Stuck and Overwhelmed? Just Clean Something

Chances are, when you’re stuck and overwhelmed, you don’t really want to add any more things to your to-do list. I’m guessing your to-do list is full to overflowing with sh*t that really needed to get done yesterday. Uh-huh, I’m feeling your pain here. Sadly, mine too. And I have been feeling a little stuck and overwhelmed. Not so much that life isn’t moving forward, it’s moving forward with great haste but instead of driving the ship I’m running behind it trying to pick up the pieces that pick up the pieces that are being left behind. It’s that kind of feeling. This weekend I stumbled on a great solution that has shifted my feelings of stuck and overwhelmed to something softer and more manageable and even given me a big dose of excitement about the future.

The Simple Solution for Feeling Stuck and Overwhelmed

It really is a simple solution – and I’m pretty sure it works universally.  It boils down to “Just Clean Something” but has far reaching implications for your psyche. For me, the something that I had to deal with was my back porch.  Please keep in mind this weekend I had a list of things to do that quite literally couldn’t have got done if I’d worked 24 hours and hopped myself up on red bulls. It was already piled up with stuff that needed doing.  Instead of tackling that whole list and getting bogged down in the heaviness of all of that task-management, I took a track that fed my soul a little bit more and has given me the mental room to make the to-do list look simple.

This Sounds Like Crazy-Talking

Yes, yes I know it does.  Here’s the thing – there is more to this cleaning thing than meets the eye. So here’s what I want you to do.

  1. Find an area in your space that has been driving you crazy – it could be a big area like your bedroom or your kitchen, or it could be the hall closet full of the random stuff that doesn’t go anywhere else. It might even be a place that used to be a favorite place but that has fallen into some serious disorganization (like the back porch).
  2. Put aside the rest of the to-do list that you’ve been spinning out about, and just get down to it.  Physically organizing a space is usually a whole lot more simple than organizing your life or your brain, so get to it.
  3. Get rid of anything that isn’t making you happy in that space (for me it was the dead plants, the empty pots, the half-started projects.) If it isn’t enhancing your life somehow then just chuck it.
  4. Make the space feel like you – this might mean adding some finishing touches or it might just mean looking at thing with fresh eyes and creating a space that suits you now (as opposed to the space that suited you whenever you last looked at this).
  5. Voila! Accomplishment – you have officially beat back the chaos in this one small area and re-asserted control over your domain.

    Feeling stuck and overwhelmed? Tackle a controllable project and unlock those mental gears.

    Feeling stuck and overwhelmed? Tackle a controllable project and unlock those mental gears.

Cleaning as a Metaphor for … Cleaning

Um… yes.  So – the cleaning that you’re doing is actually an act of taking-charge.  It is the literal act of making order out of chaos in one small area of your life (for me, the porch). By making order out of this one tiny area of chaos something in your brain recognizes that you, as a human, have the capacity to do this.  If you can make sense of one chaotic area of your life, then you can make sense of others too.  I know this sounds a little odd when I say it, but honestly your brain is very literal.  If you can do the thing, you can do it.   Your brain is clear on that.  Literally your brain does it again with other things because it knows it can – it knows it did it before. One chunk of chaos might be bigger than the other, but it’s still the same thing and the same puzzle and you’ve already solved it. So what are the psychological benefits here?

  • Your brain suddenly recognizes your amazing ability to solve the chaos problem, which ironically frees up a lot of mental space for actually solving other chaos problems.
  • You have solidly started and completed something, which generates some good satisfaction and productivity juju.
  • Clearing clutter and chaos out of your environment does actually help your brain to de-clutter too, simply because every thing that’s heaped all over your space takes a tiny bit of your attention. Fewer things and less mess means you have more free attention to spare.
  • You now have a lovely space to enjoy. Like my fabulous, serene, peaceful back porch. This alone creates joy and fulfillment. Even with the to-do list still rattling away in the background.
  • The to-do list suddenly starts to go down far more quickly because your brain knows it can generate order, and that’s a lovely thing. There is far less tire-spinning and far more just crossing things off.

I know it sounds too simple to work, and a little counter-intuitive because you’re actually neglecting your to-do list in order to make your to-do list easier to manage.  It’s just that this actually works so next time you’re feeling stuck and overwhelmed, find that one project you can totally tackle and just clean something – getting it done helps you to get it done. Voila! Instant un-stuckness.

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