I recently finished reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo after it was highly recommended by my lovely friend and CP. The wildly popular book operates on the principle that we should only keep things that spark joy, and discard the rest, which is simple in theory but extremely difficult in practice. As I read, I became uneasy thinking about the amount of things I own that spark zero joy. In fact, since I have so much stuff and not enough storage, a lot of things end up sparking the antithesis of joy– anxiety. While I still haven’t gone on a full decluttering spree using the categories the book suggests, I started by going through my closets and found a surprising amount of clothes and shoes that I could easily part with. As soon as I filled up the garbage bags for donation, I felt lighter and less burdened.
That got me thinking about clutter. Not just physical clutter– the clothes jammed into my closet, sometimes sharing hangers, or the piles of paperwork building up on my desk– but all the mental junk building up in my brain, accumulated not through shopping sprees but time spent online, mindlessly reaching for my phone and scrolling through social media any time I’m sitting still. I suddenly realized I don’t really know how to be alone with my thoughts anymore, because any opportunity I have for boredom to set in– when I’m in line at the grocery store, waiting in my car to meet a friend, when a commercial comes on– I’m apt to whip out my phone and open Twitter or Instagram, or catch up on celebrity gossip. My brain doesn’t get a chance to rest because it gets busy again with what’s going on in other people’s lives. Sometimes I think my brain doesn’t even know how to rest anymore– my first instinct when I can’t sleep at four a.m. is to grab my phone and open an app.
There’s nothing wrong with pulling out your phone when you’re bored. If you look around, most people are doing the exact same thing. But what I want to be aware of is exactly how much those few minutes here and there add up to hours spent absorbing random and unnecessary information instead of creating something. I want to be okay with knowing what boredom feels like, because with boredom comes imagination. And while it seems natural to use the two minutes you’re waiting for your coffee order at Starbucks to click a bunch of hearts on Instagram, those two minutes snowball into the ten minutes on your break at work and the five minutes you spend waiting for a pot of water to boil while cooking dinner. It’s all time you don’t get back.
It’s not as straightforward to declutter your mind as it is to get rid of physical possessions by putting them in garbage bags and hauling them off to Goodwill. You can’t just dump the contents that aren’t serving you anymore. You can’t pick through your brain and pull out the useless information, separating it from the important content. But I’m going to start by just becoming more mindful about how I spend those minutes where I have “nothing” to do. I don’t want my imagination to be muffled under a blanket of news feeds and timelines. I want to learn how to be fully present, instead of constantly distracted with my attention pulled in several directions. I want to be okay with boredom again and work on sweeping out the details my brain doesn’t need, leaving room for new thoughts– and ideas– to take up the space they need to grow.