Other Ways I’m Decluttering My Life (and Mind)

August 13, 2014

cluttered-mind-quote

There was a moment right in the middle of that massive declutter I did last month where I got extremely stressed out. Just like when I felt frustrated about not being able to find the can opener in that drawer, I felt overwhelmed by how much stuff was stacked in my dining room. Why didn’t I finish going through that box when I first opened it? What am I going to keep from the pile of things still in question? What if the library won’t take my books? And how the heck am I going to carry all of this down to my car? Having it all out there in front of me, it felt like more of a headache than a healthy process.

Once I’d finally donated everything, I realized that my home was free of clutter but my mind was still full of it. At any given moment, it seemed like I had a dozen or more thoughts running through my head. I worried about: whether or not I’d be able to squeeze in a workout, what I’d eat for lunch and/or dinner, how much work I’d be able to get done that day/week, when I’d find the time to catch up on blogs, how I should reply to that email so-and-so sent 3 days ago, when I’d get around to reading the dozens of sites I’d bookmarked, who could design a logo, when I should launch a new project, when I’d see this friend or that friend, how much I could save next month, which rowing club I should join, and the list goes on and on.

None of those were bad thoughts – there were just so many of them that I constantly felt overwhelmed. For every 1 item I crossed off my mental to-do list, it felt like I added 6 more. And it’s exciting to be constantly brainstorming new projects, thinking about the future, etc. but it got to the point where I didn’t know what it meant to live in the present; to really pay attention to my workouts and how my recovery was going, breathe in the fresh air on my morning walks, enjoy the food I put into my body, celebrate a win at work or on the blog, and soak up every minute I spent with family and friends. Rather than being exactly where I was – in the moment – I was always 12 steps ahead, thinking about what’s next.

In an attempt to declutter my mind, this is something I’m now trying to change. And, similar to how purging physical items from my home was just the beginning of my path towards living a more minimalist lifestyle, I started by identifying/removing the simple annoyances in my daily life:

  1. iPhone apps: How many apps do you have on your phone? Now, how many of them do you actually use on a daily or at least weekly basis? I was holding onto so many because I thought “I might use it one day” or “I used to use it”… but I don’t use them now, so they were just clutter on my phone! I deleted close to half of my apps (including Facebook Messenger), so everything I need fits onto one screen. The most surprising benefit: I look at my phone a lot less now, because there are so few apps (and zero games) that I get bored after a few minutes.
  2. Social media: At first, this had more to do with the shopping ban, as I unfollowed/unliked any store or business that sold products. It’s not enough to just avoid malls – we’re constantly bombarded with ads online, so I had to remove as many temptations as possible. However, once I removed all the sales ads from my feeds, I noticed there were a handful of users I’d followed months and years ago who only tweeted their new posts, all other bloggers’ new posts, lists of complaints, etc. I decided to unsubscribe from the noise, so to speak, and only follow those who added to the conversation.
  3. Bookmarks: If I thought I was a book hoarder, let me tell you: that collection had nothing on the hundreds of sites I’d bookmarked in Chrome. I’ll read it later. I should reference that in a post. I want to buy that/do that/make that/go there. And I’ll need this for that project I’m going to start who knows when. All of a sudden, I had probably 200-300 bookmarks scattered in a dozen or so random folders… and I hadn’t referenced a single one of them. I went through and deleted a bunch, then organized the rest, and resolved to only add ones that I’ve read and truly believe I will reference again.
  4. Desktop: Similar to my bookmarks in Chrome, I have a bad habit of saving all kinds of random things on my desktop. I take screenshots of things I see on the internet and want to look up later but “don’t have time to right now”, open/save text documents with literally a few bullet points about something that’s on my mind, and have the most disorganized folder for everything related to this blog. (Ugh, I’m still not done cleaning that one up, and I hate even thinking about looking at it.) I organized the items on my desktop into folders, and am trying not to add to them unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  5. Email: I’m not someone who aspires to reach “inbox zero” like so many others, because it’s rare for my inboxes to be filled with to-do items. No, my issue is how many personal email addresses I have. Up until a month or so ago, I think I had… 5 email accounts connected to my iPhone!? Maybe 6. After finally getting fed up, I took the time to log into the accounts online, delete a few, forward one and now I’m left with two: personal and work. Beyond that, I logged into Unroll.me to clean up both accounts again, and am immediately unsubscribing from anything that comes in/I don’t want to see.

These probably all sound like superficial ways to declutter your life, but it truly feels like a small piece of a bigger puzzle. As for some of the ways I’m trying to learn how to live in the present… we’ll talk about that next week. (I can tell you that I meditated for the first time this week, and can see what all the fuss is about.)

When was the last time you cleaned up your technology/online life?

  • debt debs August 13, 2014 at 4:31 am

    I still haven’t figured out how to manage my email or even my blog reader so thanks for the tips. I think I have FOMO bad (and yes I just learned what that acronym means this week, even though I’ve had it for awhile ;-) hee).

    I think getting your apartment clutter dealt with must have been freeing to then address your online clutter. Sometimes you need to deal with one area of your life before you move onto the next.

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      That’s exactly right, Debs. And I also think this’ll soon push past just physical items, into a way of living…

  • Charlotte August 13, 2014 at 5:03 am

    I had never heard of unroll.me until this post but wow, I wish I had sooner!
    I hope your declutter process continues to go well, it sounds like you’re making great progress so far and taking positive steps. keep it up!

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      It’s amazing, eh! Thanks, Charlotte.

  • Alicia August 13, 2014 at 5:16 am

    I have a really bad habit with my computer. I have the best intentions and am crazy with sub-folders (aka Alicia/2014/personal/July/X). Then I lose sight of my system for a bit and start cluttering up my desktop. Which then gets thrown in one big folder labelled “stuff” on my desktop. So my desktop is cleaned, but not organized. And then rinse and repeat.

    For phone apps, I basically just use mobile banking and twitter, so I don’t know why I have so many icons.

    As for emails, I am totally out of control. I have two for work (because I have two different bosses, sorta) then I have my personal email from when I was 13 (hotmail), my school email that I forward to my personal gmail account, and then my blog gmail account. It’s insanity honestly. The only ones I can really “get rid of” would be my school one (which forwards to my gmail) and my old hotmail one. But that still leaves 4!

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:28 pm

      Haha, yep – I used to have a “DESKTOP” folder that I eventually just dumped everything into… not very helpful! LOL

      And I had a blog email address for so long, then realized my name is on everything, so I might as well just use my personal one. Forwarded BoaB over to CF and called it a day.

  • Michelle August 13, 2014 at 5:19 am

    I do all of this on a regular basis (every 3-6 mos a big purge is done) as I find it all just becomes very overwhelming. My emails have all been unsubscribed, to avoid fashion temptation. I never knew about Unroll.me, thanks for sharing! I’ll have to give it a try. My iPhone never seems to get out of control because I’m worried about privacy with a lot of them and all the silly Push notifications I get bombarded with – can’t stand those.
    My reader is the biggest problem and can get very busy…I have so many wonderful blogs I follow, I don’t want to remove any.

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:30 pm

      Truth: I’ve never used a reader for blogs. I visit everyone’s sites a couple times/week, instead. I’ve always felt like I was a lone wolf in that sense, haha, but just the thought of a reader telling me I need to read dozens of posts stresses me out!

      • Dayle August 14, 2014 at 3:35 am

        I’ve never used one either… in fact I don’t really know much about them! I just have all the blogs I read bookmarked in my favourites.

  • Kate@Goodnightdebt August 13, 2014 at 5:21 am

    I unsubscribed from nearly all email temptation when I started paying back my student loans in January. I should go through again because digital pests have started to peck at my consciousness again. You will feel so much better just from the email purge alone!

    Being a new PF tweeter, I’ve been annoyed by how many people tweet other’s posts with no original content. Let us be original. All those repetitive posts are just ads and they are clogging up my twitter feed!

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:31 pm

      Good for you, Kate! And yes, I think it’s important to share content that you really love and want your followers to read, but automated tweets drive me nuts.

  • Dawn August 13, 2014 at 5:34 am

    I did an email purge just htis past month. Mine was only one email account but I had emails from 2006 in there! Did I need them?! No. I went from 3000 emails to 700, which is still a lot but we’ll see if I can manage to cut that down again.

    Thanks for the unroll.me website, I just used it and have unsubbed on hundreds of stuff!

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:32 pm

      I have no idea how many emails are in my accounts, but that doesn’t really concern me. But emails from 2006? That’d be funny to see, lol.

      And you’re welcome! Happy it helped. :)

  • Dayle August 13, 2014 at 6:16 am

    I am definitely guilty of letting emails pile up in both my personal and my work accounts. I generally mark things unread if they need action and I don’t miss items that require my attention, but with deleting and filing away when done, I really fail!

    I do not like things on my desktop so I do pretty well at filing away or deleting documents that end up there. My personal computer hard drive is quite organized. My work one could use some work but with work stuff I am always weary of deleting… what if I need that thing again 5 years from now?! I do unfortunately just save a lot into “my documents” when it really should be filed further.

    I have only had my iPhone since April so it isn’t too bad. I have all the apps I use daily on my front screen and my second screen is only half full… and most of which are the iPhone apps I can’t delete. The ones I use less frequently like Goodreads or Instacollage live there too.

    As for online shopping emails, I really like the Gmail iPhone app, it sorts “promotions” and “social” email separately from my main account and it is quite good and sorting them properly. Once every day or so I just go in and delete all the online shopping stuff. It saves me from checking my phone constantly too because I don’t get a notification for those ones, only emails that go into “primary” send a notifcation.

    I have noticed since the new privacy law thing on July 1st that I get quite a few less emails. I didn’t re-subscribe to a lot of them that wanted me to.

    Dayle

    • Jacquie August 13, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      With the iPhone apps you can’t delete (annoying!), I moved them all into a “Unused” folder, so it was only taking up one icon space instead of multiple.

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:34 pm

      AMEN, Dayle. I feel kind of bad for companies who can’t market via email anymore, but holy jeez did that save my inbox.

      And yes, the iPhone apps you can’t delete are the absolute worst. Like Jacquie, I also have them all in a folder.

      • Dayle August 14, 2014 at 3:36 am

        Great idea… Thanks Jacquie!

  • Hallie August 13, 2014 at 6:37 am

    Now that you’re not buying books you could make a list of those articles you want to read. Keep it handy so when you’re looking for something to read you have a list of articles. After all reading is reading. :-)

    Also, have you considered starting a mind dump journal? It would free your mind of all those mental to do’s and anything else.

    Just a thought!

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:37 pm

      I actually just started doing that last week, Hallie! More to come next week ;) thanks!

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach August 13, 2014 at 6:44 am

    Every once in awhile I go through with a huge email purge and it feels so good. Also with unsubscribing from some newsletters. Lately I’ve been wanting to take a huge social media break. It seems that there has been a lot of negative news and people bashing other people about what they are posting. It’s always good to step away for awhile right?

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:41 pm

      Honestly, just unfollow those people, Tonya. A few months ago, I finally realized that Twitter is a conversation – it’s not a place to just be friends w/ your friends. Even though I still read their blogs, I unfollowed a bunch of bloggers – and with no offence to them! I just don’t need that negativity to fill my Twitter feed/mind.

  • @Melissymelissa August 13, 2014 at 6:52 am

    Perfect timing, I just completed 3 & 4 yesterday! I was feeling super overwhelmed everytime I opened my laptop and I have to say, organizing my desktop felt the best.

    I really need to work on 5. I delete so many pointless emails that I don’t want to see yet I don’t take the extra 5 seconds to unsubscribe…

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      Amazing! Start with Unroll.me :)

  • Will August 13, 2014 at 7:00 am

    Inbox zero?! I didn’t even know that was possible!

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      Haha, me neither – but I don’t strive for it.

  • Daisy August 13, 2014 at 7:06 am

    I just spent the last 10 minutes with Unroll.me and it was awesome. Bye-bye, junk email! You know how there are those companies that email you that have no evidence of being able to unsubscribe? Yeah, those have been driving me nuts lately.

    I need to get on the iPhone apps, too. It’s been amazing getting rid of so much wedding stuff and I culled my closet a few weeks ago too but my electronics are a mess.

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:43 pm

      Isn’t it amazing!? I try to visit Unroll.me once every few months, to see if there’s anything new I need to unsubscribe from. Digital Godsend.

  • Julie August 13, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Those don’t sound superficial at all! When I have a messy room, for example, I have trouble sleeping- even though I’m not even close to being a neat freak. It just keeps my subconscious stressed.

    I find writing the to-do list down makes a HUGE difference too. My number one tip for decluttering the mind though is yoga!

    • Elizabeth August 13, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      I recently some expert argue that writing down your to-do list helps. Apparently it frees up your mind to think about other things, or to focus on a task.

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      Yoga is on the list of new (almost) daily activities, Julie! I’ll write more about it next week. :)

  • Steve August 13, 2014 at 8:48 am

    #3 and #4 are hilarious because they are so me! I’m pretty anal about keeping all my eamil cleared all the time, but I have a bad habit of bookmarking things and saving everything onto my desktop. Too funny.

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      Loved your tweet: the bookmark button on my browser is a blackhole where good intentions go to die. Ain’t that the truth, lol.

  • Keri Conwell August 13, 2014 at 9:02 am

    I’ve found the app “Mailbox” (not to be confused with the default mail app) to be really useful in controlling my email clutter. It has really simple swipe controls – one swipe to the right archives an email, etc. You can also swipe to the left to delay the message – the email leaves your mailbox for whatever interval you set, then comes back into your inbox. That way it is not cluttered with all those “I need to do it later” emails. The notification badge shows the total number of emails, not the unopened ones, which encourages keeping it empty. And it’s free! My email box has been empty pretty consistently since I installed it. It’s one of the few things tempting me to get ios 7 on my iPad, because the app is only available for ios 7.

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      I’m sure they will need to upgrade soon, Keri!

  • Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore August 13, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Cait, these are not insignificant changes. They are MAJOR changes to your mindset and way of life to try and be better at living in the here and now. I’m working my way toward these things too, but at a much slower pace. You are truly inspiring!

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      Thanks, Kayla! :)

  • Kelly August 13, 2014 at 9:27 am

    GOOD for you!! I am hoping to follow along on this same journey! I too do not live in the present enough! I should definitely clean up & purge TONS of apps & electronics time wasters. I have also noticed when I get too stressed a good long walk with dog does wonders.. Exotically since he has to sniff & pee on everything I take the time to look at my surroundings & breathe in the air.

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:51 pm

      Oh, I find walks to be one of the best ways to clear my head, so that doesn’t surprise me at all! Enjoy ’em, Kelly. :)

  • Claire August 13, 2014 at 9:59 am

    ACH, yes!! I’m the queen of bookmark hoarding, toooo. I have a catalog of some pretty awesome articles/resources that I’ll likely never look at again. But I will say, the act of bookmarking has seriously cut down on my browser problem… it’s like compulsive clicking rather than compulsive cluttering :p

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      Haha, that’s a good way to think of it, Claire. I’m also the queen of having too many tabs open, so… I still have some work to do, in that area.

  • Money Pincher August 13, 2014 at 10:15 am

    It’s been a while since I cleaned up my technology / online. One thing I know I need to put into order are my PHOTOS! They are everywhere! Some are still in my SD card, some in USB drive. It’s amazing how it accumulates so quickly!

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      Ahhh, I bet! I only use my iPhone to take pics, but hate how many folders it’s created in iPhoto. I just don’t bother looking. (Another bit of mental clutter I didn’t realize I had.)

  • Emma August 13, 2014 at 10:54 am

    I’m excited to try a few of these myself, thanks for the tips!

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      You’re welcome!

  • Stephany August 13, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Oh, this is all very good advice! I think I do pretty well with controlling clutter on my computer (everything has to be organized!), but I think I could purge some stuff, especially on Google Drive.

    My iPhone screen is a bit out of control, so I think I want to tackle decluttering that and deleting apps I never use. I have 2.5 screens of crap AND some of that is organized into different folders – AH! It kinda makes me crazy. :)

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      That reminded me to check out Google Drive: all clear, except for one file. Thanks!

      And tackle those apps! Just ask yourself when the last time you actually used an app was – not when you’d *like* to use it in the future. Helped me, anyway!

  • MsCB August 13, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Cait, these are all GREAT tips! I read this post on my lunch break and promptly deleted many iPhone apps (including the annoying facebook messenger) and got them all on one screen as well.

    This week I’ll work on my desktop and bookmarks.

    Great ideas and inspiration! Too much mind clutter is awful.

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      Amazing! Nice work.

  • Jacquie August 13, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    That all sounds great, Cait!

    I was working on organizing photos on my comp the last few days because I (luckily) found a bunch of backup cds at my Mums! I thought I’d lost important photos (prom, Europe, etc) when my external drive died a few years ago. I felt so fortunate to find the backup cds and I’m getting everything in proper order now. They will be backed up to an external drive as well as CrashPlan.

    CrashPlan saved us a couple months ago when my BF’s drive died. He would have lost every single photo from the last 20+ years if they hadn’t been backed up through CrashPlan.

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      I’ve never heard of CrashPlan before, but I do backup my computer every month or so on an external hard drive. It’s just a little peace of mind!

      • Dayle August 14, 2014 at 3:39 am

        I do this too… I have a 500GB little external USB drive thing and I just keep saving and re-saving all my pics and docs every so often… I’m always worried about my 7 year old laptop crashing.

        • Jacquie August 14, 2014 at 11:51 am

          Cait and Dayle, it was my external drive that died! I even took it to repair shops and they said nothing could be done.

  • Kassandra August 13, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    I like keeping things simple and streamlined in my life so I try to keep technology usage to just things that I use daily/very often. I got rid of the Facebook app on my phone because it’s just too distracting. I too don’t enjoy the overwhelming feeling of a million and one thoughts and I’m working on putting less stress on myself to get everything accomplished in one day.

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Good to hear, Kassandra. I still have the regular app, but find I check it very rarely. But Twitter… I’m all over that, lol.

  • Elizabeth August 13, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    All good tips — in the post and the comments! Here’s to less digital clutter :)

    Not sure if this will help anyone else, but I find using Pinterest has curbed my bookmark hoarding habits. It keeps my browsers less cluttered, but I can still find the recipes, clothing, things I want to make, places I want to go, design examples, etc. It’s kind of neat having “mood boards” of stuff I want to reference later.

    I’m pretty sparse about my social media use too. Really, who has time for it?

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      See, I actually find the opposite with Pinterest. I used to get sucked in for houuuuurs, then realized I was just building these boards of beautiful images that I’d never do anything with. I eventually deleted my account and have never looked back. Anyway, maybe that’s just me. I do think it’s important to identify/use the sites that give you the most value! So that’s Twitter for me, but Pinterest for you. :)

  • Morgan August 13, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    I went through the 3 personal email accounts I have last week and un-subscribed from so many mailing lists! I also went through all the blogs I follow through Bloglovin and un-followed all the ones that hadn’t posted in a long time and some I didn’t really go to anymore, which was quite a few! Now I just need to do my desktop and other folders. Can’t wait to be completely finished! It’s going to be great! :)

    • Cait Flanders August 13, 2014 at 8:49 pm

      Love it, Morgan! I still need to finish my desktop, but it’s so much better than what I started with, haha.

  • May August 14, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Great ideas. I haven’t figured out the electronic side of things at home yet — but at work I have started using Microsoft OneNote and I am in love. Things can leave my brain and move into OneNote and I don’t have to think about them anymore.
    I should go work for microsoft maybe? I recommend it for all MS office users.

    • Cait Flanders August 15, 2014 at 11:45 am

      Haha, hey, if it works, it works!

  • Leigh August 15, 2014 at 4:04 am

    Love this! Thank you :)

    I like gmail’s archive feature/priority mailbox. I don’t hit inbox zero, but I do get it under 10 emails most days. I want to delete Facebook, but too many family members/old friends only have that contact information. Instead, I’ve been un friending anyone whose posts I repeatedly see who don’t add to my life. Deleting it from my phone has certainly made me happier!

    • Cait Flanders August 15, 2014 at 11:46 am

      I used to hate Facebook too, and deactivated my account for 8+ months once. But I’ve just slowly started to use it less and less, only have the people I’m close to on there, and like that it’s a way for me to keep family up-to-date on where I am/what I’m doing.

  • Clare August 15, 2014 at 11:01 am

    I feel like I’ve told you this before but have you tried Pocket? It’s a Chrome extension / app that lets you save articles / websites to read later. It’s been a total game-changer for me. My days of cluttered bookmark folders are long gone.

    • Cait Flanders August 15, 2014 at 11:48 am

      Yes, I tried to use Pocket, but found that I just had a longgggg list of articles saved that I never really went back to. Basically, I just need to STOP bookmarking things, lol. I have serious issues w/ this.

  • Tiffany Anne August 16, 2014 at 3:25 am

    Oh! When I thought (actually forced myself to think) that having emails piled and piled and piled was normal, having SO many bookmarks on the other hand is what only I do. Then I read your post! I can totally relate some of my bookmarks were even a year old already. I made folders and folders in attempt to “organize” my bookmarks but they still landed EVERYWHERE! The bookmarks bar, other bookmarks bar, and the mobile bookmarks. It’s actually making me go crazy. I even planned on just deleting all of them to clear those spaces but debated on it since I knew some are really important and would help me. I’m glad I’m not the only one. I can TOTALLY relate to you.

  • Calla August 18, 2014 at 9:43 am

    You may appreciate an ad-blocker if you don’t have one already. I installed one in my browser a couple of years ago and it makes a huge difference. Websites that used to bombard me with ads are now a lot easier to look at and I find it’s easier to find the content I want.

  • Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans August 18, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Recently, I just went through my phone and asked myself if each and every app in there is absolutely necessary. I got rid of a ton of time-wasting games/social media apps that way. I definitely feel free-er!

  • Michelle August 19, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    It’s funny you posted about deleting the apps on your phone. I just tried to do this as well, but I found that the apps I don’t ever use are the ones that are pre-programmed into the iphone.

  • SarahN August 23, 2014 at 1:57 am

    I do a few of the things you mention – my apps are SO minimal – one card game, and otherwise, not really much else.

    With emails, the sales ones, I’ve put on ‘quiet’ which means they mark as read, and I don’t have that rush to read the new emails in my inbox That helps. All blog posts I get emailed, they get filed, unread, during work now (in the olden days work was dull, and I started reading blogs!)

    Thankfully bookmarks and desktop aren’t as big a problems, cause now that I’m busier, I still to filing protocols, and don’t discover as much new content.

    Can’t help also feeling ten steps ahead and simultaneously behind too. like you, I need to work on not being too in the ‘future’ than the ‘now’.