Monday, June 7, 2010

Decluttering A Cluttered Mind

It happens to everyone sooner or later. You crawl into bed, turn out the light, close your eyes...and suddenly your mind is like the freeway during morning rush hour. Things left undone, plans for your son's birthday party, an article you read in the paper that you want to remember to discuss with your sister, the grocery list you forgot to write down, projects, people, appointments, ideas are swimming in your brain keeping sleep at bay even though your body is exhausted.

During the day, it's not much better. You flit from one thing to another, never seeming to finish anything. As you unpack the groceries you just bought, you suddenly remember the oil you needed for cooking tonight's supper, or the special dessert your husband expressly asked you to pick up. Now, you have to waste time with a second trip to the store. Or, you are half-way through preparing dinner when you remember that your husband said you were dining out with his boss and his wife tonight! "What's wrong with me?" you wonder. "Am I losing my mind?"

The short answer is "no, you're not losing it." But perhaps you've misplaced it under the mound of things you've shoved in there, willy-nilly, like your junk drawer or that back closet where things get dumped until "later." Your mind isn't lost, it's just cluttered. So, how do you unclutter it?
  • Write things down, whether you use pen and paper or an electronic alternative (such as a Palm Pilot or an app on your iPod). Now, instead of having to remember everything in your head, all you have to remember is where you put your notebook or PDA! To solve that problem, designate a spot for it--your purse, your desk, a corner of the kitchen counter--wherever you will be sure to see it. Assign it a "home," and be consistent in putting it there after every use.
  • Make lists, then organize and prioritize your them: appointments, birthdays/anniversaries, meetings, chores, errands, etc. Make it a habit to review your lists for the week on Saturday night so you are prepared for the week ahead.
  • Enter all appointments, special dates, and meetings into your calendar, whether a paper one, or electronic. If electronic, you can set reminders.
  • For chores, make another list and organize it by room, then by day of the week, and add separate sections for monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, and annual chores. Write out the daily chores, by room, on a set of index cards, with additional cards for the monthly, quarterly, etc., chores. Keep these in a small box, basket, or jar. Or, you may want to keep them in a section of a master binder. If you have a spouse or children you can enlist to help with the chores, you might wish to invest in a large hanging calendar with wipe-off or tear-off sheets. In this way, you can assign chores and mark appointments, and each person will know exactly what they are responsible for and when. As chores are accomplished, they can be checked off. Use a different colored pen for each member of the family so you can see at a glance who'd doing what and going where, and when. This method worked great for our family when our kids were growing up.
  • To organize shopping lists, such as groceries, look in your word processor or online for a template. Or, make up your own. Take a sheet of paper, divide it into sections, and list major headings such as Produce, Dairy, Canned Goods, Meat, Dry goods, Frozen Foods, Pet Supplies, Cleaning Supplies, Paper Products, Bathroom Supplies, Miscellaneous. Under each heading, list the items you use. For example, under Produce, list apples, peaches, pears, grapes, bell peppers, mushrooms, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, etc. Place a blank line in front of each item so you can check off what you need to buy. Use this as your guide when composing your weekly grocery list. If you keep it on the front of your refrigerator, it will be easy to check off needed items as you run out of them, so nothing is forgotten.
  • On another page in your notebook or binder, make a list of family members and friends for whom you buy gifts. Under each person's name, write their clothing sizes, color preferences, and specific items you know they like or want.
  • At the beginning of each month, check your calendar and gift list, write out cards for the month, make out your shopping list, and make one trip to shop for everyone who has a birthday or anniversary that month. Then you'll have everything on hand when the date rolls around. If you go ahead and address and stamp the envelopes, all you'll need to do is drop them in the mail a few days before the actual date. Many online card websites have a feature that lets you select the delivery date, so you could select all of your cards at the beginning of the month, set the various delivery dates, and your cards will be delivered electronically on time.
  • Don't forget to organize your household bills, too. Place them by due date in a basket, desktop mail holder, or some other designated spot. If you don't pay them as they come in, then set aside a day and time each week, or biweekly, to pay them. Keep them near your stamps and address labels, so you have everything readily available when you need it. Or, you can arrange for online payment and save paper, postage, and time.
  • Once every two or three months, check your master list and see if you need to revise it. If something isn't working, scrap it and try something else until you find what works for you.
  • Keep a journal or notebook on the nightstand beside your bed. Make a habit of journaling every night before you go to bed...not just a diary of what you did that day, but your feelings, thoughts, emotions, ideas. If you have a hard time getting to sleep because something keeps buzzing around in your brain, jot it down in the journal. By doing this, you free up your mind from having to remember so much, and can better relax and drift off.
  • Oh, and while you're decluttering, why not get rid of all that negative self-talk, and the negative things other people have said that bother you? If you can't just forget them, then defuse them by substituting positive statements. Live in the now. Don't let the past ruin your present.

There are many helpful organizing sites online. One I especially like is Maria Gracia's "Get Organized Now," You can also subscribe to her free monthly newsletter, get free organizing tips, a monthly organizing calendar, and other useful information and tools to help you get and stay organized.

Now that you've decluttered your mind, why not put it to better use by doing something creative or fun? Read a book (or write one!), get out your camera and take some pictures, go for a walk, go to a museum, attend a lecture or concert, take a class, bake a cake and decorate it, try out a new recipe, teach your dog or cat a new trick. Do something just for fun, and just for you.

Do you have some other ideas, suggestions, or comments? Share them in the comment section below.