Mentally Decluttering

As I’ve mentioned in the past, establishing or revising goals on my life list has been an annual exercise for me for years. Like a lot of people, maintaining a life list not only fuels my drive to continually learn and experience new things, it nurtures my purpose. However, it struck me recently that my ability to focus on the things that are important to me is sometimes hindered by things that are cluttering my mind or my daily routine. So while I am certainly not abandoning my life list, I decided to take another approach for 2021.

A bunch of experts have written books and blogged about physical clutter.  They’ve suggested that organizing your space, discarding unused items and so on can be calming, reduce stress and anxiety and improve our health. I think the same can be said about mental clutter.

Mental clutter is like noise, and distracts from fully engaging in purposeful activities, creativity and relationships. For me, the top three noise makers are remembering passwords, paying bills and keeping track of items on the “to do list.” As a result, and breaking from tradition, my 2021 resolution is to mentally declutter. 

Here are a few things I’ve learned, which I plan to double down on in the coming year:

1 – Make lists

Have you ever had trouble getting to sleep because all the things you need to accomplish the following day are on your mind?  I have.

I know, this one woefully lacks uniqueness.  However, I’ve found that when I have something that is incomplete, it tends to run continuously through my head until I jot it down.  

So to borrow a line from Disney’s Frozen, I am planning to “Let it go.”

The regular act of list-making can create a pattern in which our minds stop perseverating on the things that need to be done and instead on higher order thinking, creativity and problem-solving. But like any task, it is easy to forget it unless it has become a habit.  So in 2021, I am going to commit to making this a daily routine.

2 – Clean-up passwords and accounts

Have you ever spent way too much time on the “forgot my password” link?  I have.

In 1994 when I got my first AOL account, I had one username and one password to remember.  And when Myspace came around I had two to remember. But fast forward to 2021 and I have 120 passwords and accounts to keep track of.  I suspect many people reading this can sympathize.  And that’s a lot of clutter.  

There are several secure tools and applications that will do this, which my friends in IT would recommend. But if you’re not there yet, even a list that is saved in a secure location is better than nothing, and can save a lot of time, energy and frustration.

Additionally, when I look at my list of 120 accounts, there are a bunch that I created for a single purpose, such as registering for that race, signing up for free stuff or buying that morphsuit.  That’s a lot of personal data floating out there that I don’t need.  So to start ‘21, I plan to delete 21 of those.  As of today, I have 17 more to reach my goal.

3 – Automate finances

Have you ever gotten side-tracked when you remembered suddenly that you have a payment to make?  I have. There’s a trick I started using a few months ago that I will be diving in head first going into 2021. Let me explain.

I currency have 18 payees.  And typically, I spend an hour a week submitting payments based on their due date and updating our family budget.  That’s not a ton of time, of course. However, it’s not the time that is the problem–it’s remembering all those due dates and making sure I don’t miss one. I assume many of the people reading this can identify with this.

Instead, I am working to set-up automatic payments for every account, every two weeks, aligned with payroll weeks.  And I’m talking about every account–from Waste Management to Honda. I’ve already found that I spend a lot less time thinking about the bills than before. And for those payees charging interest, there’s a serious savings paying every two weeks, not to mention the “bank error in your favor” when you learn you’ve slightly overpaid on your Kohl’s charge and now have a huge credit.  

Simple, right?

All these things are simple and I am almost certain I am not the first person to suggest them. That’s the beauty of it though.  These three simple strategies are going to release me from any obligation to perseverate over low-level mundane tasks so that I can focus on being more humble, more hungry and more smart.

Feel free to try these yourself.  Let me know if you have other ideas.

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