Clearing Space in the Cluttered Mind

clutterHumans are creatures of collection. We abhor white space and compulsively fill it with whatever we can find. If there’s a table, put stuff on it. If there’s a cupboard, put stuff in it. If there is silence, make some noise, and if there’s solitude, then clearly you’ve done something wrong.

About six years ago I heard Gail Blanke talk about her book, Throw Out Fifty Things. She encouraged people to find 50 items they no longer need or want, and explore what those items tell you about how and why you acquire.

We were preparing to move, so it was a good time to evaluate what we really needed and what we didn’t. I gathered up forty or so things I thought I could part with–clothes that didn’t fit and never would, items I’d purchased without thinking and wouldn’t ever use. That was easy. Goal oriented gal that I am, I vowed to get to fifty. I sat at my desk and contemplated, at which point I realized that I hated that desk. I had spent years of misery behind that desk. It had to go.

I’d just left my job. It had driven me to the cliff of crazy and dared me to pull a Thelma and Louise. My life needed more white space. If the eye and the mind cannot find a place to rest, it keeps moving until it does, always searching for some sort of equilibrium. The best way for me to find it was to get rid of the one item that had soaked up enough bad karma for a lifetime.

My husband thought I was nuts. We were moving in days. It was his choice–put it on Craigslist, or I would take it apart with a sledgehammer and burn it in the backyard. He decided that someone would want it. Someone did. They took it away and it was like I could breathe again.

I’ve been feeling restless lately, unable to stay on task, and I think the lack of white space is again at the core of my problems. Our home feels congested. Every closet, every drawer is filled with stuff–I’m not even sure what. We have old electronics and ancient software that doesn’t run anymore. We have manuals for appliances we no longer own, magazines that we’ll never read again. The house needs to go on a diet.

But the house isn’t all that needs a good purge. There is too much going on in my head. I so badly want to cross things off the to-do list. With each item I take off, however, four take its place. I know I am not unique in this regard. I have to wonder, however, how much I really have to do, and how much I think I ought to do. These are the barriers that keep us from moving–the “should” and the “really ought to,” the “can’t” and the “wouldn’t be wise”–the words alone make me feel anchored in place.

Last week I got the best comment on this blog —

Our light is full of all the writing ideas ever created, and meditation is the only way to discover them.

Lately, however, my mind is always racing, searching for the path to done. It’s time to clean house so peace doesn’t have to work so hard to find its way home.

Here is my version of the 50 things challenge. I will rid my self of 50 clutter-inducing thoughts. Each week I will find an idea that holds me back and play with what my world would be like without it. Physical items are easy to find and dispose of. I could put my mental clutter on the curb with a FREE sign and it would sit for days, because everyone has enough of their own. So why don’t we do it together?

I’d love to walk the path with company. Who is in?

What limiting thought will you get rid of this week?

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Sean MacEntee © 2009 Creative Commons

10 comments on “Clearing Space in the Cluttered Mind

  1. hcfbutton says:

    I love this concept. In architectural school, we are taught about the ‘white space’ so that we can let our drawings stand for themselves. Fill up everything and you can’t see what’s important in life. It can also equate to Margin. Michael Hyatt wrote a great post on it here:

    • Thanks Heather – yes a great post! I think there is a lot to be said for intention – knowing what it is you want. I’m great at planning tasks, but not at considering emotional (rather than strictly productive) outcomes. Perhaps that’s the first thought I need to deal with…

      • hcfbutton says:

        I’m not sure any of us are really, though some develop good coping skills to manage those emotional outcomes, like journalling. Although I think they may not realize it is to create more emotional space in their lives.

  2. Anne Wotring says:

    Right (write) on, Jeannine!!! And if the thoughts won’t leave your head, don’t forget to use the Four Powerful Questions.
    I also loved your baseball parent’s blog. It took me back!!

  3. Betsy says:

    I can relate to this SO well, I had already decided this morning that I want to STOP. Being unkind to myself. Focus on my blessings and what I truly AM, not “I am dumb!” So, this week I am going to counter the negative thoughts with reality thoughts, ie, “The Feeling Good Book”, by David Burns, cognitive behavioral therapy. When I do this, i am always happier. My sister challeneged me years ago to never say an unkind thing to myself again, along with an “Overcoming Verbal Abuse” book, by Albert Ellis. The verbal abuse has always come from inside my head. So, this week I WILL FEE COCKY AND CONFIDENT ABOUT MYSELF!!!! I just WILL!!!! LOL. Thanks for the idea! I will let you know how it goes! I love getting your posts in my inbox, you are such a hoot! I laughed so hard at your baseball story and your party conversation, i thiught I would die! I read them to my family and they laughed hard as well. Thanks for sharing your writing!!!!
    Happy my dude’s Birthday to You, today!
    Hearts, Betsy

    • There is great power in stopping the negative tape loop – the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves. So you go girl! Thank you for your compliments, and most of all, for reading my work. And happy birthday to your dude!

  4. I could not possibly let you do this alone. I am in! I just hope you can tell me how to get rid of the 2 a.m. thoughts….

    • My dear Carol. Start by staying asleep! My personal cure for the midnight monkey mind is Hemi-Sync. I have an app for it on my IPhone. If I’m meditating on the tones, I can’t think about anything else. It’s a great focusing mechanism.

  5. […] Last Monday I wrote about clearing mental clutter–tossing aside the limiting thoughts that weigh me down. I considered a number of options and decided that I needed to start with the big one first. […]

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