Tidying up your mind or your house

Whether a tidy mind or a tidy house, the habits are the same.  Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

There are many ways of keeping your life clean and tidy, but here is a simple process which can be applied to most clean-up jobs, whether they be mental or physical.


A good first stage, if you have time, is to empty the relevant area of mind or life completely.  For instance, if you are clearing out a room in the house, then simply remove everything from the room in the first instance.

This has the advantage of letting you see for yourself what the space is like when it is empty.  It also makes it easier to visualise what it could be like under different scenarios.  Furthermore, it stops the inertia that clutter seems to engender.

The area cleared could be a single drawer in a cabinet.  If you are working on the mind, it could be clearing all your assumptions about a particular topic.  This is particularly useful in research, where a clean and unbiased approach is a good way to approach initial exploration.

If it is impractical to empty an area completely, then empty a key working space.  For instance, when you are washing up, at least clear the sink and bowl, so that you have a clean, clear area to work in.


A good second stage is to dispense with anything that you know is not useful or relevant to the area of focus.  Again, if you are clearing out a room in your house, then now is the time to send rubbish to the bin, recycling to the recycling bin, redundant furniture to a suitable new home.

The reason this is helpful, is that it leaves behind only what is relevant to the task.  It prevents your mind being distracted or discouraged by too much stuff.  It also gives you a clear activity to undertake, instead of wondering what to do next.


A good third stage is to simplify the task for your brain, by sorting what is left into suitable groupings.  It is a good idea to do an initial sort in one dimension – in other words, choose one aspect, such as size, to consider.

The important thing is that the sorting activity is easy and meaningful.  Avoid choosing sorting methods that matter to others, but not to you.  What you should end up with, is your items divided up into a small number of groups, making it easier to imagine the next stage of processing.


A good fourth stage is to process the first sorted group.  If you want to have a sense of easy progress, then you can make this the easiest group.  Alternatively, if you want to have a sense of priority progress, then you can make this the most important group.

With a room, this could be the biggest items of furniture, if putting them in place helps you.  If you are washing up, it could be the smallest items, such as the cutlery.  The main thing is that your activity is focused, and not distracted.


A good fifth stage is to continue the exercise with each of the other groups in turn.  Carry on until al the groups have been processed.  Try not to get distracted by anything else.  Classic distractions are:

  • An item provokes memories, and you spend hours involved in them
  • One item proves difficult to process, and you get exhausted with just that one
To handle memory evocation, give yourself permission to play for a minute or two, and then leave further play to another time.  To handle particularly difficult items, try to place them into a deferred, diarised system (i.e. store the item, but diarise its processing).


Once all the above is done, you should have completed the main clearing operation.  It remains just to clear up after yourself, as you may have thrown up a lot of dust and dirt in the process.


Choose a small area of your life (mental or physical), and resolve to tidy it up.

  1. Empty the area of everything, so that you have a clearing to work in
  2. Throw away anything redundant
  3. Sort what is left into groupings
  4. Process the first group (easiest or highest priority, you choose)
  5. Process the remaining groups in order
  6. Clean up after yourself
If working with your mind, then it is the same process, but, if it helps, you can label the stages slightly differently:

  1. Empty your mind of any preconceptions
  2. Remove from your mind anything that is not helping the process
  3. Divide your material into manageable objects of thought
  4. Process the first object of thought
  5. Process the remaining objects of thought in order
  6. Perform self-care before you give your attention back to the world
Those familiar with meditation will recognise this as a fairly standard meditation process.



A good way of tidying up an area of your mind or your environment involves 6 stages:

  1. Empty a working area
  2. Exclude distractions
  3. Sort what you see into objects/groups
  4. Attend to the first object/group
  5. Attend to the remaining objects/groups in order
  6. Tidy up after yourself
This is an essence of good thinking and working practice.  If you learn the habit, then it is very widely applicable.