4 Powerful Methods to Declutter Your Life
The fast have always forcefully displaced the slow. The speed at which we do things would have been unimaginable a few decades ago, and yet we still feel slow and unable to keep up with the fast-paced modern society.
It’s the way of life in the 21st century to always cut corners and hit new checkpoints, and to not have time to “clean up” after ourselves.
The fact of the matter is that our mental hygiene is suffering.
The hectic pace of our lives that we struggle to keep up with means that we live messy, and that we live stressfully.
Multiple studies done by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA show that mental health of students keeps slipping even as they perform better and better.
It would not be out of place to say that this new, exciting way of life that our ancestors never got to experience has both its good and bad sides.
While this has been linked to social media on one hand, it appears that such “cheap” leisure might be a symptom and not the root of the problem.
Living fast and living messy means people have less energy to spend on more quality things and healthy experiences that life can offer.
When your room looks like a dump at the end of the day, it’s much easier to lie down on your bed and scroll through cat pictures instead of digging out that book you wanted to read from underneath all the rubble.
There’s not enough time to go through a complete overhaul every seven days only to watch everything sink back into rubble again.
To avoid wasting your time trying to free more time up, you should probably take some Zen pointers: clean as you go, which is how all big restaurants run their staff.
Learning something from these four methods for cleaning your life up, even if you don’t take them to heart and implement in full, will help you make better sense of your life with minimal effort.
METHOD ONE – DON’T PLAN (TOO FAR!) AHEAD
Diving into your day head-first with no plan or safety manual might be a good way to unwind and let the strings go for once, but it’s certainly no way to live your whole life.
That one unemployed, eternally hung-over uncle archetype that hangs around at family gatherings is cool when you’re a kid or have too many responsibilities on hand—but he’s not functional in the long run, is he?
On the other hand, it’s easy to find psychologists talking about decision paralysis: plan too hard and think too much all the time, and you’re bound to a lifetime of suffering.
Planning out every detail of your life, or thinking too much about all the possibilities, is a sure-fire way to burn yourself out.
Giving yourself permission to improvise will help your mind remain focused on what really matters.
If you’re going through your household inventory and find yourself having too many things, you might need to ask yourself a few good questions:
Do I need this now, or will I need it in the foreseeable future?
If things are lying around and you cannot see any use or purpose to them, what’s their point?
Why are they taking up your precious (mental or physical) real-estate, when there are better things that could take their place?
Do you really need that garden gnome your grandma bought on an impulse and left it at your place?
Does this have any use or value?
There’s no excuse to piling up unmatched socks in your closet for months at a time: they won’t spontaneously match themselves.
A spanner for your old car, stray wires or a case of empty generic beer bottles is probably of more use to you outside your life rather than in it.
On the other hand, even a broken lo-fi set might be worth a lot if you can find a buyer, so you should rely on your appraisal skills—with a degree of realism!
Don’t hold on to used local band cassettes in hopes of maybe selling them big one day.
It’ll be much more worth it if you sold them off now, or even gifted them away, freeing space up for your other pursuits.
Finally, do I want this around?
Don’t let a checklist of questions stop you from keeping something around if you know you want it.
We humans are natural nostalgics and beasts of emotion, and sometimes there’s really no straightforward explanation as to why we do what we do.
Maybe those cassettes are there because they remind you of your gritty teen days, and that gnome stuck around because you appreciate the (admittedly, odd) gesture by your grandparents.
Note that these questions aren’t hypotheticals! If you have to ask yourself whether you might potentially need it, chances are that you’re just afraid of letting it go.
This, like all the other methods here, apply the same to both tangible, physical trinkets you might have left lying around and to other, more abstract facets of your life.
You could just as well ask yourself if the nights out with your friends in odd places are worth it: are you there because you don’t want to seem rude, or do you enjoy their company regardless of location?
METHOD TWO – LEARN TO LET GO OF THE REINS
If you like to keep in control at all times, maybe it’s best to (occasionally!) let the reins go for a bit and see where it takes you.
While you should still remain in control over the big things in your life, there’s really no harm in flipping the coin every now and then.
Does it really, really matter whether you get bok choy or ramen take-away?
You might not know whether to go see one movie or the other, when you’re pretty much unsure which one you’ll enjoy more, but picking between the two might seem like a titanic hurdle.
While staying in control over your life has an instrumental effect in maintaining mental health, trying too hard to control every detail of your life is only detrimental to your overall sanity.
There’s nothing more damaging to your career and life than playing the company control freak, and this applies the same to your private life.
Across countless philosophies, from Buddhism to workplace ethics, it’s widely recognized that learning to let go of the little things and letting others do what they want—especially the little things!—goes a long way.
You’re one person, and your limited energy and attention are going to go to waste being divided like that.
Being too much in control and needing to manage everything has been long recognized as a major source of anxiety.
People who seek out more responsibility than they can handle, and who generally cannot accept anything below their inflated mark—perfectionists, for the most part—have been shown to grow insecure and anxious when not constantly flying the plane.
As such, even the most minor failure or mistake is a major source of insecurity and tension. And yes, this literally means getting nervous after accidentally dropping a pile of papers.
It may be strange to you to read this, but there is also a chance that you are this person, and if that is the case, this could be pretty useful for you.
Learn to turn on the autopilot and let the plane fly itself for a while.
The complexity of the modern everyday means there’s just that many more things to keep track of, but we’re stuck being taught we have to have everything under our fingertips like in the 1800s.
This applies even to your interpersonal relationships.
More often than not, we’re being brought into stressful situations regarding our personal relationships by trying to control every aspect about them.
Improvising a date night instead of planning it out down to the minute might sound scary at first, but it’s ultimately the best thing you can do for both your friends and yourself.
METHOD THREE – MAKE COMPROMISES
People are fickle, and everyone wants to have things their own way.
Being inconsiderate of others’ wishes has a tendency to, more often than not, lead us into a situation where we lock horns with the people we’re meant to work with.
This is true regardless of situation or age: we could easily say that the types of conflict most common between us and our peers are the same as those we had with, for example, our parents if we had a strict upbringing.
Ultimately, this is just our unwillingness to compromise and let others have a say in things.
Compromise is one of the main drivers of positive, healthy relationships—so much so that it’s even been called an art or an essential skill for a healthy life, applying both in professional and casual settings. Learning how to compromise is game of balance.
While thinking about how to appease others and what to concede to them, we have to remember not to wholly let go of our own needs.
There’s no point to a compromise if we give everything up (unless you’re a monk of sorts).
Like a good bargain, a compromise is a game of give and take: you can’t (and should not) walk away with everything, but neither should you give up on everything you fought for.
Set your boundaries and ground rules early: what are you absolutely unwilling to negotiate about? Is there anything you would not be so reluctant to surrender?
If you find yourself having a problem compromising because there’s too little you are willing to talk about, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
In the same vein, don’t be too eager to concede things to others. If someone keeps wanting you to agree with their ideas, you might be looking at someone unwilling to compromise themselves.
Compromises don’t have to only be a thing of the moment: you can also manage long-term compromises: you could concede on a choice today, and would be well within your rights to expect that your partner do the same for you tomorrow.
Learning how to make quality compromises isn’t merely a game of giving up in equal amount as you’re receiving: some people really do not want much, and would be satisfied with a deal less beneficial to them.
Learn how to negotiate only so that the other side is happy, and not beyond that.
Also, don’t forget to listen to those people around you.
It can happen sometimes that we have a chance for compromise, but get tied up with our thoughts and beliefs that we don’t even notice how the other person is ready to compromise, and we are the ones who make it hard, so that might be a significant point to consider.
Some people just do not take well to compromise, and it might not be a good idea to try and work together with them if you see it’s not working out.
Sometimes, the winning move to a losing game is to simply not play at all. Even compromise should have its limits.
METHOD FOUR – DON’T BE AFRAID OF GETTING SOME HELP
This one might be the most important lesson: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone coming to your aid. As Brent Gleeson puts it succinctly for Forbes, “good leaders are […] good at placing the right people in the appropriate roles”.
Some of this ties into our society’s obsession with keeping things all under our own control, or a fear of sharing the spotlight.
Fact is, great leaders are made better, and not hindered, by good teams that have their back.
Learning to accept defeat and calling in a helping hand gets the job done in a way that frustration and brute force merely hope to, and not everything has to be a solo project.
Think of your favorite bands: chances are, they are almost always projects with two or more people. The age-old adage of “if you want something done right, do it yourself” has only done more harm than good.
If you’re having a hard time communicating your problem to someone, your first reaction shouldn’t be to solo it—you should try to communicate it better.
Sometimes, you might just need a second look at something that you would have otherwise done yourself.
Novelists and authors swear by going through several rounds of proofreading by so-called beta readers/first readers, even if it’s just family and friends.
People who haven’t seen you go through the whole ordeal and who are still fresh on the topic can see things you might miss out on.
Don’t be afraid of being good at one thing, and admitting you might not be an expert at something else.
There’s nothing more infuriating—and counterproductive—than a know-it-all who wants to play a jack of all trades, but isn’t really a master of any.
Remember Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s endless comments about things he doesn’t know enough about? Academic linguists sure do, for one.
This all is related to all the other methods here, and is really a sum of them all: overthinking, over planning and being unwilling to concede ground to others makes a bit of a mess out of a person.
It’s natural to expect us to not know how to do everything at once: even the esteemed polymath Leonardo da Vinci had his iconic following of pupils and assistants.
HOW TO CLEAN YOUR ACT UP?
It’s hard to expect change to happen all of a sudden, and forcing it all at once is, at best, just counterproductive.
Instead, you should think about how to apply these lessons to your life in bite-sized chunks.
Think more about what you’re doing, clean as you go, be careful not to leave more of a mess, and the butterfly effect (small changes now leading to big changes down the line) will take care of the rest on its own.
And trust that no, it will not lead to more mess.
Work on many small things at once instead of trying to tackle one big thing at a time.
Your life is more like a lush garden of succulents and shrubs than one single tree in an orchard.
Are you already in control of things, though? Think long and hard about some of these questions:
- Am I happy with the amount of free time I have? Is it too little or too much?
- Are my relationships with people healthy? Can I count on my partner or friends to help?
- Do I have a clear view of my projects, or is my head too deep in the details?
- Are my work and living environments in a state conducive to focus?
- Am I visibly wasting time on something that isn’t doing me much good?
If you’re already personally satisfied with your answers to these questions, you’re on the good track. If not, don’t you think it’s maybe time to reimagine your approach to things?
As an appendix to this article, check our these sweet hacks for decluttering:
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