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So far we’ve talked primarily about “stuff” and “things”. Tangible items that produce physical clutter (like the dreaded junk drawer filled with free hotel pens and notepads). Minimalism however, can extend past the physical realm. We’re talking about mental minimalism.
“Oh great”, you think. “Now she’s going to get all metaphysical and philosophical on us”. Don’t worry, I promise I’ll keep it practical.
The mental clutter
All day long, it’s noise. The kids are screaming “mom!”. Your boss is barking orders. Or maybe you’re just navigating the day-to-day requests of “Can you do _____?” from your mom’s group, church group, preschool association, your daughter’s teacher, your son’s hockey coach (shall I go on?).
The noise, the requests, all of the to-do’s -they take up valuable real estate in your mind. Do you ever have those nights where you want to go to sleep, but you can’t stop thinking? Thoughts constantly swirling, and you can’t seem to calm your mind? I know I do. And I hate it.
I am on a mission to do something about it. That’s why I am choosing to embrace mental minimalism.
What does that even mean?
Basically, I am seeking how to be able to clear my mind, and function without 173674 thoughts screaming at me at once. It stresses me out. And a stressed Sabrina is cranky and not a whole lot of fun. Doesn’t the idea of a clear, focused, and calm mind sound wonderful?
End the noise!
I desperately want to be able to process my thoughts without feeling overwhelmed by them. Surely, there must be a way?
Often my husband would come home from work, and try to have a conversation with me. Although I was always “listening” to him, I often didn’t hear him. My mind was just too wired on the day’s activities, the the evening responsibilities, and tomorrow’s worries. My hubby continually says to me “you don’t have to move the world,” but my mind says I should at least try.
Applying minimalism to my mental state has helped me maintain a clearer, cleaner, less stressed mind. Below are some tips that I found really helped me improve my cognitive cleanliness.
Moving towards mental minimalism
1. Live in the now.
So often we focus on the past or the future, and the present slips away from us. Maybe it’s grief, heartache, or loss from the past, or maybe it’s spending time reminiscing on the “good old days”. It could be worrying about future: finals, upcoming wedding, the day the car will surely break down. Or perhaps overly-anticipating the future: “If only I can get through this summer, I can finally take a vacation in the fall.”
Life shouldn’t be about longing for days past, or just pushing through for days to come. The present is where we exist. It is where we form memories. Have conversations. It is where we laugh, and where we cry. It is a blessing we often forget.
Mental clutter that forces us to focus too much on the past or future, prevents us from enjoying the present. It’s okay to reminisce, but don’t live there. It’s okay to plan for the future, but don’t forget to embrace the present.
2. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.
If someone asks you to be somewhere or do something, be honest with yourself and them about whether or not that’s a possibility. I used to be a people pleaser (and still struggle from time to time). I would say yes to everything. This would leave me with a packed schedule, and a bad attitude. I hated being rushed and overwhelmed, and hated the negativity that would stew inside me, because of it. It’s okay to say no to people. And you DON’T need to offer a reason or explanation why.
Now, that’s not to say I don’t support being involved in your community, church, school, whatever it may be. I think it’s healthy and productive to be involved. But when it gets to the point where you feel overworked, resentful, and no longer joyful, you need to re-evaluate. I saw this graphic on Joshua Becker’s Becoming Minimalist page and just had to share it (permission given).
3. Don’t overschedule.
This one might come across as easier said than done (especially if you have children in the house). What with Susie’s piano lessons, Johnny’s soccer practice, that work thing you and your hubby have to go to Friday night, oh yeah, and volunteering at AWANA – shoot, did I miss Tommy’s dentist appointment somewhere in there?
Seriously guys, I am beginning to feel like busyness is a kind of western societal disease. With so many things packed into a single day, when do we leave any time to turn our minds off of overdrive and give ourselves a break?
I know for myself, mental clutter and stress accumulate when I overschedule myself.
Give yourself an opportunity to assess what’s really necessary in your schedule. Really take a magnifying glass to it. Does it add value to your life or your family?
I recommend taking a peek at Angela J. Hanscom‘s book “Balanced and Barefoot:How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children.”
In her experience working as an O.T. with children and families, she notices that,
“Parents today presume that playing a team sport is superior to playing freely at the park. Don’t get me wrong, I believe sports can offer great value: they teach children responsibility, team ethics, perseverance, patience, stamina, endurance, and the challenge of competition. Problems arise when this belief causes parents to replace active free play with sports, leaving no time for children to engage in imaginative, child-driven, and sensory-balanced play…
…Now it appears that organized sports have all but taken over the extracurricular lives of children. Studies show that 60 percent of boys and 47 percent of girls in the United States are on a sports team by the age of six (Kelley and Carchia 2013)… Practices and games are no longer just once-a-week fun and laid-back sessions. They can number up to three or four times a week for elementary-aged children …
… Not only are organized sports becoming more of a commitment, but children are often playing more than one sport at a time, being driven to siblings activities and games, taking lessons, and joining clubs. Why have sports become so intense? Is this an attempt to keep kids busy? What about letting kids entertain themselves? What about teaching children about balance in life?”*
Really good points. And good food-for-thought regarding overscheduling our children.
4. Use lists.
Image by Hope House Press via Unsplash
Instead of storing the to-do’s in your mind, get them outa’ there and jot them down. Make it a goal to cross off a couple of things a day. Not the whole list!
Use lists for your kidlets and spouse as well. Everyone feels a little less mentally overwhelmed when they can visually acknowledge the tasks at hand and then choose a couple to complete.
Image by Kyson Dana via Unsplash
The mind and body are not separate entities. They are very much connected. When one is unwell, the other will feel the effects. Examine your nutrition and your physical fitness levels.
You don’t have to be a gym buff or jump on the next fad diet. The simple rule that our moms have been telling us for decades is all you need apply: “eat more fruits and vegetables and quit eating junk!”.
A nutrient-dense diet, heavy in plant- based foods is all you need. And for exercise? Take baby for a stroller walk with a friend, go bike riding with the kids, go for a hike or nature walk. You don’t have to go buy a new Under Armour gym outfit and pay for a babysitter (unless that’s your cup of tea). Fresh air and movement are just fine. You should be enjoying yourself at the same time that you’re getting exercise (it’s possible, I promise!).
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For my fellow Christian friends, let’s not underestimate the power of prayer. If you’re mentally overwhelmed, stressed, and reaching your limit, talk to God. Give your worries to Him. He knows the issues you are facing, and He wants to help you.
One of my go-to excerpts from the Bible comes from Matthew 6:25-34 :
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
SO good, right!? What a perfect reminder when life starts to get crazy, and your mind goes on overdrive.
Image by Julian O’hayon via Unsplash
Last but not least, turn it off. All of it. Computer, tablet, cell phone. Just turn it off and forget about your virtual life.
How many of us have spent valuable time, energy, and emotion, managing our social media lives? Pretty much everyone nowadays has some type of social media account. And how easy is it to get caught up in drama? What about those “rant and rave” Facebook groups, or the comments sections of blogs or YouTube videos?
If the virtual world begins to occupy your thoughts or cause you any type of worry, stress, or anxiety – just turn it off. Facebook has a deactivate option. One of the best things I have ever done for myself is turn my Facebook account off for nine months. After that fast, I found that I could more easily disconnect from the online world of drama.
You can do it
I know some of these tips might sound a little daunting. But start a little at a time, maybe with lists for example, then work your way to more of a lifestyle change. I don’t regret it, and I am certain that of you apply these concepts as well, you won’t regret it either!
What some things that you do to keep a clear mind? Do you have any other tips to share? Comment below and let me know!
*Hanscom, Angela J. 2016. Balanced and Barefoot: how unrestricted outdoor play makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children. New Harbinger Publications Inc. Oakland, CA. Pp 70-71.