I started wading through the clutter in January. One week later I was disheartened. There was still a lot to do. I shared my dismay with my brave friend who had come over and worked alongside me for a bit, she said, “It will take a year.” She reminded me this was a process and that it would take more than a weekend to declutter. And here I am today, still working on organizing, decluttering, de-junking my house. I have made some progress and have discovered some surprising clutter.
The piles of toy parts, the box of notes from high school, and the bags of stained baby clothes, I expected. However, I was surprised to discover hidden pockets of clutter of a different variety. These were things I thought I would never misplace or lose track of. I unearthed encouraging words left unsaid, found compliments piled in the corners like stacks of magazines, and discovered a hoard of fun under the couch.
I found a box full of family time that still had the packing tape on it from our last move. Nothing really prepared me for the waves of regret that quickly eroded my pride in the progress I had made. The cost of clutter had not really hit me until that moment; clutter steals and hoards what we are capable of giving to others.
I had not realized that my disheveled closet was hoarding confidence or that the chaotic art room had my children’s creative tendencies squirreled away in half empty crayon boxes and dried up paint bottles. I started to think that maybe we just weren’t as creative, fun or as kind as we used to be, but it was just that the clutter had taken over and obscured these attributes from our hearts and minds. My creative, kind and fun-loving family was there all along.
It was just that we could only see the mess.
It didn’t take me long to realize I could not hold on to the the regret that came along with this discovery. I certainly could not afford to stockpile regret, so out it went and in came a new way of living and loving.
How to clear out the surprising clutter
As we clear the clutter, we discover that our hearts expand to give more generously to those we love most, and isn’t that what we all want? I don’t need the old train table the kids played with years ago or the 20 reusable grocery bags that have taken over my side entryway, I do need every bit of my capacity to encourage my children and to love my husband well.
My words of affirmation and kindness must be said, otherwise they are just as useless as the boxes of VHS tapes in the basement. The fun hoard, along with the dust bunnies and dog toys, needs to come out from under the couch, so that our home can be a place of joy.
Clearing the clutter allows our hearts to be tuned into what is most important — the people we do life with. As I continue to declutter my home I am now more excited about what I will gain. An expanded heart ready to jump into joy, fun and love versus what I will lose.
You can read more from Bethany Howard at bethanyhoward.com. She writes about finding fuel for joy and growth in the details of the daily. Her greatest leadership exercise has been her roles as wife and mom to three. She is a graduate of Leverage: The Speaker Conference.
Finding rest in summer
Summer’s here! Time for fun, right? Well … maybe, but work keeps right on going. Kids are home, laundry’s piling up, and that car doesn’t pack itself for vacation. Finding rest in summer might seem out of reach.
It’s hard to carve out time for rest, even in the summer, but God gives us some rich encouragement in His Word. Amy shares a scripture that will feed your soul and an action step that will help create your best, most restful summer yet.
Have you ever had a time when you secretly crowned yourself the Clutter-Free Queen of your house, and then you remembered the storage space under your basement stairs? You know, the storage space that was supposed to be only for Christmas decorations, but now houses every holiday decoration your child ever made from preschool through high school?
I, too, had one of those moments when I recently discovered a forgotten storage space in my life where I kept outdated and unwanted items. My storage space is smaller than the closet under the stairs, but it has enormous storage capacity. You guessed right, it’s in my mind!
If you haven’t de-cluttered your brain yet, you don’t need to throw away your prized tiara. The mind can be conquered just like every other closet and drawer we face. When we successfully delete all the unnecessary information in our minds, we create room for new and peaceful thoughts during the day, and for restful sleep at night.
When we are at rest, particularly at night, our entire being, the mind, body, soul and spirit reaps the benefits. As I discovered while researching my book, Winning the Battle for the Night, unresolved issues in our mind often disturb our sleep at night.
As a Christian, I know from scripture that God gives us sleep. And the night should be a time for rejuvenation, rest and even revelation from God. Our Father did not intend for human beings to lie awake, tossing and turning on their beds all night.
Is a clutter-free mind possible?
Actually, have you ever heard the phrase, “I slept like a baby”? Well, God’s intention for us is to sleep like a healthy baby, in perfect peace. I believe this is the picture God had in mind when He designed our body for sleep. And yet, our mind robs us of the rest we were designed to receive at night.
The astonishing fact is that this small area of our body, weighing just three pounds, holds more than all our books, files, pictures and memorabilia combined. You may have a garage full of filing cabinets you purged. Maybe thousands of files shredded, but the brain can hold so much more information than anything you’ve ever shredded, trashed, or given over for consignment.
The brain holds about 25 million books worth of information. In computer storage terms that would be as much as 1000 terabytes of information. In comparison, the National Archives of Britain holds 900 years of history, which are contained in 70 terabytes.
Not everything in our brain has to be deleted before you can have a restful night of sleep. Deleting unnecessary files in your mind is not like the reformatting process for a computer in which all the files are deleted. A lobotomy isn’t necessary. We do have valuable information stored in our mind. Just as on a computer hard drive, there are many good files.
However, as I began an inventory in the filing cabinets stored in my brain, I was both shocked and embarrassed by what I found. I kind of felt the same way when I opened my closet in front of my neighbor and my belongings started tumbling out the door.
With the desire to sleep like a baby as my motivator, I decided it was time to look at my inventory and de-clutter my brain. Some of the contents of my filing cabinets were files that were decades old. I hadn’t looked at them for years, but they were still there, taking up space. Talk about cobwebs!
So here’s my list of seven storage cabinets that I’ve readied for removal.
This storage space is not as easy to deal with as the closet under the stairs. I can’t put the contents in the dumpster or take them to Goodwill. So I devised a two-step method. It is called Give and Receive. Here’s how it works:
GIVE: Rather than calling a shredding service to shred all the files out of my seven cabinets, I took each file and gave it to God. Some files were harder to part with than others, but my desire for better sleep provided the power to pry the file loose from my grip. The surprising thing about giving the filing cabinets to Him was that He gave me something good to replace each file I gave Him. The shredding company never gave me anything for my files except a bill!
In order to benefit from God’s generosity, I need to anticipate and be willing to participate in an exchange with Him. This is the second step—receive.
RECEIVE: God is the ultimate Giver. He is resourceful, imaginative, and knows exactly what I need to receive. Here is a list of the seven exchanges I received from Him.
1. Courage to try again in place of failures.
2. Comfort for the pain of betrayals.
3. Hope for the future in place of regrets.
4. Joy in the place of disappointments.
5. Love to cover the conflicts.
6. Blessing to replace the accusations.
7. Forgiveness for all my shame.
Your brain may not have as many cabinets tucked as mine did. Regardless of how many you have, think about focusing on one cabinet a week. Give God the contents of your cabinets. Once you’ve taken this first step, the next step is easy, just receive what God gives you in exchange for what you released to Him.
You will be amazed at what He has already planned to give you! He has been waiting for this opportunity to fill your mind with good things. As you enjoy the fruit of your hard work—a clutter free mind, you’ll find sleeping like a baby comes more easily.
Faith Blatchford, Author of Winning the Battle For the Night: God’s Plan for Sleep, Dreams and Revelation is also a conference speaker and composer. She has a B.A. in Religion from Vassar College. She is a pastoral counselor, as well as a creativity coach and sleep/dream consultant. Her goal whether in writing, speaking or personal ministry is to help people experience freedom in every area of life through deep connection with God, the giver of hope.
“I’m overwhelmed. I just need a break!” I said to my counselor. Minutes later, I left her second story office and hurried the length of the deserted hallway. I glanced at my phone while descending the stairs. My phone was dead, but I knew it was close to 4:00. I had just enough time to get to school and pick up my kids before their practices ended at 4:30. As I took the next step, I missed the stair and tumbled forward. When I came to a stop, I heard a loud “pop.” The pain was unbearable.
Tears came fast and furious and I cried out for help.
No one heard me.
I tried to push myself up to stand, but my left foot refused to bear any weight.
I cried for help again, thinking there must be someone nearby.
Again, no one heard me.
I tried my phone a second time in vain. My husband was in New York on business. Picking up the kids wouldn’t wait. I gritted my teeth and pushed myself up from the base of the stairs. I could stand on my right foot, but my left was completely useless. With great pain, I hopped to the car, frequently banging my left foot against the pavement. I managed to get myself into the car and drive across town to the school, sobbing the entire way.
The “break” I needed
I’d love to tell you my injuries were minimal and I healed quickly, but that’s not what happened. Instead, I got the “break” I needed in the form of broken bones and multiple sprains in my foot and ankle, six months of pain, restrictions, physical therapy, and a complete overhaul of my demanding pace of life.
Before my fall, I was at a breaking-point. Maybe you’ve been there too.
I had taken on too many responsibilities – running a nonprofit, serving as team mom, leading a Bible study, making play costumes, and so much more. I spent the previous year moving at record speed. I like to keep busy, but I was over-committed, under-rested, and probably not the most pleasant person to be around.
We don’t have to live that way.
Count the cost of yes
What I learned through my ordeal was that I’m capable of only so much. I’m learning to live within my limits. That means I only commit to a certain number of activities, projects and responsibilities. When my plate is full, I must eliminate an item before adding another. I guard my time and energy or they’ll be swallowed up by my desire to say “yes” to more than I can sanely accomplish.
If I hadn’t been rushed and feeling overwhelmed, I’m sure I wouldn’t have missed that step. I likely wouldn’t have even been in counselor’s office that day. The cost of over-commitment was high.
One of the things I contemplated during my recovery was that Jesus never rushed. He moved at an intentional pace. His time of ministry on earth was very brief, only three years. If anyone had a reason to pick his pace and do more than humanly possible, it was Jesus. But, he didn’t.
I’m learning to follow his example.
Luke 14:28 reminds us to count the cost, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”
When we’re tempted to say “yes” and add one more thing to our busy schedules, pause and acknowledge that “yes” will cost us something. At the very least, it means we have to say “no” to other opportunities.
What will saying “yes” cost you? Will it cost your peace? Dilute your focus?
When we commit to pause and count the cost before taking on another thing, we are empowered to manage the opportunities that come our way. We focus on what we’re meant to do, the things most important to us. We walk in freedom, unhurried and confident.
What are you doing to follow Jesus’ example of walking out your life intentionally and unhurried? How have you learned to live within the limits of your time and energy?
Elizabeth M. Thompson is a writer and speaker. Prayer is her super-power and she loves helping women develop meaningful prayer lives. She and her husband have three children. They live, bike, kayak, and hike along the American River near Sacramento, CA. Stop by her website for a free download of “Jumpstart Your Stalled Prayer Life.”
I’ve got to get focused on this project.
I set down my pen.
What usually works isn’t working right now.
I lean back in my chair.
And that’s okay.
This situation is different.
Several major projects are all due at the same time, and every single one is now or never.
I could say “no” to some of them.
Honestly, though, I don’t want to. I don’t want to miss out on any of these exciting opportunities.
I want to move forward with every single one.
When You Just Can’t Find Your Focus
Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation: You’re trying to make progress, but your brain can’t focus because it’s going in a dozen different directions at the same time.
In my situation, I had pushed myself to do the work—even though I really wanted to do anything but this type of work in the moment.
I went through all the usual techniques that typically help me focus:
- I took a walk.
- I turned off all distractions.
- I set a timer.
But all of my fail-safe strategies failed.
The harder I tried, the muddier my mind became. I couldn’t make myself make progress.
Or even get started.
Which was crazy. These were projects I really wanted to accomplish, and I was grateful for the opportunities.
At the same time, they were demanding tasks for me. Each project involved writing. And not just ordinary writing, but the most challenging kind of writing where every word mattered.
I needed a new strategy.
What Made the Difference
Here’s what worked for me:
- I used pen-and-paper, which forced me to slow down.
- I limited my work to what would fit on one page, which narrowed my focus.
- I quickly skipped over anything that wasn’t the best fit, which gave me momentum.
- I saved ill-fitting ideas for later projects, which kept me from getting bogged down.
What made the difference?
My mind stayed focused on one task at a time without getting distracted by “Shiny Object Syndrome.”
This may be a challenge for you, too.
Combining strategies you don’t typically put together will help you find your focus.
How to find what helps you focus
Learning to combine old strategies in new ways is a valuable skill.
You already do this in the kitchen when you tweak a recipe — trying a little of this, a little of that, until the flavors blend together just so.
Here’s how to combine strategies to help you quickly find focus:
1) Make a list of the typical strategies that help you focus.
(For ideas, download your free “5 Simple Ways to Quickly Find Your Focus” checklist.)
2) Check any strategies that usually work for you.
3) Circle any new strategies that intrigue you.
4) Combine several different strategies into a new “recipe.”
5) Now, experiment with it.
How will you know that you’ve found the right combination of strategies?
You’ll start to feel unstuck. You’ll get going again.
As you gain momentum, you’ll make great progress.
All because you finally found your focus.
Question: What’s one strategy that helps you find your focus?
Mary Lou Caskey trains Christian coaches and communicators to influence hearts through the power of story. If you want to become a transformative storyteller, connect with Mary Lou and get her free quiz, “Is It the Best Time to Share a Personal Story?”
Do you feel mental overload? Do you wonder if you’ll ever get your home or office organized? Maybe you think if you just work overtime, or if your kids could stay at Grandma’s for a week, you could finally get it together.
What if I told you working harder or having a child-free home isn’t the solution?
I’ll venture to say 75% or more of our clutter problems aren’t because we don’t work hard enough, or that our homes are too small or our children are messy. Most of our problems start because we can’t think through what needs to be done. We can’t get our minds under control. We can’t make decisions. We are on mental overload.
Do you know that feeling?
How to deal with mental overload
For years, I lived with an ongoing sense that I should be doing something all the time. It ate at me. Even when I focused on something important, there was a latent unease about what else I should be doing. It was an underlying anxiety that hung around, even when there was no pressing deadline or responsibility.
It caused stress and lack of sleep.
It wasn’t until I read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, that I discovered a reason for this tension. It seems our brains aren’t designed to store and manage all of the information, deadlines and demands that swirl around us at all times.
Allen writes, “The big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. It has no sense of past or future. That means that as soon as you tell yourself that you need to do something, and store it in your RAM (your mind), there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time.”
It was a head-slapping moment when I read those words. That was it! Allen goes on to explain that the first step to finding a solution is to get everything out of your mind and store it somewhere safe. Not the “safe” place you stored an important document at home, and now can’t find. But somewhere close at hand.
The right to-do list
I realized my mind tried to manage more stuff than it could hold. One to-do list wasn’t the answer because it wasn’t keeping things in safe places.
With that in mind, I’m going to ask you to do something painful. Not as painful as stepping on a scale, but close. I want you to take a personal assessment of all your responsibilities, projects, priorities and tasks. Everything. Get it out of your mind and onto one document. This could be a paper notebook or digital file, it doesn’t matter. If you have multiple to-do lists, combine them into this one list. Leave this list where you can see it morning, noon and night for a few days.
On this list write down everything you need to get done. You might start with your home and add repairs, cleaning projects or laundry.
Put down things you need to do for your family, such as make a dentist appointment, write a letter to a teacher or take clothes to the dry cleaning.
Then move on to other areas of your life: church, community involvement, sports teams, etc. Include big projects and little things, like errands and emails that need to be sent. Nothing is too small to include.
You might want to dedicate one page for future projects, such as planning this summer’s vacation or researching colleges with your daughter. Another page might contain things you want to do years from now, but you don’t want to forget.
This process will take you days. If it helps, you can organize this list however you see fit if it helps you remember things. Or just write things down as they come to mind. Whatever works for you.
It’s okay if there is no order to it. Actually trying to organize it now might hinder you if you are a perfectionist. You might not leave yourself enough room in a certain category and then you’ll be frustrated.
For now, capture it all. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit panicky at how much you have to do. Just take a deep breath and ask for God’s peace.
I promise you feel a sense of relief soon because finally, maybe for the first time in your life, you have everything in one place.
There are many things you can do with this master list. You can organize it in to tasks (one action) and projects (more than one action). You can organize it by area of your life or deadlines. You can sort it by things that need to be done today, this week, next month, in six months, etc.
Hold on to that list. Add to it. Next month, I’ll share how to create a project management planner.
If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy Glynnis’ 15-Minute Morning Refuel.
Today, decide where you will create your master list and list five action items on it to help you deal with your mental overload.