minimalism, simplify

Simplifying Part 3: Mental Clutter


There’s physical clutter and then there’s mental clutter. Henry David Thoreau, in his essay, “Life without Principle,” wrote, “I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality.”  “We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenious children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention.”

If Thoreau thought it was bad back in the days of telegraphs and newspapers, I can only imagine what he would think now. I doubt, if even he, would be able to tear himself away from society and live in the woods for 2 years if he was connected to the internet like we are. He probably would never have made it to Walden Pond.

Every day we are bombarded with ads, memes, sarcastic quips, angry tirades, “good” ideas, must haves, inflammatory statements, gossip, and general ridiculousness.  We zone out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, TV shows, the “news,” mind-numbing games, etc. At least with newspapers, the amount of information was finite. In contrast, the internet has allowed us to fill our minds with an infinite stream of information. It’s an amazing tool, but like most tools, also quite  dangerous if used improperly.

Another great quote from Thoreau, “It is so hard to forget, what is worth than useless to remember.”

It’s truly frightening and depressing how much of our most valuable assets, time and energy, get sucked up by shifting through useless information, or absorbed with mindless entertainment and trivial news stories.  Social media especially has turned us all into one big virtual gossiping, squabbling, narcissist family. Hooray!

I’m not going to lie, I find clearing out “mental clutter” and filtering the inputs to my brain, much more difficult than getting rid of stuff.  The steady stream of information is addicting and soothing, and most days I just can’t say “no.”  Just as much as anybody else, I need to go on an information diet.

Is it really so bad though to “live” on the internet?  Aren’t we going on there, because we are tired and we just want to relax?  Maybe so, but I don’t want to look back on my life and realize that I spent most of my free time sitting in front of a screen.  Think about your fondest memories. Did any of them involve sitting by yourself in front of the TV or internet? What feeds your soul?  What dreams or passions have you given up on? Are there healthy habits you are trying to start, but just can’t seem to stick with?  When is the last time you had time to self reflect and think deeply about something?

We have a limited number of hours we can truly call our own. Most of our time is spent sleeping, at work, or taking care of necessary tasks like cooking, cleaning and eating. The few hours left is all we have to truly decide what to do with. But that’s the issue, we aren’t consciously deciding to what to do with our time and our mental energy. We just let it slip away slowly, one Youtube video, TV show, or social media feed at a time.

I’m not saying we should all disconnect from the Internet, or never allow ourselves to zone out in front of the TV, but I think we all need some boundaries, and some criteria to evaluate the mental clutter confronting us every day.

Every time we say “yes” to mindless information consumption, we are saying “no” to something else. You wouldn’t believe how many times I sat down to work on this blog, and got, allowed myself to get distracted by something else on the internet. Just the other night, I told myself I would go for a walk right away when I got home. Instead, I went on Facebook for “just a couple minutes,” and ended up sitting there until after it got dark out. So much for my walk!

I know that if I don’t consciously say “NO” or “NOT RIGHT NOW” to the internet/social media/TV, then I will be saying “NO” to working on my goals, forming healthy habits, and spending quality time by myself or with others.

Some ways to create boundaries that I have been trying are listed below.

  • Avoid social media and email before 12pm.
  •  Keep the TV off until after 8pm.
  • Delete Facebook from phone.
  • Don’t go on the computer at night until all 10,000 steps are done for the day.

Have you tried setting boundaries on the internet/TV? What works for  you? What would you do if you had more time and energy to work with?



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