feeling like you need to earn rest first. There will always be more you could be doing. But taking time to rest regularly means you’ll be able to show up for life at your best.
Adding rest to your schedule and to-do list reminds you that rest is not only necessary, but sometimes it’s the most productive thing you can do!
8. Plan catch-up days
Most people have an ongoing list in their heads of things that eventually need to be, but aren’t particularly time-sensitive or critical to get done now. The trouble is, this list of tasks sits in your head taking up mental space, adding to your mental load and causing mental clutter.
Avoid this by making an ongoing list of all these little, non-time-sensitive tasks you need to do as you think of them. Then, schedule a day every month or so to get them done and clear the list.
Making a list lets you stop carrying this mental to-do list around in your head. And having a catch-up day every so often takes the pressure off yourself, knowing you’ll get to these tasks then. In the meantime, you can let them go and take them off your mind.
9. Use a timer
Speaking of little tasks, how often do you put something off for weeks or maybe months, thinking about it, avoiding it and procrastinating about it? Then when you finally do the task, realize it only took a few minutes or wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be?
Or maybe you have a bigger task you avoid starting because the task in total feels so big?
A great way to avoid these scenarios is by using a timer.
Tell yourself you’ll work on getting the task started for 10 minutes. You don’t have to finish it; you just need to start and spend 10 minutes working on it.
Telling yourself you only need to spend 10 minutes doesn’t seem so bad!
Not only does this help you overcome the hurdle of getting started. But it also encourages you to see that small steps are still helping you make progress. And making some progress towards getting a task done is better than making no progress at all!
10. Take care of yourself
When you’re exhausted, hungry, worn out or burnt out, it’s easy to feel like you have brain fog and more mental clutter. Which makes it hard to focus, process or be productive.
Making an effort to get enough sleep, eat well, move your body in a way that feels good to you, and spend some time outside are all simple ways to take care of both your body and your mind. Making it easier to clear and better manage mental clutter.
11. Try meditation
Sometimes mental clutter can come from too many thoughts, ideas or feelings in your mind, feeling like a whirlwind. The practice of meditation isn’t to clear or empty your mind. But instead, to spend some time in stillness and silence, noticing your thoughts without judging them or getting swept away in them.
It’s not always easy. But with regular practice, meditation helps you find moments of stillness for your mind and body. As well as helping you better manage mental clutter by taking time to observe and notice your thoughts without attaching to or judging them.
Mediation can also help you become more mindful. Helping you focus on the present, instead of getting swept away by thoughts, worries, etc. And it can also help you get in the habit of noticing your thoughts and feelings and practicing responding to them, rather than reacting.
Check out this post for some simple and accessible ways to give mediation a try for yourself!
12. Give yourself a calm, clutter-free space
Clutter in your home can be like a visual reminder or mental to-do list of everything you still need to handle, do and take care of.
Giving yourself a calm, clutter-free space gives you a space where your mind can truly rest, recharge and decompress.
Your clutter-free space can be whatever works for you. You might aim to keep your whole home calm and clutter-free. Or you might simply carve out a quiet corner of a room to be your calm and clutter-free space.
Whatever it looks like for you, the key is recognizing the value a clutter-free, calming space can add to your life and your ability to rest and recharge.
13. Start a journaling practice
Much like doing a brain dump, a journaling practice is a great way to get thoughts, feelings, ideas, etc. out of your head so you can process, work through them and maybe even let them go. Instead of continuing to carry them around in your head all the time, adding mental clutter to your life.
A journaling practice can take so many different forms. From following guided prompts, to freewriting, to bullet journaling, to art journaling and more. Start exploring what resonates with you and give it a try!
Simple tips to reduce and better manage mental clutter
I hope these tips will give you some ideas of simple ways to start reducing and better managing mental clutter.
You may not be able to control the circumstances that contribute to the mental clutter you’re feeling. But there are things you can do to change the impact the mental clutter has on you. As well as how you manage it to make your life less stressful and more enjoyable.
What’s your favourite way to manage and reduce mental clutter? I personally love doing a brain dump when my head feels full, cluttered and swirly. What about you? Leave a comment and let me know!