mental clutter – manage with more or enjoy with less?

Quiet time at the end of the day.
Photo by Jo

Wow, the city can be noisy sometimes. I do my best to manage the day-to-day demand on my ears, eyes, mind and soul. Embracing a minimalist philosophy, I already reduce stressful clutter in my home. We have no gadget nights to limit the amount of screen time. Being a freelancer, it’s a challenge to say ‘no’ and take breaks but I try to because I have experienced the benefits of taking care of my creative energy.

My spirit does it’s best work when I am quiet. I often use the analogy of phone lines. As a temp secretary decades ago, I remember a phone box with 10 lights that would flash, one for each line being used. A few inches away, at the bottom, was an 11th light, for those overflow moments (?!) Anyhow, I strive to have only 5 lines occupied at any given time. When life peaks, it may go up to 8 but only temporarily. If life gets suddenly full AND there is an emergency, I can go to 10 and survive – I have the capacity.

When coaching clients about their stressful lives, I will mention this story and ask them if they are on the 11th line! One client recently stated “We only feel productive at work if we are solving a big crisis…proving worthiness by putting out a big fire, even if it’s one we’ve created ourselves.”

There is a relentless message out there to do more with our time, be more efficient at it and we’ll achieve happiness. I’ve been reading some work by Dr Robert Holden: “A common mistake we make is to get so busy pursuing happiness that we fail to give our best time, energy and attention to our relationships.” I can’t focus on a conversation when my brain is about to explode!

Recently we took a well deserved holiday and rented an ‘off the grid’ cottage called The Nook. I always travel with my blackberry – a phone for emergencies and a way to check the time and the weather conditions. But I turned the push email off. Each day we ate, slept, read books and swam in the lake. We would prepare dinner in the long shadows from the setting sun and then eat by candlelight. I think I made it down to two lines! I then felt inspired to write down some thoughts on the back of a newspaper. My best ideas come when my brain is empty!

Sometimes I do like to be cheerfully busy. I would love to hear my partner say the reason why he is late from work is because he is so passionate about it! And there is definite value to helping others and contributing to the universe. It’s important to know what’s going on around the world but do I need to listen to panicked, loud, news footage repeating grim video messages again and again? I enjoy music but I don’t respond well to constant voices on the radio regurgitating generic assumptions about how the weather is too hot or we all hate summer coming to an end. I will get headlines in 140 characters or less, with a link on twitter to read more if I wish. On the weekend I relax with the newspaper. Hush!

When a loved one needs a sounding board or your community needs an advocate, then let the lines fill up with good energy! Quality engagement with others comes from me feeling less guilty about pausing to look after myself and my surroundings. Bottom line? It’s okay to let a lot of the mental clutter go.