Tidying up our lives

5 ways of tidying up: Think of others; signal your intentions clearly; do one thing at a time; be simple; stay calm. Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

We have a responsibility to keep our lives as tidy as possible.  It doesn’t have to be the kind of tidiness that is oppressive or boring; just the kind that helps us and everyone around us ‘get’ what’s going on.


Mess is anything that confuses people.  If you want to cause confusion in someone’s brain, then you can give them a puzzle or problem which requires them to keep information in their brain in an unnatural way.

If you want to communicate in a confusing way, then present your words and actions in an order which others find it very hard to take in.  Don’t warn anyone in advance about your actions: just surprise them.  And make sure that you present more problems than anyone can process simultaneously.

If you are making a mess, then whatever you do, don’t slow down and do one thing at a time.  Be like those comedy tennis ball machines that pump out too many balls for anyone to deal with.


OK, so I’m being sarcastic.  But I’m making a point.  If you read the above, and find that this is you, then perhaps you are living your life in a way that confuses other people, that gives them a mess to deal with.

I am sure you don’t do it deliberately.  But maybe it’s such a habit that you wouldn’t know where to start tidying up your own mind, your own life, your own way of presenting yourself.


So here are 5 ways of tidying up, of making your life more comprehensible for yourself and others, and therefore more healthy…

1. HAVE ONE INTENTION – Messy behaviour always involves a confusion between motivations.  So a good way to tidy up is to have only one intention.  It can be anything you choose, but happiness research shows that a selfless focus is more likely to work for you.

2. GIVE GOOD SIGNALS OF YOUR INTENTIONS – Messy behaviour always involves a lack of warning as to what you’re going to do next.  You will often glamourise this as being ‘wild’, or ‘spontaneous’.  You may be right.  But if you want to seem less confusing to others, try being open, and a bit predictable, about your intentions.

3. WORK ON ONE THING AT ONCE –  Messy behaviour always involves furious juggling.  You will find yourself precariously rushing between different things.  Try to focus on one thing at a time.  Not only will it clear your head, but others will see more clearly what you are doing.  It’s good signalling.

4. SIMPLIFY – Messy behaviour involves overcomplicating life.  For example, messy relaters undergo multiple conflicting relationships without ever having the guts to make the simple choices necessary to simplify their social lives.  They glamourise it as being ‘open’.  But part of good openness is taking responsibility for managing competing resources openly.  Simplifying your life means that you will have less conflict between resources.

5. GET RID OF ANGER – If there is one emotion that causes the most mess, I’d say it’s anger.  Your anger will always confuse the person you’re talking to, because they are dealing with two things at once: your mood, and what you want.  Angry people are much harder to satisfy than people who calmly state a wish or an intention.  So lose the anger if you want your relationships to run more smoothly, and less messily.


Here are some phrases and behaviours you might find yourself using as you work on ‘tidy communication’…

‘I want you to be happy and healthy’ – this is a good focuser of your intentions, and reassures others that you are thinking clearly about their best interests.

‘I’m not free [then], but I am free [then].  Shall we put something in the diary?’ – this is a good signaller of your upcoming diary, and openly invites others to collaborate with you openly.

You will tend to listen to others calmly and with good attention, because you are focusing on one thing at once in an uncluttered way.

‘I can’t do [a competing request], because I am focusing on [the clear intention you have] – a favourite phrase is that the best way to say no is to have a stronger yes burning inside (Stephen Covey).

You will tend to accept interruptions and irritations with equanimity (calmness under pressure), being slow to anger, and easygoing.



Many people make life a misery for others because they present their words and actions in a way that is very hard for others to understand.

A good way of tidying up your life is to think of others, signal your intentions clearly, do one thing at once, be simple, and stay calm.  If you want an example of this, watch a good parent with their child.

If you can get the hang of this kind of clear, simple behaviour, then your life will automatically become tidier.  The mess will dissolve.  If you don’t believe me, then try it.