Spring Cleaning the Mental Space: 5 Ways to Declutter Your Mind and Prevent Overwhelm + Burnout

Did you know that your conscious (also know as your short-term memory) can only hold about seven chunks of information in it at a time?

This means that the essence of creativity is the act of removing old chunks, welcoming new chunks, or simply rearranging familiar chunks of information to essentially piece something new into existence. It's also why phone numbers are easy to memorize - you can sustain these pieces in your conscious through repetition and eventually memorization, moving them to long-term memory.

But this limit to the information we can hold active in our minds also means another thing: we can easily be overwhelmed.

Simply look at the world around you. Information is always bombarding us, always trying to weasel its way into our minds and stay there. Add to that the needs of our personal lives (like grocery lists, appointments, a one-liner for a new book) and it's easy to see why it's so hard to balance it all without feeling like you want to rip your hair out - or bingeing YouTube as a way to cope*.

It's impossible to do, think, and juggle everything at once.

You can, however, utilize these five tips when you need to declutter your mental space, bring some clarity back into your life, and avoid the worst enemies of productivity and life enjoyment: overwhelm and burn out.

* @ myself. Two hours or more of YouTube on the daily is not a healthy coping habit.

5 Ways to Declutter Your Mental Space

1. Begin with the physical space.

If there is clutter in our space, it actually affects the way we think. The objects around us, such as a pile of laundry or an aesthetic little plant, are added stimuli that we have to interpret. When we see a pile of laundry, we interpret that as a task that adds additional weight in our minds. So while we may be focused on what we are currently doing, our brain is also signaling to us that there are other things that need to get done. This can pile up, literally, until even the littlest of things feels like a heavyweight added to your mind.

Decluttering your physical space is quite the journey and it can take quite some time. I suggest starting out easy and following someone else's methods or outline of where to begin. I recently investigated the KonMari method of tidying up and completed the first step she suggests: clothes. (And what's even better is I had fun doing it and felt refreshed afterward!)

2. Clarify your priorities.

What are the top three most important areas in your life?

Family? Friends? School? Maybe it's your blog or creative hobby. It can be anything and you get to decide.

Identifying what's important to you can help you cut down on the brain power you use when making decisions. Because if you know what's important to you, you know what is NOT important to you, and you can say no to those things while prioritizing what matters to you.

Greg McKeown, the author of the book Essentialism, uses the 90% rule. In his book, he says

"As you evaluate an option, think about the single most important criterion for that decision, and then give the option a score between 0 and 100. If you rate it lower than 90 percent, then automatically change the rating to 0 - and reject it."

3. Do a massive brain dump.

Every Sunday during my weekly review, I begin with a brain dump. Getting all the little tasks, nagging thoughts, and ideas from the week out onto paper. List out everything on your mind, from chores to upcoming events you find yourself worried about. This can help you put things into perspective and allow you to realize that, "Hey, this isn't for a while so I can stop focusing on that." Or if you think you have a heavy to do list, you can weave the tasks you find you need to do into your week.

Bonus: you can also utilize daily journaling as a way of clearing up your mental space. I personally quite enjoy bullet journaling, especially since it's customizable, and you don't have to sacrifice function for a little bit of fashion.

4. Have a space dedicated to collecting your thoughts, ideas, and inspirations.

For me, it's my journal. Every morning I get up and write things out of my head, spilling everything so I can start fresh each day. If I'm out and about, I'll use the Google Keep app to take note of something I want to remember. Or I'll schedule a task that goes something like, "schedule xyz into calendar". Ideally, you want one space, digital or physical, where you can put everything down - but again, there are no rules.

Find your space for collecting the whirlwind things and ideas that come at you throughout your day. Some places I would suggest are:

  • Google Docs - you can use it across devices and if you have a smartphone, you'll always have access to the document.
  • Trello - I love Trello! This app kept me sane during the semester and it still keeps me sane now. Not only can you list ideas, but you can also always give certain tasks deadlines and opt to be notified when something is close to its expiration.
  • Google Keep - great notes app and quite flexible in that you can pin notes you want to prioritize or delete them once you're done. You can also label notes for better organization and add photos as well.
  • Bullet Journal - a great option if you prefer writing things down over going digital. It could become messy and disorganized so watch out for that (then again, isn't that the charm of a BuJo?).

5. Simplify your to-do list.

The longer your to-do list, the more you'll get done, right?

Aha, wrong.

I don't know about you, but there is nothing more overwhelming than waking up to...

"Hi, Nicole. You have 79 task(s) in 12 project(s) scheduled for today." *

Or simply flipping through the pages of your notes or the screen of your phone and getting discouraged. It doesn't matter - however you keep track of what you need to do, you need to simplify it in order to avoid overwhelm.

Assuming you've worked through all the previous steps, you've already refined your tasks to be in line with what you value (point 2), you've dumped all your thoughts and ideas out (points 3 and 4), and there are no pressing chores that are staring you in the face (point 1).

Now what?

A. Pick a tool.

This tool will be the space that you always come back to when organizing your tasks. There are tons of apps out there (Todoist is a personal fave of mine, but I've also used Wunderlist and was happy with that as well) or there's always the classic method of a legal pad and a pen (OR bullet journaling).

B. Write today's to do list.

Utilize the brain dumping you did and organize your tasks. Then pick one task that's the most important - the thing that you must complete today. This could be the first draft of a blog post or taking a series of flat lay shots for your Instagram. Try to pick something that falls in your priorities but also moves you toward your goals.

Next, choose two to four smaller, less important things.

C. Take action.

Prioritize the most important task on your list first. Always do this one right away. Once that is complete, move on to the other lesser important tasks you set for yourself.

If at any time you feel overwhelmed or like the task is too big, break it down into smaller, more "bite-sized" pieces. Continue this with the rest of your tasks if you ever feel stuck or don't know where to begin.

* Although, shout out to Todoist for having my back every morning.

Is your mental space feeling cluttered? What do YOU do when you're starting to feel overwhelmed? Will you apply these steps to your life and if so, how?


  1. Great post, Rosie! (I’ve fallen in the 2+ hours of YouTube a day habit, too, and I REALLY NEED TO STOP.) I’ll have to start on some of these tips! :)

  2. Yesss loved this post!! Just yesterday I was going through my closest and it was so helpful.


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