A Cluttered Mind

By Ginger E. Blume, Ph.D.

Most of us know someone who resides in a cluttered home.  People, who are plagued with an emotional anxiety disorder called Hoarding, collect things, many of which are useless.  They find it impossible to discard those unneeded papers and objects.  Hence, over time, their homes become so cluttered, they don’t even have space to actually live there comfortably.  Eventually, material things control their lives and they live in a constant, anxious state of being out-of-control.

Now, take this image of a cluttered house and imagine the same problem manifested in someone’s mind.  Yes, minds can become cluttered, too.  So what do I mean when I say many people today have a cluttered mind?  

Let’s use the above analogy to explore the problem of having a cluttered mind.  Since most of us have never seen inside the human brain, let’s image this metaphor for a moment.  First, imagine that the physical structure of your brain is similar to a computer and that the inner workings (i.e. our mind) are similar to a complex windows program on the computer’s hard drive.  Second, recall the last time you had too many programs pulled up on your desktop.  As the desktop became cluttered with too many simultaneous programs operating, you probably noticed how   s  l o  w  l  y   the computer seemed to run.  Eventually, you reached a point where the computer froze and you had to reboot.  In other words, your desktop no longer functioned efficiently or properly when all the space (ram) became too cluttered.

This happens to our minds as well.  Consider how often we are mentally assaulted with useless information that is neither wanted nor relevant to our lives.   In today’s high tech world, we are bombarded with noise and images wherever we go.  Rarely, do we experience peace and calm, necessary for thinking and getting to know and understand ourselves.   In addition to useless stuff forced upon us, there are many important things we have to remember just to function on a daily basis.  Gone are the days of pushing a single button to operate anything!  

As the world has become increasingly complex due to technology, we have more and more gadgets we must remember how to operate.  For instance, do you remember the code to your home safe, the code to your home security system, the password to open your computer at home and the office, your password on every internet site, how to operate all your TVs, DVDs, CD players, IPODs, your cell phone instructions, etc?   And if you don’t remember all these things, do you remember where you placed or hid the instructions?  

While we enjoy many of these latest gadgets and toys, we also pay a price that is not so obvious.  There is little “down time” in our world today.  We can be located just about anywhere (for instance, by cell phone or GPS) and there are very few truly quiet places in our world.  Daily retreats are difficult to find.  How many of us can afford to pay for a “get away spa” to emotionally and physically unwind and refuel as often as we need?  

Half the battle for de-cluttering your mind, is realizing the negative affect all this over-stimulation has on your entire being.   People who are natural introverts (spend most of the time in their inner world of thought and ideas) become especially uncomfortable and unhappy when they cannot find alone, quiet time.  But even extraverts (people who become recharged by contact with the outer world of people) need some balance.  They tend to be less tuned into how over-stimulation can put them into a cranky mood.    

We need to cultivate moments of tranquility to optimally allow our minds to become de-cluttered.  Tranquility is no longer something we can assume will be present.  We must consciously structure time for peace and quiet.  You are not likely to do this unless you recognize the value you’ll obtain from meditating, doing slow stretching, yoga, etc.  I encourage you to examine your life and ask yourself: “When, where, how often do I have time to be at peace?  Do I need to guarantee that this happens more often in my life?  Is my life so cluttered with stimulation that I feel constantly anxious and overwhelmed?  Have I lost a sense of personal focus and purpose in my life?”

Like a computer that occasionally needs to be defragged, I’d recommend you create a mini-retreat for rest and relaxation.  Too many people think a vacation will be relaxing, only to return and need another vacation in order to truly rest!  

Give yourself time to reflect, away from the hustle and bustle of your overly busy life.  Establish small routines that provide a brief sanctuary from noise and demands on your attention.  For instance, a one-week moratorium on TV watching can do wonders for your mood.  Occasionally, leave your cell phone at home and go for a walk or sit by a quiet lake and reflect.  In short, avoid remaining a slave to today’s technological intrusions.  Make a conscious choice to disconnect from demands on a regular basis.  

c Copyright, 2007 Ginger E. Blume, Ph.D.