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Clearing Mental Clutter

Peter Walsh, author of 'Enough Already!' Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You, talks to us about de-cluttering your mind. Check out what he had to say below.

Watch this segment in Episode 107.

Q. How did you first become interested in helping people to get their lives organized?
A. Much of my professional life has been about helping people realize their full potential. I've worked in education, in drug abuse prevention, in health promotion and in the development of interpersonal skills training in the corporate sector. All of this experience has now become focused in my work helping people find a balance between what they own and how they live. America's obsession with 'more' has pushed families and the nation to brink of - and sometimes beyond - bankruptcy. Both physical and mental clutter are impeding quality of life and hampering quality of relationships. My work helps people deal with both.

Q. Given the current financial crisis, many people are struggling under a mountain of loans and credit card debt and are worried about the future. What would you say is the first step to getting financially back on track to someone with these issues?
A. Unless each individual accepts responsibility for their own financial situation there is no way we can - individually or collectively - climb out of this financial hole. Sure, regulators failed to regulate adequately and sure, banks loaned too much too easily, but the bottom line is that we've all been caught in the national orgy of consumption for way too long. No one held a gun to anyone's head telling them to buy more or to extend their credit or to borrow beyond their means. We're all to blame for the current situation and we have to accept responsibility for that. We've chased the myth of 'the more' for way too long. We need now to reign in our excess, to stop chasing 'the more' and to accept that quality of life and happiness can be found in 'the less' of a simpler lifestyle.

Q. What have you found is the biggest obstacle to a healthy relationship with a partner? And what do you think is the key to a loving, lasting relationship?
A: It is fascinating to me that a healthy relationship with a partner is not so different from a healthy relationship with your stuff. It all comes down to honor and respect. If you don't honor and respect your significant other your relationship will sour and deteriorate quickly - it's no different with what you own. If your home is cluttered and your stuff is running your life, it's no wonder that your life is not what you want it to be. Whether it's your partner or your stuff, the key to success is a healthy balance in all areas of your life, and a priority of quality of relationships over quantity of stuff.

Q. Why do you think so many people work at a job or career that is not personally fulfilling?
A. Someone once said that a rut is just a coffin with the ends kicked out. Let's face it, it's easy to get into a rut and, once there, it's generally easier to stay with what we know than to risk change. This situation is often compounded as personal responsibilities - family, a mortgage, car payment and on and on - become a demanding reality of day-to-day living. What I call 'the clutter of everyday living' can cloud our judgment and make the possibility of change seem terrifying. It's at this point that it's critical to go back to our fundamental starting point: "What is the vision you have for the life - or job - you want?" That is where we start to create change.

Q. So many families these days are running in a hundred different directions-violin lessons, soccer practice, choir rehearsal, book clubs-that they neglect spending quality time together as a family. What is your advice for the many families in this situation?
A. Unless you're aware of the life you want to create for you and your family, have clear goals for achieving that, and set your priorities accordingly, you'll end up stressed out of your mind and wandering aimlessly in circles wondering where the time has gone. Each of us has to drive our own life and not let competing demands, or unrealistic expectations, or the stuff we own, or the jobs we have dictate the direction our lives take. It all starts with a clear vision for the life we want - without that; we're wandering around in a dark room with no sense of the how or the why of our lives.

Q. Why are there so many quizzes and activities and worksheets in Enough Already!? What did you hope to achieve by including these assignments?
A. In all of the work I've done helping people de-clutter their homes, their heads, their hearts, and their hips, the one thing I've discovered is that providing activities that challenge and question are the best way to get my clients to explore new ways of looking at things and tackling the daily grind. Each of these activities and worksheets are the product of years of working with many different people in a range of different settings. They work so I've included them.

Q. For every area that you tackle, you say we should get rid of unreal expectations. How does this help the process of achieving our goals?
A. It's a great thing to dream big dreams but each of us has to face the reality of what's possible and what's not in our lives. Not everyone is going to be an astronaut or President or write the great American novel and that's just the way life is. It's important to aim high but it's equally important to work with what we have, to get rid of the clutter in our heads or our hearts that impedes us, and to gather around ourselves people with whom we can build the world we dream of.

Q. A lot of people will say that they're too busy to make these changes in their lives and mentally de-clutter the six key areas that you talk about. What do you have to say to these individuals?
A. My response is pretty hard line. If you're not prepared to invest in your own life, what are you prepared to invest in? We give time to what we believe to be important and when it comes to living the best life you can, it doesn't happen by accident. Each of us has to set priorities, to put time and effort into creating the life that we want, to building strong, enduring relationships and to striking a balance between the various aspects of our lives. Each of us has one life to live. It's only by investing time, energy and effort into that life can we hope to make it what we want.

Q. You've written about physical clutter, and body clutter, and now mental clutter. What's next?
A. I have constantly said that our homes, our heads, our hearts, and our hips are intimately connected. There are so many challenging aspects to this concept - especially when it comes to helping people develop a healthy relationship with what they own. Next up for me is the exploration of debt as clutter. So many are drowning in the clutter of what they own and what they owe - it's time to look at the value of a simpler, less complicated life. I'm setting my sights on the exploration of "less is more" - that's what's got me interested at the moment.


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