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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 16 - Mental clutter

Luis Marina, Flickr

When it comes to clutter, a lot of it is invisible: it's in your mind. And by "it's in your mind" I do not mean that you are imagining it. 

Mental clutter can take many forms. 

Mental clutter happens when you own a lot of stuff which, even if it is well organized and stored neatly, still nags you imperceptibly. Part of your brain knows that the stuff is there even if that stuff is put away, and that knowledge adds to your levels of stress. That's one reason why I want to own fewer things. 

Home owning in particular adds to the stress because of all the different things you have to maintain and generally take care of. We recently had to service the water softener. It will soon be time to re-stain the decks. And clean the windows. If we're lucky we'll eventually see the grass and the flower beds, with all the work that it implies. Meanwhile, some of the baseboards need touch-ups. One of the bathtubs could use new caulking. The list is endless, and as soon as you take care of an item, another one pops up! Whether you do it yourself or pay someone else to take care of it... there is always something. Your mind is very aware of that.

Mental clutter also happens when you have a lot of activities, responsibilities, appointments and the like to keep track of. CEOs and working parents are equally familiar with that kind of clutter. No matter how organized you are, and even if you have a personal assistant, everything you have to remember still hangs above your head like a sword of Damocles. That also adds to your levels of stress. This is one reason why I want to simplify my schedule and that of my family members... and learn to say no. Easier said than done.

Where do you think your mental clutter comes from?



One of the main topics at my last Minimalist Meeting was photos and mementos (and children's artistic productions). How do we eliminate clutter without completely getting rid of those items that are high in sentimental value? The answer: take a picture (if the item isn't already a picture), scan it, and store it in a safe place. No more thick photo albums, no more dust gathering trinkets, no more boxes and boxes of preschool crafts. If you want regular access to the memories, you can then put the scanned pictures in a digital frame. 

What was my temptation this week, then? Well, I bought an external drive. My music and photos and documents were not safe enough stored on my computer only. Computers crash. An external drive provides an extra safety. So yes, I bought something, but I believe it is a step forward in my minimalist endeavor: for one small object and about a hundred dollars, I can now get rid of a lot of clutter.

There is another temptation in the back of my head, and it's in the shape of a house: nice, big, on a lake, reasonably priced, in our neighborhood. The funny thing, however, is that it's over 4000 square feet. That doesn't sound too compatible with minimalism!

Any tips on how to manage sentimental items?

And how do you reconcile luxury (e.g. a big house on a lake) with minimalism?

Donations (good riddance)

I finally got rid of books! Twenty of them! As is often the case when you are stuck, I got unstuck by asking for help. I had D go through the bookshelves and tell me which books he thinks no one will ever re-read. Now that we got started eliminating books, it doesn't feel so daunting.

My next goal is to get rid of paper. Some documents need to be kept, but I find organizing paper stressful for some obscure reason. I wish I had a magic wand to take care of the piles I have accumulated. Running a business from home is not the most conducive to a minimalist interior. Got to work on it. 

How do you manage paper documents and work-related supplies in your home office?

Observations and cogitations

I have been reading Everything that Remains, by The Minimalists. It's a nice account of what it feels like to experience abundance and then decide that frugality makes more sense. That's where the "voluntary" of voluntary simplicity takes all its meaning. A lot of stuff you have dreamed of acquiring can lose its appeal once you have easy access to it. As a French Literature Master's (and writer in the making), one of my ideas of "making it" was to acquire a Mont Blanc (those luxury pens are a couple hundred bucks a piece). Once I did get one, however, the initial excitement quickly faded. Did I really need a Mont Blanc? Nope.

What minimalist book, article, blog or website have you been reading?

Have you experienced a blasé feeling once you had reached a certain level of luxury?

What did you resist this week? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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  1. Mental clutter, clutter you can see, clutter that is hidden away but still clutter regardless. Yes yes and yes again. I have it, I hate it, I don't know what to do about it. We did get rid of a big pile of family items a while back....it didn't bother me much and I do have pictures of most of it. I don't need the stuff to remind me of my family. There is still so much more. Time to take another hard look at things.
    Home ownership is a big mind clutterer...you are quite right there. However, renting is a big money waster. What to do..what to do.

  2. I have not read nor do I subscribe to any minimalist literature. Primarily because I feel this takes the ownership of my choices away from me. I want to do this my way.

    In my on again/off again decision to reopen my fitness studio after a year's break, I have finally decided to reopen it after all -- minimally.

    Where I had many options for the same exercise in its previous incarnation, and plenty of corresponding equipment, I have decided to get by exclusively with:

    - Smith Machine
    - Lat Pulldown Machine
    - Leg Press
    - Utility Bench
    - Dumbbells to 55 lbs.
    - Olympic barbell set
    - Assorted balls and mats

    This means I can take what was once a 1,200 sq ft. place, and fit it nicely into roughly 600 sq. ft., saving nearly $600 per month, and no workout will suffer, not even my own...

  3. A couple of items of clothing disappeared this week after spending a a few months under the bed, which is where things go I don't think I will wear again, but still want to keep them for a while, just in case. In the quest to find a missing book, several were selected and donated to our building's library. The missing book was not found.

    1. Intersting! I might try that, put things under the bed for a while and see if I reach for them at all. If not... they need to go!

      I hope you find the book! Worst case scenario, there's always the library. :-)

  4. Great, intriguing, thought-provoking post. Well done. :)

    We succeeded in getting rid of about 30% of our kitchen items. That's quite a lot, actually. I'm proud of us. I need to tackle my books next. My hubby refuses to part with most of his...but I can at least cull mine down by a LARGE amount. I'm ready.

    Photos...I use Facebook and my blog to actually store many photos. I used to keep them to a CD, but obviously that's not the best choice, and I haven't done that in a couple of years. Thanks for the reminder. I haven't created any new photo albums in years, but I won't toss the first 50-55 years worth. Even though most are on CD's now...I still consider the better, paper versions better. :) And I take solace in knowing that they are there.

    1. Wow, 30% IS a lot. I wonder if that could apply to the whole house. I think so (in my case anyway).

      Photos are precious. :-)

  5. That is interesting about the mental clutter. I've felt dragged down by that a bit lately.

    I did finally this last week get rid of a bunch of books and DVDs that I had planned to get rid of for 3 years (since moving in our current house). Part of the delay was conflict on what to do - donate, throw away, sell. Finally we made a decision and moved on.

    For paper in my office, I scan in what I can to a PDF then I keep it on my computer (yes, I've external back ups as well). For things I need to keep for awhile, but not permanently (think a receipt on something that might need to be returned or serviced), I keep 12 folders each labeled with a month. I put the item in the appropriate month. When I come to that month each year I go through the folder and throw out what I no longer need.

    I do have a few files that contain papers that I actually need to have originals of or which don't scan well. But, really, there isn't much of that.

    I also had almost all photos scanned in and have thrown away the paper photos.

    1. I know what you mean by the donate, throw away or sell conflict. I solved it by donating pretty much everything that is in good shape. Selling is okay for big, expensive pieces, but I find it a waste of time for smaller items that unfortunately lose a lot of value once they're second hand.

      Oh, I like your idea of monthly folders. I think I'll do the same! Thank you!

  6. I do think luxury and minimalism can be reconciled (NOT that this is my struggle :-)) and sparse and luxury can be clutter free and minimalistic.
    I dont know this makes sense.
    it SO does in my head :-0

    1. It absolutely makes sense. You can have a very minimalistic, yet very luxurious, environment. But it is still problematic in my mind: a lot of luxury still means that one is focusing on the material aspect of things. I want to focus on the immaterial. :-)

  7. Clutter is my bugbear, and both my spouse and my daughter are packrats extraordinaire. My rule is: if I can hide it for a month and it isn't missed....... it's going, going, gone!
    I'm known for my tchotchke ruthlessness, and they blanch when I utter the words "All this STUFF has got to go!"

    1. Good rule! So you used it on your family members? That's kinda funny. :-)

  8. You have a blog full of information.
    My blog is just a record of my life.
    My message board a record of my coming events, the fridge keeps all current bills.
    We do own a older home that often needs things doing, we do know a handyman friend.
    All makes a stress free life, well almost the trouble is I has just become organised after leaving work up to then is was all over the place maybe has to do with raising children, working and just to much to do.

    1. All blogs are interesting in their own unique way! :-)

      A handy man friend certainly must be useful!

      Too much to do is certainly how it feels to most working parents I know.

  9. For all the paper stuff I keep thinking about getting one of those scanners so that I can scan the paper and then shred the hard copy - one day I will.

    1. Good idea! I already have the scanner, just need to start using it.

  10. Clutter whether it be in the home or in the mind is not good - you can not think, or do anything clearly.

    Often if you clear the clutter that surrounds you the 'fog' within clears too ...

    All the best Jan

  11. "Where there's death, there's hope!" That macabre quote originally comes from a point of view of the British university educational system where in order to get a position on the limited faculty, someone had to die to make one available! It probably applies to mental clutter too although learning to say "no" is probably a good helpful step.

    I try to focus on what I have checked off my to do list rather than what I haven't.

    1. Macabre all right! Although we do have a poet (Félix Leclerc) who said: "C'est grand la mort: c'est plein de vie dedans" (Death is big: it's full of life).

      Reverse bucket list I call it: the things you HAVE done. :-)

  12. i try to live minimally but i trip myself up. Yesterday i bought a whole box of spinach for a really great price and now i'm making it into pesto which will be wonderful but i had to go buy extra cheese, nuts etc to make the pesto. It's a kind of complicated simplicity :)