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May 10

Decluttering 2.0 – Beyond The Basics

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In a previous article I described my experiences with the Konmari method of decluttering. Eliminating unnecessary material things from your life is great, truly, but decluttering 2.0 is realizing there are many other things that are perhaps even more important to cull. The material things are easy because they are seen. Non-material clutter can be more subtle and insidious, but is no less harmful.

Remember, decluttering is a life philosophy first. It is a mindset as well as a process. It is a framework to live your life in a way that brings more happiness and freedom, by getting rid of the useless and negative.

 

Here are a few things to get started on right away:

 

Declutter your inbox:

Email has gone from being one of the greatest time savers in history to one of the greatest time wasters, and is probably an area in your life that could use some improvement. The first and most important thing to do is turn off all push notifications of email from your phone. Before I did this I was checking my email every time I would hear that little dopamine inducing bling. Email is not a phone call or text message. There should be no information in an email that needs action within the next 24 hours. If this is happening to you train the offenders to either text you or call you.

Check emails maybe twice a day and batch respond to everything that needs attention. Unsubscribe to anything you accidentally subscribed to unless it adds value to you more than 50% of the time (this is a totally arbitrary number I made up. Find your own pain point). Report spam to your email provider so you hopefully get less of it. Do NOT unsubscribe from spam you never signed up for, just mark as spam and delete.

Stop responding to and sending little memes, jokes and your opinion on Obama/Trump/global warming or the Federal Reserve. No one gives a crap about your opinion on these matters anyways and you are just cluttering someone else’s life. Be a good human and post this sewage where it belongs: Twitter and Facebook (actually post very sparingly as it is equally annoying, but easier for people to filter).

Only respond to emails that are either necessary, or make you happy. Nicely tell people to stop emailing you things that don’t add value to your life. This should cut your email by 80-90%. Your inbox should bring you joy, not work. Get it there.

 

Declutter your friends:

Let’s face it; most of us have way too many sub-optimal relationships in our lives. This occurs because we change, but we allow the relationships to stay. Our default narrative is the societal lie that friendships should last forever and if they don’t they are a failure. Many of the friendships we form over the years are meant to be only temporary.  How many good friends do you have left over from elementary school? That’s what I thought.

If a relationship is not bringing you joy, then it is no longer useful. It is likely fulfilling no meaningful purpose. Get rid of it. You will do the other person a favor by being honest and letting them move on as well. You will both waste less time. Foster relationships that bring joy, cull those that don’t. It’s that simple.

This is not the same as burning bridges or being a jerk. This is strategic disengagement. Also be open minded enough to come back to a relationship with someone if it serves you both, or if they change a behavior that is toxic to acceptable.

A relationship does not need to be continuous or forever to be meaningful and with purpose.

 

Declutter your computer/smartphone/tablet:

I don’t even need to look at your computer or phone to know you have too many apps/programs/files/etc. visually assaulting your retina every time you turn them on. Get rid of them. Most of them are a waste of time and they probably collect data on you and infringe upon your privacy anyways. You can always reload them if you miss them. You won’t. Make your desktop and home screen clean, simple and beautiful.

 

Declutter your commitments:

This is also a huge category that insidiously infects our lives. I want you to do something right now before reading any further. Take your calendar out and look at everything on it; meetings, social events, all obligations, everything. Now ask yourself the simple question: How many of these bring me joy?

I know this seems silly, but how many things are you doing because you have always done them? Still doing girls night out because you have always done it and you feel obligated, but no longer enjoy it? Running your kids around to 20 extracurricular events that you and they hate so they will be ‘well-rounded’ (and likely learn to have lives just as cluttered as you)? How many of the things on your calendar are a hell yeah?

Start getting rid of the things that aren’t. If you are finding yourself using the word ‘busy’ to describe yourself when people ask how you are doing this section is for you. If you are not smiling on the inside when you use this word your life is messed up. Fix it. Declutter your commitments. This means learning to say no frequently. No should be your default setting when asked to commit to something.

Pro tips:

  • Practice saying no in front of a mirror. You will eventually figure out a way to deliver it without sounding like an asshole.
  • If you are uncomfortable with a ‘hard no’, at least don’t reflexively say yes. Use what I call a ‘soft no’ instead. Say something like “I’ll have to get back to you on that after I check my schedule”.

Declutter your mind:

I saved this for last because it is potentially the most destructive as well as the hardest to recognize and change. Decluttering all other areas of your life will lead automatically to releasing some of the mental clutter, but often times some remains. By mental clutter I refer to the negative emotions and processes that we can get hung up on: guilt, shame, negative self-talk, regret, fear, worry, etc. If you look closely you will notice that these negative thoughts are rooted either in regret about the past, or anxiety about the future.

A clear and uncluttered mind lives as close to the present moment as possible. This is such an easy thing to conceptualize and such a difficult thing to put into practice. This is where the techniques of mindfulness and meditative practices come into play and can be extremely helpful in reducing this mental baggage. If you refuse to participate in a formal meditative practice I would highly suggest you develop an informal one: Walking, running, yoga, listening to music, whatever. Find an activity that releases your mind from these negative feelings and do more of it.

I used to chronically suffer from this. I spent more time worrying about things that have not yet happened than I  did focusing on the things that were happening. I would dwell on the past, wishing I could go back and do something different. None of these thoughts were constructive. These are traps for our mind, and very difficult to extract ourselves from. They lead to fear, self pity and inaction.

A cluttered mind has difficulty taking action.

 

One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always run to simplicity.

-Bruce Lee

 

Conclusion:

Clutter is insidious. It is by its very definition a negative factor in our lives. When it is material clutter we have a better chance of recognizing it, but when it is invisible or abstract it is often in our blind spot. Much of the time we seek happiness through adding things to our lives that we think will bring us joy. The problem is, we are often wrong about this. We are poor at guessing what will indeed make us happy. Decluttering is a shift in mindset from adding things that bring us pleasure to getting rid of things that don’t. Decluttering is happiness through subtraction and one of the most powerful tools we have in finding happiness.

10 comments

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  1. PhysicianOnFIRE

    Applying a decluttering philosophy beyond material goods is great advice, Happy Philosopher. Thanks for sharing.

    Achieving Inbox Zero status is cathartic.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      My aha moment was one morning going through about 25 emails. I deleted 15 of them without even opening. I read but got no value out of 7 more. I realized I was more of less doing this every day of my life. I was making 25 micro decisions before breakfast for no reason other than to fatigue my brain. It is so much nicer to wake up with 2 or 3 emails each morning!

  2. Our Next Life

    Yes! Agree with every word of this! Though I may love having a declutttered home, a clutter-free life is so much more impactful. I’ve accepted that Inbox Zero is not going to happen while I’m still working, and that’s okay. But my friends and commitments are whittled down to the worthwhile ones, and it’s SO much better.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Thank you. I love the phrase ‘clutter-free life’, I may have to use that 🙂

  3. Mortimer

    Great advice here. I’ve started leaving my phone on do not disturb mode so that only my favorite contacts can reach me by phone. It is liberating to not have the visual and audio interruption happening every few minutes. It’s alarming how much energy you can waste responding to all the alerts.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Good tip Mortimer, one I forgot to mention!

  4. Free Range Nation

    Just found your blog and enjoying the topics. I give decluttering workshops and the emphasis is definitely more on the non-physical ‘stuff’ that clutters up our lives and keeps us from reaching our true potential and facing our fears.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Cool, thanks for stopping by.

  5. TheHappyEnvironmentalist

    At my house, we got all Kondo on our physical lives a few months ago and have noticed, as it seems you did too, that we then wanted to get all Kondo on our virtual and relational and mental lives. I think KonMari is kind of a prophet, honestly. Her message is spreading. Thanks for another great post!

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Yeah, once here philosophy clicks you just want to keep going. Getting rid of the physical clutter sets the stage for getting rid of the non-physical clutter, which arguably is more important to purge. She writes some deep wisdom and her philosophy is just beautiful to me.

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