I Used This Proven Organizing Hack to Help Finally Declutter My Mind — Here’s How to Do It
When your closet is so jam-packed with stuff that you can’t find what you need, you know it’s time to do some organizing. But what do you do when you feel mentally cluttered — scattered, overwhelmed, anxious, or abnormally indecisive?
Traditionally, spring cleaning is about decluttering your closets, but it can also be a good time to think about streamlining your life. And there’s a long-proven organizing hack to keep things organized that works for your mindset, too. Yup, I’m talking about figuring out how to Keep, Fix, Toss, or Donate things in your life that may or may not be serving you anymore.
The details of the classic method vary depending on who you talk to. Some people prefer making piles labeled with sticky notes, some people prefer dumping their belongings into large plastic bins, but the premise is the same. Create separate areas to put your things, and slowly sift through your items to place them in one of four categories:
KEEP things that you use often, have sentimental value, make you happy, or serve a season-specific purpose — like that ice cream maker you use on special occasions, or that patio furniture you break out once summer hits. When it comes to stuff on your mind or in your life that you want to keep, an example might be goals you’ve always wanted to tackle but just haven’t achieved yet or a character trait that’s helped you through tough times.
FIX things that you want to keep, but have a component that renders them useless until repaired. Whether it’s a faulty appliance or a jacket with a missing button, fixing something that’s otherwise fully functional can feel like getting something brand new for a fraction of the cost. When it comes to mental things that might fall under this category, an example could be bittersweet memories of loved ones you want to work through, or a belief that being “the strong one” in your friend group must come at the expense of your own well-being.
TOSS things that cannot be (or, maybe more realistically, won’t be) repaired, papers and product manuals that have either been digitized or have information on them that can be found online, products that have expired, items that you can’t identify (like that plastic knob you’ve kept for five years because “you know it must go somewhere”), or are… and this might sound obvious… just plain trash. When it comes to your mindset, this could be a belief you pretend to agree with (but don’t) in order to “fit in,” or a constant complaint about a problem you’re not interested in finding a solution for.
DONATE (or pass along to a friend) things that are still functional yet never used, clothes that no longer fit, unnecessary duplicates of items, or overflowing supplies you’re keeping around “just in case.” Mentally, this could look like creating your own traditions instead of prescribing to the ones handed down to you that don’t speak to you, or a fear you were conditioned to have because a parent or guardian was afraid.
If the Keep, Fix, Toss, Donate method works for our physical space, then maybe it can work for our mental space, too. Here’s how to apply this standby method to your mental health — you might just prevent the clutter from piling up by stopping it at the real source:
BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Identify what you want to declutter…and your desired result.
Identifying the area you want to declutter is the first step in organizing anything — including a cluttered mind. What in your life has been piling up and causing stress, overwhelm, anxiety, or confusion?
Then, just like you would when decluttering your house, identify the experience you want to be having instead of what’s causing you stress. Ask yourself how you want to feel when that part of your life is “decluttered” or what that “decluttering” process might look like on a practical level.
Many times when you focus on what isn’t working, you lose sight of what is. Decluttering and spring cleaning isn’t just about throwing stuff away — it’s about identifying what’s actually working, useful, or wanted.
Take some time to ask yourself what elements of your thoughts and beliefs you’d like to keep. Some questions you can ask yourself:
- What mindset do I actually want to keep around? And why?
- Am I using it, or is it just sitting dormant in the shadows?
- What purpose does it serve?
- How does it make me feel? Do I feel like myself?
- How will I use what I keep?
You know that jacket you love but never wear because the zipper is broken? Instead of tossing it in the trash and buying something new, you can save your beloved closet staple by taking it to a tailor to be repaired.
Many times, a healthier mindset isn’t about throwing away what doesn’t work and replacing it with a positive affirmation (which could lead to spiritual bypassing very real issues), but examining the beliefs you hold that need some TLC.
While you can’t take your mindset to a tailor and expect it back in three to five business days, you CAN look to experts to help you with shifting your mindset. A licensed therapist can help you navigate your way toward a healthier outlook on life. With the surplus of therapists and coaches who work on a sliding scale — plus digital mental health services like BetterHelp and Talkspace — getting a mental health tune-up is now more accessible than ever.
The same applies to thoughts and beliefs: if you’ve noticed you have a pile of beliefs that don’t serve you, it’s okay to toss them in the metaphorical trash in order to make room for a more useful mindset.
An important note to keep in mind is that all feelings are valid — even the uncomfortable ones. “Tossing” a thought or belief isn’t about gaslighting yourself into a more positive mindset, labeling your emotions as “bad,” or ignoring reality. It’s about looking deeper than what’s on the surface and identifying what is, and isn’t, yours.
For example, some research has shown that we don’t always complain or think negatively in hopes of actually fixing or addressing what’s wrong: sometimes, the reason we keep our negative mindset around is to bond with other people. Instead of complaining about something you don’t intend on addressing, try (sometimes) bonding with others over something else.
It can be easy to hold onto beliefs or traditions because they were “gifted” to you by others who thought they were essential. If a parent had a fear or dislike, you might have assumed as a child that you should have that same fear or dislike. If you were told that you need to climb the corporate ladder in order to be successful, you might have assumed that success is reached in one very specific way.
However, no two lives are the same — and your beliefs will naturally evolve. If you’re not sure why you’ve kept around a belief you don’t actually identify with, it’s time for it to be replaced with a new, self-generated one. And “donate” the old belief back to the person from whom it originated. Just because it doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean it’s not useful to someone else, and just because it’s useful to someone else doesn’t mean you need to take it as a be-all, end-all.