60: De-cluttering a Brain

60: De-cluttering a Brain

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


De-cluttering a Brain

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.

~Henry David Thoreau

“My brain is too full! Don’t tell me anything else to do,” I yelled. Even I was surprised by my overreaction to Ken’s helpful suggestion. I burst into tears and hurried upstairs to get away from him, overwhelmed by yet another thing to think about.

It was just an idea Ken shared with me about redoing my pothole-filled driveway. I took a few deep breaths as I hid in my room. Ken was retired and had been living in a private apartment in my home for the past year in exchange for help around the house. After calming myself down I sat on my bed and tried to figure out what had happened.

I went back down to Ken’s apartment to apologize. He was watching a football game. Ken muted the television as I walked in. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you.”

“Julie, I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just trying to be helpful.”

“I know. It’s just that I am so frustrated by everything I have to do. Since my brain injury I’ve tried to stay on top of everything but I get tired. You know how people say that their plate is full, that they have too much on their plate to do anything else? My mental plate is so full right now that even adding an unexpected thought or idea is completely overwhelming.”

Ken was so gentle with me, so patient as I tried to explain.

Chores and tasks fall into the urgent category and need daily attention. Spending time with family and friends is important and needs to be a priority. I try to be there to celebrate their special moments and share their painful ones.

I have responsibilities and projects at work that demand energy, time, and effort so I can be effective. The children and people I help at work need my attention and patience as I support their efforts to work through their own traumas and struggles. All of these are important and all are priorities. All of these wear me down and overload my brain.

Decisions are much harder for me now. Spending time with people drains me more than before. I have to filter my thoughts and words as I interact so I don’t accidentally say or do something that is inappropriate. I don’t have the stamina I had before the car accident that caused my brain injury.

Ken sat back in his recliner and looked at me with tenderness in his eyes. “Julie, you can’t do everything. You need to take care of yourself, not let yourself get overloaded. Let people help; let me help. Figure out what is most important and let go of the rest.”

As I returned to the kitchen to wash the dishes that had piled up I thought about what had happened with Ken, and his comments. Sitting down at the table, I opened a notebook to a fresh page and made a list of the parts of my life that only I can do.


Spend time with family and friends

Spend time with my boyfriend Bill

Work as a probation surveillance officer and private investigator

Spend time with my black Lab Brady

Strengthen my relationship with God

Take care of myself by working out and eating right

Work with foster kids and traumatized children

Tasks to do:

Daily chores

Errands and groceries

Split and stack wood for the winter

Maintain the yard and gardens

Clean the house

Projects on the house

Relaxing activities:


Do jigsaw puzzles

Hike or snowshoe

Sail or kayak

Go to the beach with Brady

I continued to add things to my lists throughout the week. One evening I reviewed the six pages I had filled with everything on my lists. No wonder I was so overwhelmed. I spent the next few days planning how to better balance everything. And I asked for help.

My mom offered to cook extra meals that I could microwave during the workweek. I asked my cleaning lady to stay an extra hour each week. She began to use this time washing windows, tidying the garage, and doing whatever she felt needed attention to keep my house looking fresh. I hired some neighborhood kids to help with some of the yard work and to stack wood. My boyfriend came over each week and did one project from my list.

As the weeks went by, I began to relax. I focused on spending my time more productively, using my planner to schedule downtime between my other commitments. I gave myself permission to not finish every craft project I had ever started and began to de-clutter my cabinets and drawers of half-started ideas. I removed extra clutter from my brain by deciding not to put every item I thought might have value on Ebay or craigslist. Instead, I delivered my unwanted things to the mission store.

I began feeling more in control. My house became more organized. Time and activities with family and friends became easier. I rediscovered my love for my work and the people I work with. My family and friends understood my requests for the additional time needed to make decisions and think about invitations. I made room in my brain for new ideas that might come up.

The next spring Ken approached me as I was outside playing ball with Brady. “I’d like to talk to you about how I can help fix your driveway if you are ready to talk about it.”

“That would be great,” I was able to say with a smile.

~Julie Sanderson


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