Cleaning experts agree: If your home is cluttered, it's going to affect all areas of your life. (The same can be said for your workspace). A disorganized home goes-hand-in-hand with a disorganized life -- and affects your well-being, your productivity, your relationships and even your health.
However, there's more to de-junking your life than just the dirty work of tidying up. The decision to clean up -- whether it's your home, your career, your relationships or even your body -- is as much a mental and emotional action as a physical one. The "mental clutter" in your head like unrealistic expectations, guilt, seemingly impossible-to-overcome obstacles, fear, stress and poor time management skills can hold you back from living well.
So what you can do to clean up the internal clutter? In his latest book, Enough Already! Clearing the Mental Clutter to Become the Best You expert cleaning guru Peter Walsh tackles this very subject. Walsh offers these tips to help get you on the right track.
Create a vision
If you don't know where you're going, it will be harder to figure out how to get there. Visualizing your goals isn't about holding onto idealized (and impossible) versions of your life. Instead, it's about clarifying your priorities so you can plan your time and actions accordingly. Each chapter of Walsh's book -- relationships, money, work, family and health -- starts with an activity asking you to define your vision of how you'd like these things to be.
For example, when it comes to your health and your body you don't have to meet anyone's ideals about being thin and trim. Instead, ask yourself how you feel about your health right now, and what you want and expect from your body as you age. If you want to be active and healthy into your 80s (and beyond), what do you need to do now to ensure that future?
What's stopping you from reaching your vision? It's time to start getting rid of obstacles that are standing in your way. These obstacles can be physical or emotion barriers that prevent us from succeeding. Ask yourself: what is getting in the way of your ideal situation?
For instance, if you want better control of your finances you might it difficult without an organizational strategy or filing system. If you don't know how to track your spending, how can you find ways to cut back? Even keeping your credit card on hand can be a barrier to a debt-free life or well-funded retirement. Changing your financial situation will take some physical measures to get organized, but it may also require re-thinking your emotional relationship to the "stuff" you want to buy.
How can you identify obstacles? If you find yourself saying "I'll do x when I have the money/free time/space…" chances are you're facing some kind of barrier.
Time is one the biggest barriers against accomplishing our goals because it's seems like there is never enough of it. However, you can't expect a healthy body if you don't take the time to exercise and prepare healthy meals, and better relationships with loved ones won't happen if you don't make people a priority in your life.
So how can you tackle the time issue? Major changes like completely de-junking your home office or tackling a budget may require setting aside a block of time (like an afternoon or a day). However, some goals like a healthier lifestyle can't be changed in a day -- they require permanent lifestyle choices. Walsh details many strategies in his book, like taking 20 minutes each day out of your lunch hour to tidy up your desk or turning off the TV to make time for exercise. The trick is to commit time on a regular basis to meet your goals so that your changes become habit.
We can't make changes on our own because our lives are interconnected with others around us like our family, friends and coworkers. In many cases, the changes require working with others -- like working with the members of your household to keep the home tidy and make sure the chores get done, or discussing spending habits with your partner to deal with financial worries.
Where can you start? Share your goals and plans -- but take the time to help others understand why they are beneficial. Get input from others on how to implement new changes so they feel like they are part of the process. Make sure expectations and responsibilities are clear. For instance, in the section on money Walsh discusses budgeting and spending habits. Ongoing communication and cooperation between members of a household is essential in order to reach your financial goals. Some steps, like keeping track of every item you purchase, will only work if everyone cooperates.
Communication also clears some of the confusion -- don't let your brain get cluttered with what you think others believe or expect. Get issues out in the open so you won't be worrying about "what-ifs".
We all have to draw the line somewhere. Establishing boundaries gives us a mental guide to what is or is not "allowed" when trying to meet our goals. Creating a budget is one kind of boundary, as is eating food only in designated areas (like in the kitchen or dining room, but not in front of the TV or computer).
Why are limits important? Walsh warns that we often use "being too busy" or "overwhelmed" as excuses to avoid the things that need to get done -- like exercising on a regular basis. Learning to say "no" and not taking on more commitments than you can handle means you can't hide behind the excuses. You'll be better able to find time to spend on activities that support the kind of person you want to be and the kind of life you want to live.
Boundaries can also keep the physical clutter around the home and office to a minimum if you designate certain spots for certain items -- like paperwork only in the filing cabinet, or files on your computer in designated folders.
Once you've got an idea of where you want to go and how you can get there, it's time to turn planning into action. Specifically, what can you do?
- Explore and research. Do what you can to develop new skills, make new connections with people and discover new things that will support your goals – like a community hiking group if you're focussing on your health. Walsh also adds to read books that inspire you, and listen to people whose opinion and experience you value. Try new things and see what works for you.
- Make small changes. You've got big goals, but small steps can help you reach them. Walsh advises to start with small, reasonable goals, and start weeding out those activities like watching TV or shopping for more "stuff" that don't help you meet them. Break larger goals into smaller steps that you can accomplish more easily.
- Accept imperfections. Don't get discouraged if things don't go smoothly. Walsh notes that you can't expect to be successful all of the time, and being too hard on yourself will weaken rather than strengthen you.
Live in the present (and plan for tomorrow)
Clearing up any kind of clutter involves letting go. In this case, getting rid of guilt and unrealistic expectations will help clear your mind and your space.
For example, one of the problems Walsh frequently encounters is people holding on to items for that undefined point in the future when they'll have a bigger house. Holding onto items -- and expectations --that aren't possible right now just adds to the clutter and confusion. Sometimes you have to let go of unfulfilled dreams and guilt along the way.
Instead, Walsh advocates working with what you've got right now. Even though you're looking ahead to the future, your life in the present should be the priority -- especially if you want to meet your goals.
Moving forward also means letting go of the past, or more importantly how things got done in the past. The choices you make moving forward should be based on what you have to work with and your future goals.
Face your fears
If you really want to change, you'll have to do some things that you're uncomfortable with. Maybe it's asking your boss for a performance review, seriously examining your financial status or addressing unchecked medical issues with your doctor. If you ignore a mounting debt, a relationship problem or a suspicious mole, you won't meet your goals and disaster might not be far behind.
In addition, fear can keep you locked into situations that are less than ideal and even harmful, like a bad relationship or a stressful job.
Walsh notes that facing your fears meanings acknowledging and "owning" your problems. You'll have to face hard truths and find answers to the tough questions you'd rather avoid. In the end, he notes, the experience is liberating.
You've spent enough time chastising yourself for what you're doing wrong, but rewards can also be a powerful motivator. Making changes isn't easy, so it's important to celebrate your successes whether they're big or small. Take time to acknowledge and enjoy the benefits of your new choices, whether it's a tidier home, better money management or better health. Note the positive affects on your life, like a positive outlook, more energy, less stress and a happier life.
While his book offers more detailed advice on each of these strategies, the theme that runs throughout is a powerful motivator: Clearing the clutter from your life isn't just a physical activity -- you have to focus on cleaning up your mind and your heart as well.
Change won't be easy, but like the clutter it's effects will trickle in other areas of your life – this time in a good way.
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