Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Mental Clutter

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom


I was surveying a newly installed fence and gate – my own – and I suddenly thought of Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Unfortunately for us, I don’t own her book, so I can’t mine it for an appropriate quote, but one of the keys to happiness that she extols is getting things done and off your to-do list. Make a mammogram appointment, write a thank you letter, update your resume, get your fence fixed. Taking something off your to-do list automatically makes you feel happier. I know it did me.

The sad saga of the fence goes like this: In September 2009, as a birthday surprise for my husband, I had a pretty brick fence built while he was on a week-long business trip. We already had a custom-made iron gate that matched the other ironwork on the house. Wouldn’t Dan be pleased and delighted to come home and find a beautiful little fence with the gate neatly hung? Well, he would have been, if the gate had fit. Even though it was on-site while the fence was being built, the opening was not made large enough. The gate did not fit. I dealt with the brick masons over and over. A contractor who frequently hired them intervened on my behalf. A year passed…nothing. In the meantime, we threw some junky stuff – plywood, trash cans, etc. – in front the opening to keep the dogs in. Attractive, no? No. And certainly not what I had in mind. I stewed, I fussed, I forgot about it for months at a time, but always the need to do something about it niggled at the back of my mind.

So today, two years and five months later, the fence has been rebuilt and the gate installed.

You may notice that there is still plywood behind the gate. That’s because the latching mechanism was not installed. The gate swings both ways and certainly won’t keep the dogs inside. But I can assure you that it will take less than two weeks, not more than two years, to get this job complete.

Good for me but what does this have to do with decluttering? Mental clutter! What is on your mind that’s holding you back? What chores and to-dos on the long-term list are hanging around, month after month, year after year, sapping your energy and keeping you from feeling as fully successful as you should feel?

I know that I feel so charge up from the check! on my to-do list that I’m going to tackle the gutters that keep overflowing every time it rains next. Imagine how good I’ll feel then!

What long-term burdens are you dragging around that you can declutter, and what’s your plan of action?

Today’s Declutter Item

These two ball gowns are an example of metal clutter to me. Not only are they physical clutter but I have procrastinated over getting rid of them for some time. The purple dress was made for my by my mother used once and never worn again. The other was a bargain but the glitter fabric was so rough on my underarms and was never worn. One languished because of the sentiment attached the other because of the wasted cash and it would have done in an emergency. I am just glad they are both gone now. They sold very quickly at the thrift shop.

A long awaited declutter task

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow



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  1. I find that I am much happier when I do things right away and not let it just drag out. I don’t have to think about it any more when I am prompt about getting it done. Sometimes when we really aren’t motivated to do something, we procrastinate. But, when we finally do it, we feel so good and wish we had done it earlier.

  2. I have a term I use for homesteads and other real estate that surreptitiously take over our lives in terms of time, energy and anxiety: Albatross. I coined the term while I was going through divorce and seeing a therapist, when I disscovered I never wanted to be such a slave to my own home(s) again. We are supposed to enjoy a better quality of life and reap benefits from improving our living conditions, not be forced to spend money and time and create anxixety over real estate and keeping up with the Joneses.

    Lawn and turf maintenance, snow removal, deck building, fences, decorative landscape maintenance, landscape lighting, water feature and pool and spa maintenance… to me, I adjudicated having to perform these as DECREASES in my quality of life, as was too much (subjective) dusting, weeding, painting, etc.

    The best way to get things off your to-do list, and avoid anxiety, expense and lost time, is not to put yourself at risk of having to do them in the first place. Right size your home, live for yourself, to your standards only, not your neighbor’s or someone else’s standards. Stop the insanity, get off the treadmill, learn what makes you uniquely happy, and start living more with the time and money and sanity you save.

    As for me, I’m “practicing” shopping for my next home and investment properties a year or two in advance, feeling day-after-day what its like to “seek” and whether it is in alignment with who I really am. I’ve flip-flopped a lot in this journey, but come next year, I will create an Albatross-free life, while I bide my time is a very low maintenance rental property that has serendipitously taught me what I value and the limits of what I really need.

    • Oh, how do I identify with the Albatross idea. It isn’t just a mortgage that does it either. Good reply.

      • Interesting. I have a fairly large house, big yard, lots of plants, 2 children, 2 cats, 1 guinea pig…lots of things that need care and attention. I’ve been thinking about your comment. How much more free time would I have if someone else maintained the exterior? If I had a housekeeper? If we had no pets? If the house was much smaller? I enjoy all of these things – the house, the yard, the pets – but my life would be simpler and cheaper without them.

  3. My ‘stand in mum’ (when i was at boarding school) once said ‘it’s just a big pile, and when your pile gets too big, you freak out’ (cry etc) ‘So just start taking one things from the pile at a time’. Good metaphor for clutter, as for getting things done!

    I know when I’m stressed/busy a to do list (even just of the days tasks, including normal regular ordinary things) will help me feel like I’ve done things!

    I’m really working on getting little projects sorted in my new home – replacing ‘eww’ (rusting through) soap dish with a new one. Replacing three bathroom tiles, replacing blown light globes, getting pictures hung (not before one fell – cause the attachment on the frame game off!)… It’s a never ending list, but just take one thing at a time!

  4. cindy, you give the weekly wisdom some reason here. That is all so true. Everybody has those projects that somehow take AGES to do. although it wouldnt mean a lot to get the drill-thingy from my neighbour to FINALLY get the magnet on my wall to hang my knives. but no. the magnet is lying on the kitchen counter, since november. Something like that used to make me feel bad. there are a couple more projects around this home. I know I should get them done soon, but I dont let this annoy me anymore. Since I started decluttering I am much more relaxed about my home. I know its not perfect, I am not perfect and I know it takes time to make things good. So I just dont put myself under pressure anymore about these things. When I have time and energy to do them, I do them. They are not life-saving important things in my life and I will come around to do them when I am there. If they annoy me on a daily basis however, I tend to get this done. I need to feel comfortable after all…

    • I’m glad that you’re not letting these un-done tasks make you feel bad, but you’ll feel doubly good when they’re done.

  5. I just had a large wooden playset removed from our backyard that has been on my mind for years. My boys have long outgrown it and it is too old and worn out for anyone else to use. I honestly couldn’t figure out what to do about it for years- I didn’t know how to begin to dismantle it. I finally called an all-purpose junk removing company that took it down in just a few minutes and hauled it off- what a relief!

    • That does sounds great. I really hate it when I have a problem (big playset) and I truly cannot figure out how to handle it. Thank goodness I have friends – here in Austin and here on 365lessthings – to help me find my way.

  6. I had wanted to clean up my garage for years! Never took the time to do it. That was until my water heater started leaking… Well, it took me less than 3 hours. I could not believe it. I wish I had done it earlier. It is incredible how we wrongly estimate the time and effort it will take. It actually takes more time and effort to procrastinate about it.

    • 3 hours! That’s a miracle! It blows me away sometimes how long we stall on doing something and then how quickly it can be accomplished.

  7. Oh my! Now this is my declutter issue big time. It seems like there are just way too many things on my to-do list. With having the financial responsibility as well as taking care of insurance and any other “business” type issues the mental clutter seems to never end. I’m trying to find a way to cut back on the things I need to do. It’s hard. I haven’t found the magic formula as yet. I hope I do soon. It seems like I can never get things caught up.

    • Sometimes I feel like desk work can just go on and on Deb J. Like you (I”m guessing), I handle all the family finance, appointments for everyone for everything, the family social calendar, etc. It’s a lot, especially if you have to make any real decisions, like changing an insurance policy.

  8. I love the Happiness Project! Now I follow Gretchen’s mum’s advice – “just do the next thing”. It really helps with the day to day clean up as well as the “to do” lists.

    • “One thing at a time,” that’s what we say at our house. Not quite the same as “do the next thing” but what I find here is that sometimes people (including me) try to 4 things at once, all badly.

  9. “If you BUILD it THEY will come”!! Build it as in a pile of things you know you should do/remove/throw/put away/fix/sort! They as in every other little thing you go to do but put down and forget/leave, it’s clutter, no matter how you look at it’ it is CLUTTER!!!! Whether it is a ‘thing’ or a ‘thought’ it is there CLUTTERING your space or someone else’s space or your mind!! For a few years now I have been paring down the excess, the useless, the broken, the “OMG what did I keep this for” clutter from my life, I have the things that I truely love, use, want and need. It would probably shock a lot of people what I consider ‘lovely’ or worth ‘keeping’ but that is what makes us individual.

    Clutter, aside from looking not so chic, invades your mind like a fog and sits there and niggles at you until you ‘SCREAM’ “ENOUGH” and then something gets done. I have chosen to realise that I have what I need and I want what I have.

    As I go about my day my schedule rules me for two hours, that is all the things I must get done in order to clear my mind of ‘niggly’ thoughts and get the job done. My home is tidied in less than half an hour because I do everything as I go. I’m not robotic but have found if I tackle everything that jumps at me then and there I no longer have ‘cluttered thoughts’. My husband has been calling me the ‘Eliminator’ for the past few years and during get togethers this has caused quite a stir. As I tell people what I have been doing I keep seeing Lightbulbs flash and then all the thoughts of these people come tumbling forth. They obviously all have an ‘albatross’ of some sort and as I look at them I see myself a few years ago. Weighed down under physical and mental CLUTTER! A lifestyle that was always outside of home (sports and such) which kept us all busy and by being busy it got to the point that I didn’t have time to deal with what I knew was clutter. My house wasn’t really messy, it was big enough for nearly all our gear to be in cupboards, but that was my biggest issue, it was packed away, sorted and stored neatly but it was there! Always there not getting used, pushed to the back, sitting in the dark waiting to expire from lack of use because other stuff was being used in it’s place. I had excess everything and it sat on my mind like a rock. Sometimes I’d be looking around and then suddenly see piles of laundry that needed folding or washing that needed to get done and the ironing board would still be out or dishes not finished. Not totally messy but not orgainised either. My flashbulb moment was upon me!When I stopped the madness of procrastination and took a week off and pulled the plug on the phones and the computer I tackled everything I could head on, I was slightly knackered but oh so ‘free’ it felt great and still feels great to not sweat about it all but just do it. Having a clear head and being out and doing things that I want and love to do without thinking in the back of my mind ‘I should do something about my exploding cupboards and bomb blast aftermath of a garage’! or my dishes 🙂

    Some things just take time and there is no way around that fact, clearing your mind and space will take time, whether it’s a slow time passage or a warp speed, you will get there and you will be happy because you have taken the time to do it and the time you have taken will be well spent. When you reach that point, the if you ‘BUILD’ it moment will be your overall happiness and comfort and your ‘THEY WILL COME’ moment will be all the things you love doing and anything else that brightens your life.

    My journey hasn’t just been about getting rid of ‘STUFF’ it really has been the whole mind thing for me, I was amazed at how much clutter I walked around with and how like a human filofax I had become, I was essentially putting other things before myself and my family, not meaning too but doing it never the less. It was refreshing to know that no member of my family expired from lack of notice but I am really loving everything I get to do with my boys on a ‘mental clutter’ free basis.

    I am still at it and probably always will be because there is always something to be done. I made the decision to keep on top of everything and do everything in a timely manner and I hope to live by it, I know I will probably slip here and there but for now I am happy with my lot.

    I feel like ‘Dumbledore removing thoughts with a wand and placing them in a Pensieve’ 🙂 🙂 🙂

    If anyone is still feeling that they are not getting there quick enough or feel inadequate for whatever reason, then check out and then take a bow and put your feet up cos believe me you’ve earned it!

    Have a mental clutter free day 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • This is great Dizzy. I seem to have this down except for the clutter of too many things to do to keep the finances, insurance and stuff like that taken care of. For instance, I just spent almost 2 weeks trying to get some prescription issues settled for both of us–we have different pharmacies and different insurances. By the time I was done my brain felt like mush. During that time I also got other things done but it just seems to take so much time and energy.

      • Great response Dizzy. I like the idea of the pensieve. When you have a big to-do list, you have to 1) remember what’s on the list as well as 2) tackle the thing itself. Each un-done chore is double.

        • HaHa my pensieve is a big planner and a bunch of bright coloured markers, when a task is done it gets the purple cross and a smiley,
          I love the crossing off part! Unfortunately there is always more to do but at least I can now deal with everything quickly (well hopefully) I don’t want any chores doubling up and cluttering my ‘mind’

          Great post by the way and I just loved your photo of your fence and gate. What a relief for you and heres to the latch getting done soon.

          My little ‘albatross’ this week got done, the spare bathroom, I chucked out all the bandages and stuff on the verge of expiry, who knew that bandaids went so weird after six months. Anyway it’s done so I will be shopping for new supplies for the ‘First Aid’ box very soon just incase someone has an accident and needs the Dettol and a bandaid! 🙂

      • It is the unpleasantness of the task that saps your energy Deb. Sometimes when I stop and think back on this sort of situation I find I really didn’t spend that much time physically on the task it was mostly the unpleasant mental anguish that made the whole thing feel like such a chore. I have had a recent experience of this that is fresh in my mind and it still makes me cringe thinking about it.

      • Hi Deb J,

        Ooh I feel for you there, finances, insurances and the like are brain taxing and soul numbing at the best of times, RELAX, I know it can be a bug bear but remember to breathe! Are you in Australia or US? I had a friend living in the US and her insurances for house, car and health used to drive her to distraction. It was always a battlefield for her and she was glad to be back in OZ at the end of her husband’s contract. On the flip side here in OZ we are pretty lucky with insurances as they can be juggled about in the hope of a better deal etc. I just recently had the car to deal with and got the run around with a claim we lodged due to a lightning strike on our AC unit. What a monumental pain but in the end I got the right person and had the money transferred in 2 days. Thank God, summer here can be horrendous!! May-be when you don’t have to do anything with your prescriptions, that might be the time to tackle it and find out the best course of action to follow when you’re not stressed about having to do the task.

        I find when I don’t have to be dealing with something, that is usually the best time for me to be seeking alternative ways to be doing or getting something, relieves the stress and time factor that’s for sure.

        Good luck with all 🙂 🙂 🙂

  10. A colleague of mine was fighting cancer. With a lot of recovery time spent at home she started sorting through her life. One thing she discovered was a lot of unfinished projects around her home, everything from tax returns to embroidery and books to read. During this time some projects were finished but many were simply thrown out. This decluttering and completing process was very freeing for her and a great side effect of being stuck at home with cancer. It challenged me on how many projects I have around my home…

    • I’m glad that both of you were able to take her bad situation and make a positive change because of it.

    • What a great story Gail. There is nothing like finding the good things in a bad situation. Sometimes these awful things almost come as a blessing if we can summon the strength to see them as such.

  11. Sabrina from Italy

    Oops… this I think is my weak point (even if I still have too much material clutter at home). My to-do-list never seems to get shorter. As soon as I check something as “done” I realize in the meantime 2 more things have added themselves to the list… 😛 I have a few projects that have been sitting on the list for years, but I never get to do them because more urgent things appear: appointments with doctors, apartment maintenance, bureaucracy etc. plus some ongoing activities such as a language course. My husband has the last 2 exams of university waiting for him since 2006 (he started working in the meantime so no time for studying) and we have a half-built house that we should complete but after 1 year of looking for information, bureaucracy, quotations etc nothing has been done yet. We seem not to be able to concentrate on the bigger things because the small day-to-day ones get priority. I need to do something about it!

    • Oh Sabrina, You need to Put Your Big Rocks in First. The little chores will bedevil you until you don’t get any of the larger and more important items completed.

    • I hate to say it Sabrina but that is just life in this crazy modern world. Although you do seem to have managed to complicate it as much as possible. Once again though the modern society seems to dictate that we should be forever improving ourselves which also adds lots to our to do list.

      I have it pretty easy but there is always something on my to do list too. My head has been spinning all week with one appointment/commitment or another. When I am not working in a “real” job I wonder how people ever find time to. When I am working in a real job I suppose I just work a lot harder to keep everything under control. I find that in the end even the things I enjoy become a burden to fit in somewhere and that is just wrong. Going on vacation is often the best escape because you are forced to behave differently and you can leave your “real” life behind.

  12. Grace from Brazil

    Ohhh, Cindy, you really struck a nerve with this one! You are so right. So many things weigh me down because they are hanging over me. I think I will make several lists today. Those that have immediate, urgent consequences and those which are important but would take some planning. Then how about that list of enjoyable things that I just never get around to doing with my family, kind of like ‘pay offs’. I find I need to psych myself out. (“Just start picking up 5 things.”) and before I know it I have put away a whole room of messies. But when that is done then looking at my “reward” list, certainly would be in order.

    I appreciate all of the comments. I have gleaned so much from them!

    I will get right on these lists. Thanks for the gently nudge. When I see others accomplishing their goals it is very motivating.

    • Grace, Today I looked at a list I wrote a number of months back, all larger household chores and maintenance. Not a single one of them – except fix the gate – has been accomplished in that time. Clearly I need to both LOOK at my list and ACT on my list.

  13. I invested in an app called “Things” that’s on my laptop & my iPhone/iPad. It’s essentially a giant to-do list organizer & the most useful thing in helping me to NOT overwhelm myself with tasks or to-do clutter. Especially the kind of to-do clutter that I’ve been avoiding for days, weeks, months, years!

    I have my Things set up to remind me daily of mundane chores that must be done everyday (clean out the birds night cages, eat breakfast, begin preparation for tonight/tomorrows dinner, go walk, feed the animals, etc) with those essential things already scheduled for the day – I already know what portion of my day will be taken up with that stuff & then can fill in other tasks. If I see my daily list has gotten too long – well I simply move some of the tasks to another day or even another month or another year even.

    I can set due by dates which can be the motivator I need to finally get a long-standing task off my list once & for all. This feature has been super handy & I’ve already knocked 14 things off my long-standing to-do list in less than 2 months whereas before I had “Things”, those to-do’s had been boat anchors around my neck. Every time I check off one of those long-standing to-do’s I get a mental jumpstart & it’s makes attacking the next one on the list that much easier to face.
    For example, about 40 of our shrubs fell ill to a soil fungus about 2 years ago & yet we’ve left those dead shrubs in the ground looking horrible for 2 years!!! I added to my “Things” to-do list the task of pulling out the shrubs & discarding them & gave the deadline of February 15th. So here comes early Feb & I see that I have this task set up for mid-month, so I went out right then & there & yanked up all the dead shrubs & hauled them off to the landfill. Took about 1.5 hours to get them all out of the ground & another 1.5 to load them in the truck bed & take them to the landfill. Done. Checked off my list. Stupid task has been languishing for 2 years & now it’s done. One less crummy to-do clutter off my list & out of my psyche.
    Now I’m on the hunt for different shrubs so I have a task deadline entered in my “Things” for that. But that’s a fun thing though!

    • Good for you. I like it. I use for my on-line and iPod to-do list. I have reminders for all sorts of regular tasks in it (wash towels, change air filters, clip the cats’ nails) as well as reminders for things that happen infrequently and often far in the future (for example, Clara’s insulin pump is supposed to be replaced every 4 years. I have a reminder set when 4 years is up. No point in using my brain power to try and remember that date). However, I haven’t used it as you have, to motivate myself to do some household to-dos. Interesting idea.

    • That was a very thought provoking comment Jane. It is interesting how one simple transfer of focus can make such a big difference to someone’s life. Crossing something off your to do list is enough of a reward to inspire you to deal with the unpleasant task you used to spend so much time procrastinating about. Well done!

      I found this so interesting and so relatable to other encouragements to declutter that I am writing a post about it for next week. So stay tuned.

    • Hi Jane – that sounds exactly what I am looking for. I have notebooks everywhere with To-Do lists on them but often find the time management side of things goes pear shape – I will be scurrying around the house at midnight, trying to get things crossed off my list. I don’t have an iPhone, but it is on my To-Do (or is it: To-Buy) list this year. Which App store did you get it from?

    • Oh and I have a really primitive “Things” method for getting my husband to do things around the house………..I have it written on a piece of paper blue tacked to the wall directly in eye view of where he eats at the dinning table.

  14. What a great incentive to ‘do it now’. Thanks, Cindy!

  15. Found one for PC users!

    (I do not have a phone to use apps with)

  16. Two weeks ago my aunt passed away. so I have had the task of cleaning out her unit. Before I started reading this blog I would have kept a lot of her things as keepsakes. But now I am quickly finding new homes for her things and giving people pleasure in using these items.
    My eldest son doesn’t have a lot of furniture in his flat so he took the wardrobe, chest of drawers, dining room set and a large mirror.
    that just left a 2 seater lounge which we have put to good use in our family room and a fridge and glory box which my daughter is taking.
    A lovely wall unit went to a neighbour of hers who was thrilled to have it and for free.
    All the rest I will go through keep a couple of keepsakes and the rest will go to St vinnies for new homes.
    All this is very liberating for me and I thank you for your well timed blog.

    • Well done you for dealing with dealing with this so effeciently. When my hubby’s grandfather died it took them a year to clear the house and garage.

    • Excellent job of moving things along Denise. You’ll be so happy to not have that hanging over your head. I’m glad the blog has been a benefit to you. -Cindy

    • Hi Denise,
      I am so pleased that my blog has been such a help to you at this sad time. My sympathies go out to you and your family. It sounds like your generosity is helping plenty of others too. Good for you Denise.


  1. […] read this comment by Jane from last week in response to Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Mental […]