Home Mindful Living Do You Need To Go On A Clutter Diet?

Do You Need To Go On A Clutter Diet?

by Vidya Sury April 3, 2018 23 comments
Clutter Diet #AtoZChallenge #declutter

I’ve referred to clearing the clutter from time to time in various posts. While I’ve been working on it, I am nowhere close to the target. Yes, I am inching towards those goals, but it is taking far longer than I anticipated.

In the meantime, I’ve realized that not only am I dealing with physical clutter—I am also piling on the mental clutter.

It is easier to spot physical clutter piling up. All I have to do is look around to assess my problem. With mental clutter, it is tougher.  I’ve tried blaming my hectic schedule and stress. But in my heart, I just know I’ve been overthinking stuff and my brain is overloaded. And of course, I am super-stressed that I have not done as much as I intended to about the physical clutter—typical Zeigarnik effect.

What do I do?

Why, even today’s post, which I had meant to schedule last night—didn’t happen. I just couldn’t get around to writing it yesterday. A big high-five to those who write and schedule days before!  I had planned a couple of other topics, but… eh!

I thought—first things first!

Let’s clear that mental clutter and put it on a solid diet!

Because really, I need a little Zen right now. Nothing makes me Zen-ner than setting my timer and writing. I always find that it helps me organize my thoughts better, reframe my worries, and has me smiling—or usually grinning—again.

The problem with mental—and emotional—clutter is that it holds us back from what we are capable of doing. It is natural to recycle incidents, memories, people, places—all of which drain our energy and stop us from being happy. If we don’t do anything about it, we develop an unhealthy pattern. We become stuck in that lousy place in our minds and mess up a perfectly wonderful present and future.

So, say no to mental clutter and take steps.

Here’s the sequence that works for me—or at least takes the edge off when I feel overwhelmed.

The brain dump

When something bothers me to the point where it interferes with my routine and I can’t function—I am talking about delaying making dinner and sometimes, even coffee (GASP!), I just sit down, set the timer, and literally vomit my thoughts out on paper. Now the trick here is, NO thinking allowed. Just write. Pour it all out. Purge. No pausing to wonder how you are going to get it all done or when. About fifteen minutes ought to do it. To quote my Mom,

Diary writing is far more than a way of exorcising one’s unhappiness. The effect is extraordinary. Distanced on paper, troubles shrink to their true size. You can regard them objectively and see how temporary they are”….Devi, my Mother

I know she says diary writing but I am sure she will assure you that it applies to all personal journaling. I generally make a list when I do a brain dump—and you’ll understand why when you see the next step. Not only does it bring clarity but also helps figure out the most important stuff: priorities. One of my favorite words.

Make a priority list

See? This is my organizational magic saber. My mental clutter has no chance of survival once I have that saber. So what IS it? Okay, it is a metaphor. In reality, it is a priority list extracted from that brain dump. A list of just 5 things that absolutely MUST be accomplished on a given day. Thing is, even when I think “I’ve done nothing today,” I am not even referring to the following:

  • Making the bed
  • Making the coffee
  • Cutting vegetables
  • Cooking lunch, packing boxes
  • Clearing up
  • Doing the dishes
  • Bathing/eating
  • Hanging out clothes to dry, folding dry clothes, and putting them away
  • Some dusting/sweeping/mopping
  • Answering the phone/doorbells
  • Straightening up the living room/study/other places

…and so on and so forth.

Do you see what I mean? Every little thing takes time. And occupies a good chunk of the day. No wonder all that mental clutter seems overwhelming. Picking just 5 things makes sense and is more realistic. Doable. Easier to focus on. And feel a sense of accomplishment when you’ve completed those things.

So pick those 5 things. Or even 3 is okay. Ignore everything else on the to-do list.


I found that my biggest issue was keeping track of all that stuff I have to do. This is why I maintain lists. To remember. I am supposed to have a good memory, but even so, manage to forget things. And that is so aggravating. To remember important dates, I have two desk calendars. One for work and one for home. Google Calendar is great but I find it easier to work with a physical calendar. To store stuff I want to read, links, etc. I use OneNote on my computer and love it. Any ideas, notes, references, drafts go into it, and the best part? It is searchable.


Pause and take stock

So great to be busy but always being on the run without pausing to review only makes things worse. Set aside some time to take stock of how you are using your time. For me, this is usually when I have my morning coffee and before I go to bed, when I make my priority list for the next day—those absolutely must-do things. This reflection helps to identify why I am overwhelmed and allows me to figure out what I could have done to manage things better. Looking back helps me move forward more confidently.

You gotta move it, move it, move it

Nothing shakes things up better than physical activity. Whatever else you compromise on, never compromise on exercise. It calms and clears your mind and puts things in perspective. And of course, it is good for your health. In fact, on days when my son is overwhelmed with classes and assignments and a bunch of other stuff, I tell him to go for a brisk walk to clear his mind and just pick three things to do and do them! For me, the following activities work wonders: walking, housework, washing clothes, cleaning out a shelf, and so on. Yes, I love housework. The cheapest way to keep fit. Plus win-win.

Clearing clutter is all about getting rid of the unnecessary to help ourselves focus on the things that really matter.

And that’s how I get rid of my mental clutter.

What do you do?

What does your clutter diet look like?

Clutter isn’t just the stuff in the closet. It’s anything that gets between you and the life that you want to be living, whether it is in your home, in your head, in your heart or on your hips. #AtoZChallenge #Declutter #Mindfulness

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Shalzmojo April 3, 2018 at 7:57 pm

Oh dear this sounds so much like me; on top of everything I love to lapse into daydreams and then scurry as I have lsot time 😉
I do make lists but…………….. As you say everything takes time and I often end up skipping some important things that make me mad and hungry and tired and well just frustrated!
I wish I could find a solution to my procrastination and get on with it – any ideas?

Vidya Sury April 3, 2018 at 8:10 pm

Hugs Shalini! I think we all go through that phase. But as long as it is temporary, it is fine. Never compromise on self-care when you get caught up with stuff. Make a routine. In fact, what works for me is finishing up all the cooking and planning snacks for the day before I settle down to work. I also keep portion sized snacks in the fridge (I am diabetic). I make meal plans for the week. Takes 15 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. Also, make a loose schedule for the day and try to stick to it as much as you can. (here is a post on 15 ways to beat procrastination) I am sure you will overcome it!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Clutter Diet

Shilpa Gupte April 3, 2018 at 8:21 pm

You know, I really am quite disrespectful of myself. Seeing all that you have given importance to (cleaning,washing, making bed etc), I am sure I am doing fine, much better, actually, than I give myself credit for!
All of these activities maybe mundane everyday chores, but not doing them will make us look really bad! And, inefficient, too! 😛
I too make a list when there are too many things on my plate, and then sort them through, tossing that which can be done later, prioritising that which is important. And, I agree..making lists is one of the best things!
I will remember about the brain dump, for sure. Write things down and let it all out. That is what I need to do on a daily basis.

Soumya April 3, 2018 at 8:42 pm

Why do I feel like crying after reading this? There is so much going on right now that I’m losing my grip on things and on my sanity. I know I need to declutter, but I don’t know where to start!

I’ll be re-reading this post again and again, to sort atleast somethings out.

Vidya Sury April 3, 2018 at 8:56 pm

Hugs! I think as a starting point grab a girlfriend and rant the heck out of your system without language filter. That reallllly helps ventilate. That’s my secret! Sometimes life’s a you-know-what. And decluttering is never easy.
Vidya Sury recently posted…Clutter Diet

Arti April 3, 2018 at 9:00 pm

Hi Vidya.
My very wise yoga teacher often tells us to practise being a human being, rather than a human doing.
Being helps me de-clutter.
Multitasking is the opposite of awareness, so ever since I’ve retired from that definition of efficiency, life has been rather zen-like:)

~Lee~ April 11, 2018 at 4:20 pm

Human BEing, not human DOing. There is wisdom in that!

Shilpa Garg April 3, 2018 at 10:20 pm

Ah! I needed to read this today. I have received nasty news one after the other today and that has added so much stress and irritation in my day. I have wasted so much of my productive time by worrying that my heart and head are all clogged up. I think, I am going to do the brain dump right after this. Thanks for the direction and a dose of positivity, Vidya. You are a rockstar!! ♥

Heather Erickson April 3, 2018 at 11:23 pm

I love the Peter Walsh comment at the end. At times my life feels terribly cluttered. It all adds to stress. I did a “digital declutter” in January. No digital gadgets or going online for a month. It was very freeing. The trouble is, I went back to it. Time to start again.

Shalini April 4, 2018 at 12:17 am

I make lists too. Sometimes it works after ticking off things one by one. Thanks for this amazing post!

anupriya April 4, 2018 at 8:18 am

My husband often laughs at me for making too many lists and making them for most trivial things. But it really helps me get on with life. Thanks for letting me know that there are others like me too.

Ramya Abhinand April 4, 2018 at 9:08 am

oh God, I feel the clutter quite often in my mind… There just seems so much to do, My lists are endless and then they carry forward the next day. I have begun following Shailajas Time blocks and that seems to be helping me considerably. SO thats how I was able to drat and schedule A to Z posts in advance this year around. 🙂

Karen April 4, 2018 at 10:00 am

I am a big fan of lists although sometimes I am guilty of keeping the lists in my head which doesn’t help with the mental clutter. I also read once that if you’re having trouble sleeping because your mind is racing that you should write things down. I’ve tried it a few times and it really helped to clear my mind so that I could fall asleep.

Akshata April 4, 2018 at 12:31 pm

I am a very organised person and plan ahead, this means I am constantly busy but dont face much mental clutter. Like for the AtoZ Is scheduled more than 10 posts in advance as I knew that writing on weekdays will be an absolute disaster. I guess each of us has to sort out what works best for us but avoiding mental clutter is a must

G Angela April 4, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Relevant post vidya, I just read detoxing from Vasantha vivek’s post and this is like a continuation for me, completely agree with you. I am amused at the way you coin the word “Clutter Diet” – thank you for making me smile, agree with you and i loved your mom Devi”s quote… thank you for inspiring vidya- I make a list and keep checking and marking to ensure that I have done what i intended for the day and if I miss out I carry forward the next day- learnt to live one day at a time and loved the concept of brain dump. Thank you for sharing:)

Mayuri Nidigallu April 4, 2018 at 3:26 pm

I like the phrase you’ve coined, Vidya. ‘Clutter Diet’ God knows I need to get onto one asap! So much emotional clutter has been choking my mind that I can’t function! Thanks for sharing another invaluable nugget of wisdom with us.

Nilanjana Bose April 4, 2018 at 4:40 pm

Physical clutter – it gets sorted every time I move houses so I just wait for the next move 🙂 Mental clutter – ah, now getting rid of that is a challenge harder than the A-Z. But coffee and a brisk walk always help.

Suzanne Sapsed April 4, 2018 at 5:18 pm

We have been slowly reducing our physical clutter, what a task! But when I go into one of the rooms we’ve done now I feel like it’s a huge accomplishment. It was hard at first, passing on items we’ve had forever, but then, as my husband said, if we don’t, then the kids will have the hassle when we die! Cheerful but right. However, mental and emotional baggage is not so easy to clear away!

Jemima Pett April 5, 2018 at 12:23 am

I’ve had a weekend of spring cleaning – with the ulterior motive of wanting to sell my house. It’s amazing how much can be thrown out, although quite a few things then emerged to be ‘filed’ somewhere else. The mental clutter is more of a problem, and like your approach. Notes are my saviour. I think I need a more detailed list to get everything done. Emotional baggage – well, that’s part of my decision to move, so at least O’m feeling good about my decisions at present.
Keep well

Ashvini Naik April 5, 2018 at 4:26 pm

Oh! I just am so much in love with your post, Vidya because it has everything that I relate to.

Yes, I do make lists too & one thing that I imbibed in myself was including even the ‘apparently’ silliest things up there. Just like you mentioned the chores at home too. Unless & until I check them off by the end of the day, I don’t feel accomplished. And that’s pretty much what Shailaja has been inspiring us into as well!

Well, yes, I used to be the diary kind of a person in my early teens; thanks to my infamous memory! But then I did get trolled for noting down such things & even cramming my pin board with sticky notes!😁

I guess I still need time to tune to the Google calendar & until then I’ll be cool with my physical journals. It’s funny though being a tech human, I’ve got my own old school ways!

Another incredible way of decluttering my mind is by talking to my bosom buddies. I just talk my heart out & it just sets the toggling switch of my stress machine off!

Absolutely love this post, Vidya! So glad I read this.

Vidya Sury April 5, 2018 at 5:27 pm

Welcome to my blog, Ashvini. Nice meeting you and thanks for your comment!

Mindfulness and personal development are among the core concepts of my blog and I’ve been writing about them for decades.

Making lists is good to enjoy a sense of accomplishment, and so is talking to your BFFs as I said in my reply to one of the comments here.
In fact, time blocking, also known as the Pomodoro technique, is the brainchild of Francesco Cirillo during late 1980s and has successfully been changing the lives of millions. It is an amazing concept and so many project management apps have been built around it.
Vidya Sury recently posted…Daily Dayenu #WednesdayWisdom

Birgit April 5, 2018 at 4:55 pm

I have actually 5aken something you wrote Bout quite a while ago….go into a room and take out one thing to give to Salvation Army or donate to some other place. I still have tons of clutter..hahahaaa. I think my mind is exploding and I need to readjust and cleanse the mind with meditation. The other night I kept having the same dream but added to it and I would wake up out of breath as if I was holding my breath. I actually think I may have (ad a panic attack. I will try this now and let’s see if I can declutter my mind and my place.

susan scott April 5, 2018 at 6:46 pm

Such a great post Vidya thank you! Mental cluttering is such a real thing. Your Mom was wise indeed (like mother like daughter) and there IS a way to minimise the anxiety as you say, vomit the words out if need be! Break the pattern of being stuck!


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