AHHHHHHH, where are my keys? Where’s my favorite top? Ding. Ding. [Cellphone going off with facebook and Instagram notifications] Which pair of shoes shall I wear? This is usually how every day starts off for me before I leave the house.
In a digital age, where we are constantly bombarded with emails, 20 different news and social media notifications, and telemarketer calls, how are we suppose to stay calm and focused? To top it off, our homes are exploding with junk in our closets, cabinets, and workspace. Have you ever thought “why the HELL do I need so much STUFF”?
De-clutter all the way to happiness sounds like a bold statement to make (AND it is, but it’s totally possible). The first image that comes to mind when we hear the word ‘de-clutter” is probably stacks on stacks of boxes with DONATE written across it. That is one way to interpret the word. But, I’m talking about not only de-cluttering your physical surroundings, but your mind as well. To break it down further, I’m saying to remove all things that do not add value to your life till you are left with the things and thoughts that bring you joy and lets you focus on the more important and joyous aspects of life. It sounds absurd and is definitely a big project, but one that will provide a very positive return on investment. Time and time again, studies have proven clutter negatively affects the quality of our lives. It drains us of our time, money, energy and productivity.
I don’t know how many times I’ve searched for a pair of earrings to match my otherwise perfect outfit 2 minutes before I have to step out of the door, and I can’t find it anywhere. And of course, I’m already late to work or a party, so the stress and anxiety are building up, and now I’m leaving the house frustrated, frantic and sweating instead of calm and relaxed. I’ve ruined my mood, and this situation blocks my ability to think clearly about my meeting coming up. Compounded stress will not only decrease productivity, but also result in earlier aging, health issues, and mental instability.
Even our garages are getting used as additional storage rather than for the purpose they were built for – parking cars (what a shocker). Here’s a picture our what the garage at my parent’s house looks like.
I’m not saying there aren’t the exceptional few who are very organized and have everything perfectly labeled and stored away in the right places, but I could count the number of people I know with those organizational skills on one hand. Even then, having A LOT of stuff properly organized and stored away doesn’t mean we need or even really want what is in those boxes. We keep all this stuff because we build an unhealthy attachment to materialistic objects. How often are you ACTUALLY using these items?
I know the task of decluttering seems daunting, but just take it one step at a time. It’s not a race, so do it at your own pace and do it right. Here are several strategies to your journey of decluttering.
Trim down those closets and drawers
Our inherent problem is having too much and still wanting more. How many times are you looking for something to wear and hear yourself saying I don’t have what I need and go out and buy more? It’s a vicious cycle day after day, week after week, and the reality is the next thing we buy does not bring us the happiness we seek.
Decluttering is different from spring cleaning or selecting a few items for The Salvation Army. It’s a concious act of evaluating each item you own and asking yourself whether it brings you joy and happiness. If you think you need all that stuff, you don’t – I promise you don’t NEED 40 pairs of shoes, 30 sweaters, 20 shades of lipstick or 4 different kinds of dinner plate sets. You don’t need it, and if you are like me and are super indecisive and get anxiety, it’s actually quite unhealthy for you.
Here’s why: We take important decisions each day, from how to handle a difficult client to dinner decisions to making weekend travel plans. With all the natural stress that comes along with decision-making related to work and family, we can help ourselves out by avoiding additional layers of stress.
From your closets, discard any clothes you have not worn in the last one year. Some clothes will be easy to pull out cause you don’t like them anymore, but remember, if you don’t love it and haven’t worn it in a while, most likely you are never going to wear it. There are plenty of ways to donate your stuff while doing some good in the process. After you have tidied up your closet space, have assigned boxes for different seasons instead of keeping everything hung all year round – make selecting items easy.
Challenge for Thought: I came across Project 333, and haven’t tried it myself, but hope to start soon. Project 333 is a fashion challenge that invites you to dress for 3 months using 33 items or less, which includes clothes, jewelry, accessories, and shoes. What you can have in addition to the 33 items is sentimental jewelry, workout clothes, and sleepwear. The purpose of the challenge is to see whether you can be creative and style yourself for three months using the same 33 items. When I read about it, it made me think of going backpacking but staycation-style. Find out more about this challenge.
Coming out of the closet
Next, move on to the rest of your house and work area in the same fashion. Clean out under those bathroom sinks, beds,storage closets, 100 junk drawers, magazines and textbooks you have saved from 20 years ago, garage, basement, and any other nook and cranny. When evaluating every item, remember to ask yourself “does this bring me joy?”. If it does, keep it; if not, discard it. It’s as simple as that. Get to a point where you know where everything is and it’s purpose.
Micheal Cho, of Lifehacker.com states, “Whether it be your closet or office desk, excess things in your surroundings can have a negative impact on your ability to focus and process information.”
Keep fewer objects on tables and desks, and away from the line of sight. Remove unnecessary documents from your computer files, and transfer older but necessary files to an external hard drive or to the cloud. This will give you available space on your computer, which in turn, will allow it to run faster, save you time, and alleviate stress.
Your daily routine
Plan out your day in the morning hour by hour and try to stick to it. This will help you from getting flustered with the sheer number of thoughts and tasks entering your mind. Take on one task at a time. There is no such thing as being an efficient multitasker – that’s task switching when you move your attention from one task to another and then back to the original one. You can not successfully work on multiple tasks all at one time while still giving each task your 100% attention. Be more efficient by dedicating all your attention to one task at a time, and the transition from one task to the next will be smoother allowing for more time on activities that bring you joy.
Inject time to disengage from the world and engage with yourself. It seems counter-intuitive for me to tell you to be more efficient, but slow down and take the time to reflect, but both are equally as important. Enjoy the quiet windows of time in-between tasks. Go for a walk outside, and get some fresh air.
Write down your thoughts
Some reports say humans have over 50,000 thoughts a day… that’s a crap ton of thoughts. With some many thoughts, our mind is bound to get bogged down and distracted. By writing down our more concrete and vivid thoughts, we are able to control them from continuously running through your mind, and getting all jumbled up. Our mind wants something to be done with these thoughts, so whether you take any real action or not, the mind will interpret the note-taking as action and allow you to move your attention elsewhere. Also, don’t overthink every thought – not all of them need to be watered and cared for.
Just Turn off
The digital age has given us a new way of communicating to others, but the super easy access to the world and everyone comes with a price. Social media and junk mail (cough, cough: promotional emails) are distractions in our lives when not used in controlled amounts. Most of us know when we go from a little to too much, but if you aren’t sure where on the spectrum you lie, just start counting the number of times you grab your phone per hour. According to a study done by Deloitte, Americans, between the ages of 25-34, on average check their phones 50 times a day, but I’ve heard numbers to an upwards of 150 times. Last year, I deleted my Facebook app (cause that was my vice) for two months, and it was an eye-opening and rewarding experience. Initially, for the first week or so, I grabbed my phone every 5 minutes attempting to open FB, only to remember I deleted it. But as days went on, I stopped being as dependent on my phone. I also had an epiphany realizing my life changes very little by knowing what is happening in others’ lives.
So, here’s the solution: turn it all off for a little bit every day, and don’t cheat by counting the time you are sleeping. The same survey done by Deloitte showed that Americans are using their phones while dining out, shopping, and watching television. What happened to living in the moment and giving others your undivided attention? Well, everyone’s doing it, so it seems that this is how we are supposed to live life now, but I challenge you to be better than that and guide others to put their phones down as well.
Don’t go to your phone the minute you wake up, and don’t let checking the news be your excuse. The news is exactly that, it’s news. It will not have changed 2 hours later, well updated but its already in the past. Start your morning waking up with a clear mind and take the time to be grateful for everything in your life. For the last 6 months, I start every morning with 30 minutes of meditation focused on my breathing and tuning out all thoughts. I feel relaxed starting my day and cruise through the day more poised, balanced and productive. Give it a try.
Distance Unhealthy Relationships
As a child, my dad urged me to choose my friends carefully, because the quality of your life is partly determined by the people you surround yourself with. I never paid much attention to him then, but as I have grown up, I definitely believe his advice to be true. Spend some time over the next few weeks listening carefully to the people you hang out or communicate with and pay attention to how those interactions make you feel – these people can be family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances on the bus, etc. These feelings can be feelings of joy, happiness, excitement, sadness, anxiety, fear (the list can go on forever). Feelings don’t have to be categorized into positive of negative, cause even anxiety can be a good thing sometimes, but rather into healthy and unhealthy. Try to distance yourself from people that bring out unhealthy feelings or are wasting your time. Learn to say no to people asking you for favors that will not bring you joy. Learn to take care of yourself first.
These are ways to reduce stress in our lives that are easily achievable and can be done immediately. Everyone I talk to is always complaining about being stressed. Some stresses seem out of our control to reduce, such as work or family pressures (which they are not, but that’s for a later time), but for the positive lifestyle changes we can make fairly easily and quickly, it’s a no-brainer. Freeing up our mind from the daily stress of completing insignificant tasks allows us to increase the amount of concentration we give to important tasks helping us accomplish more in the day and add real value, create more time to decompress and feel more relaxed and get better sleep.