When we hear the term “minimalism” we instantly apply it to our physical world – less belongings, less consumerism, less clutter. We rarely apply this term to our mental space.
But I think (no wait, feel) clearing our brains of unwanted, unnecessary thoughts is a huge component of pursuing a minimal, simple lifestyle.
One day, as a young child, I was upset over a board game not going my way. My grandfather asked, “Think, my darling, does this really matter in the big picture?”
One could argue I was building competitive resilience. But I took it as a forever reminder to constantly question whether or not I’m wasting my time pondering trivial concerns.
I’ve also always had a bad memory. Maybe it’s because I don’t take fish oil supplements. Maybe it’s because I was dropped on my head as a child (kidding! but I was thrown onto a patch of grass as my mother tripped in the road!). Whatever caused this deficiency, it’s how God fashioned me.
So I accept it. And I use it to my advantage in this case.
What’s important I take steps to consistently clear my minds of the “clutter.” The stuff that shouldn’t matter, thoughts that take up valuable space, exhausting my emotional and physical resources and thus take up my precious time better spent pursuing my bigger purpose.
It’s not just ridding myself of worry – albeit I believe this takes up most of our reserves despite 85% of what we worry about never happens. It’s planning and organizing for too many gatherings, making a mental list of groceries to buy weekly or thoughts lurking in dark shadows like frustrations over financial obligations, various unwarranted emails piling up or a good friend who’s recently miffed you.
How would it feel to clear your mind of everything other than the essentials? The stuff you hang on to for the big picture? How can you lighten your load so you’re not constantly thinking about the next issue on your task list and enjoy the present?
A few ways I help clear my mind are:
• Write down anything I don’t want to forget the next day on a small sheet of paper in our kitchen so I’ll see it upon rising (I stay away from to-do lists and it’s been so freeing!)
• Keep a simple calendar (a clear, simple one so any appointment, meeting or obligation stands out and has meaning and purpose)
• Turning anxiousness into gratefulness. For instance, say my kids are sick. “Oh great…I don’t want to get sick too. Oh no, I definitely don’t want to get sick and miss our weekend at the beach. Oh I hate being sick…” I turn this into a conversation with God – “Thank you God for healing us in your own time, helping us see the fruitfulness in life when we are all healthy, thank you for allowing us to live in modern society where medicine is ample and available to assist us in our healing, thank you for giving me the tools as a mother to help nurture my children, thank you for allowing me to homeschool thus enabling me to stay home without stress or guilt of missing work so I can take care of them…”
• Asking God to take over when I feel stress or worry creeping in. Seems easy enough, right? It’s not at first. In fact, it feels downright foreign. But it becomes much easier with practice.
Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. Psalm 55:22
• Confront when confused or hurt. A friend who dissed you/A mother-in-law who crossed a line/A husband who forgot an anniversary/A subscription company that double-billed you… You don’t need a Type A personality to be direct with others in a friendly, compassionate way. It doesn’t take long and it feels so much better being upfront than harboring discontentment. I generally find when there’s no communication I think the worst. So, I simply make sure I communicate and move on.
• Being honest with myself. When I need space and time apart from my kids to think, read, write or replenish my soul, I tell my husband. He can generally sense it before I say anything which means I’m obviously not perfect at this “zen” mental clarity thing. But let’s be honest, us moms are not great at telling others when we need a break anyway.
Our lives these past 8 months for our family has been tumultuous and has included cancer, illness, death, moving, a change in career, holidays…etc. All of this could have affected me, and my children or anyone else in my path, in adverse ways. Instead, I intentionally chose peace and said “no” more than I said “yes” in order to make space to care for what needed caring for at that time.
I’m not saying this is easy to do. But I will not allow circumstances out of my control to affect my behavior and mental clarity – why should anything have that power over me?
Of course I’m guilty of snapping at my kids if I feel out of balance, late or stressed (I. am. not. a. robot. typing. here.) – but I choose as often as possible to quickly recover and apologize because it’s not worth causing strife for my kids and passing down any anxiety they definitely shouldn’t bear on behalf of their mother.
And I’ve found with a clearer mind I’ve been able to pursue the simple life I desire for me and our young family. And I’m sure my husband finally appreciates me saying exactly what I need after nine years of marriage.
Finally, we must rid ourselves of guilt. You know, that mama guilt we all have for say, taking two seconds to do something other than what our kid says they need right that second. Or for spending time away from them. Or for pursuing our own dreams no matter how daring, strange, lofty or time-consuming they are.
Am I right?
So this becomes our final step: less guilt. We’re doing the best we can. And when we realize this and really own the fact we’re the best moms for our kids, mental clarity becomes attainable.
Maybe having a horrible memory has helped in clearing my brain on a daily basis. Maybe it doesn’t. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. But what does matter is my (our) endeavor to maintain a clear mind for the betterment of our health and our family’s health and ability to pursue our lives the way God intended us to.
So let’s ask ourselves often: “think, my darling, does this really matter in the big picture?”