If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, this week was the official start of the spring season. Hopefully, you're starting to feel the change of seasons, especially for those of you who live in areas where Mother Nature seems to want to cling on to the icy days of winter.
With the arrival of this season, the term "spring cleaning" starts popping up everywhere. In the last couple of days, I've heard a few people mention it every single day, whether it be at work, on a podcast, or other blog posts that I've read.
"Spring cleaning" is usually used to describe the time of year when we wake up from the long, slow days that the winter season brings and get the energy and desire to start cleaning our homes. It makes sense to me - the nights are much longer during the winter season, and if you live in an area where the climate is frosty outside, the last thing you want to do is spend hours in a chilly night doing household chores. Those evenings are perfect to snuggle up and relax, which leads to a bit of disorganization. The warmer weather helps us snap out of that trance and get to cleaning.
It's not just for your home - it's also for your mind
Although "spring cleaning" is associated with cleaning one's home, it's equally important to know that you can use it for some heavy-duty cleaning in other areas of your life. Not only can your physical space get cluttered quickly, but your mental space can also get full of clutter just as quickly. All that clutter is not serving you and will hold you back if you don't take the time to clear things.
The real danger of having too much clutter - both physical and mental - is that we don't realize how fast it can accumulate and how much it can drag us down. You might think that something seemingly insignificant like having a messy room, an out-of-control work calendar, or a less-than-ideal relationship is not going to affect your output. Guess what? It does, in a big way.
A little bit of clutter by itself might not make a dent in your life. The problem is that we grossly underestimate the mess around us, especially the junk we can't see. One great analogy I heard recently is that is you have a needle prick you, you'll barely notice it. But if you have dozens, hundreds, even thousands of needles piercing you at once, you'll undoubtedly be affected by it in a big way. The same happens with clutter - a few scattered objects in a corner isn't a big deal, but a whole messy house is.
Once the clutter accumulates, it will inevitably take away your attention from the essential things you want to accomplish. You might not think that it does, but your subconscious mind will continuously be cycling back to those things that you don't need in your life. It will slow you down by consuming all your mental energy. In extreme cases, it might affect your health and relationships. Things like sleepless nights and short tempers with loved ones will appear and accumulate quickly.
"Spring" into action by starting to declutter now
The good news is that with a bit of "spring cleaning," you can tackle these issues now before they snowball into something much bigger. Of course, you don't have to wait until the beginning of the spring season to do this - whenever you're reading this, start taking action now.
Decluttering your physical space
As I mentioned, this is where the term "spring cleaning" is often used. It's the best way to begin your decluttering process, just because this will yield results that you can see immediately. The return on your investment for having a clean house or office is pretty high - there's nothing quite like seeing the space you live or work in be clear from all sorts of junk that you never realized you had. You'll breathe and rest easy observing no messiness around you.
The process here is simple. Begin by choosing the area of your house or workspace that you use the most, take stock of what's there, and start organizing things by either filing things away where they should be or discarding them altogether. Continue doing this in other areas of your home or office as needed.
You might be wondering why I didn't mention that you can set something aside and decide whether to keep it or throw it away later. You can do that, but more often than not you won't take any action, and that clutter you set aside will remain to clutter your space forever. It's better to rapidly choose to put something in its place or toss it out without any compromise to minimize decision fatigue.
If that sounds like something painful for you to deal with, I highly recommend reading Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. This book is short yet powerful, and it changed my perspective about many things, from organizing my apartment to my purchasing habits. I'm confident you'll learn a lot from it.
Decluttering your headspace
Once your physical space is cleared up, you can begin to focus on other areas of cleanup. Here, it starts to get tricky, because you might have things cluttering up your mind, but sometimes you're oblivious to it. Worse yet, it's the most straightforward clutter to ignore - because you don't see it, you're more likely to think it's not a real problem that's bothering you, so you don't worry dealing with it. These are silent killers of sorts, with the potential to fester and grow into something much more significant.
Just like cleaning your physical space, you should first take note of the things that are in your head. For starters, you can tackle your most-visible thoughts, like needing to take your car for a tune-up, wondering what to buy your significant other for your upcoming anniversary, or doing your taxes. There are bound to be a couple of issues that come to mind almost instantly. Take those thoughts, write them down somewhere, and begin planning how to deal with them as soon as you can so you can get that out of your head and start taking action.
After you handle the things that were on the surface of your brain, you should spend some time by yourself to think if other issues are less visible. Are there any thoughts that keep on surfacing over and over again? Those are signs of something that you're most likely ignoring and need attention. Again, write those down and determine what you need to do with those thoughts. Some thoughts are merely thoughts and do not require any action from you, but typically if something keeps coming back to you, you'll need to do something about it.
Decluttering your relationships
Decluttering your relationships might be the most challenging step of all. It's tough to sever any connections for any number of fears, like missing out on something in the future or not knowing how the other party will take it. I'm not suggesting that you think about decluttering all of your relationships, but there will be some apparent relationships that you know aren't serving you. Those are the contacts that you need to decide on sooner rather than later.
For example, let's say you have a list of clients you work for, and there's one client that causes you 90% of the headaches and hassles during your week. You've kept this particular client around because they gave you your first big contract years ago, so you feel like you owe it to continue serving them despite the problems they create. This relationship is a prime candidate for culling from your life. It's better to deal with an upset person for a day than to continue dealing with them for years to come.
You don't necessarily have to cut relationships out of your life entirely - you can also choose to redefine the relationship. Using the same example of you having clients you work for, imagine another client who has become a close, personal friend. You spend 10% or 20% of your time on this client, but they account for less than 5% of your total income, and you've turned down other lucrative contracts because you don't want to cut this relationship. In this case, you can redefine the connection from a work client to being a friend. If they're indeed a friend, they might be upset for a while if you decide to drop them as a client but will keep that friendship alive.
You can use this advice for any relationship you have - work clients, personal friends, vendors, romantic relationships, etc. Take some time to think about people who aren't serving you or even holding you back and determine if you need to redefine your relationship with them or let them go altogether.
Do it now, do it occasionally
Typically, I'm an advocate of taking small steps to achieve your goals. However, in this case, I would suggest the opposite and ask that you start as soon as you can and spend as much time as you can decluttering as much as possible. The reason for this is because if you do this in small chunks, there's a good chance that more clutter will invade your space in the time you're not decluttering, and you'll end up with little to no movement in the process. Instead of taking 10 minutes a day to do this cleanup, take a weekend and spend a few hours on it instead. You'll finish the decluttering process a lot quicker, and there's little chance that the clutter will come back.
Keep in mind that this shouldn't be a one-time action. The term does say "spring cleaning," but you should be scheduling this decluttering more than once a year. A good rule of thumb would be to do it every three months - think of these additional times as "summer cleaning", "fall cleaning", and "winter cleaning". By decluttering more often, you'll spend less time and energy on every occasion. Do it enough times, and it might become an ingrained habit that you'll automatically do.
Enjoy your renewed mental clarity
It will take some effort to do all the cleaning that you need to do in your life. The reward, however, will be worth all the work you put into this process. Having a clean space in your home and place of work will pay off with significantly less mental strain. You'll have more clarity than ever before, and it will show throughout all areas of your life. Work on your current goals or begin making plans for the things you want to do. Make sure to take full advantage of your clean space.
Small steps for your Practical Good
If you feel like your life is cluttered - both physically and mentally - and want to take steps to unclog those bottlenecks that are keeping you from achieving the growth you want, here are a couple of simple steps you can take to begin the process immediately:
- Take a few moments to take notes of the things you want to clean up. Start by taking stock of the areas around you that need cleaning, then begin to think about areas that are bugging you regularly to determine what needs to be done to get those out of your head.
- Schedule the time required to complete the decluttering as much as possible. Try to take as much time as you can, whether it be a few hours or an entire weekend so that you can go over everything in one go and not have to worry about things accumulating again.
- Plan to do it again in a couple of months. Schedule time in the future, like three months from now, to go through the process again to avoid the clutter from coming back. Every time you declutter, the process will become more straightforward and more comfortable, so make sure that you keep things organized for your mental clarity.