Mental Clutter 101


Many of us have been decluttering our homes for some time. But what about our brains? Mental clutter is real. Parenthood can feel heavy. We are tackling the 10 reasons that parenthood feels cluttered and overwhelming.

1. Mindless Social Media

Spending mindless time scrolling on social media feels a lot like eating marshmallows. They taste good in the moment, but make you feel like crap afterwards. Marshmallows are so easy to pop right in your mouth. Just one. Maybe two. Okay, perhaps another handful. 

Oof. Why did I do that? Why do things that taste so good in the moment make me feel miserable after the fact?

As parents, we don’t have a lot of free time. One thing is for sure:Spending idle time scrolling social media does not help us recharge our batteries. In fact, it may add to our mental clutter. 

2. Idealizations of Family Life

A family trip to the beach for sunset:

  • Idealized Reality: The sun is setting with minimal cloud covering. The family is frolicking in breezy white linen attire. The smiles and laughs are light and natural. Everyone is barefoot. 
  • Actual Reality: It’s too cloudy to see the sunset. The toddler is wearing a Batman t-shirt. The children repeatedly attempt to run into the water. Mom is stressed out and gritting her teeth. At least one child can’t stand the feeling of being barefoot in the sand. 

The truth is...When we are chasing idealized images of family life, actual reality looks ugly. Are you getting caught up in how things are “supposed to be”? This is mental clutter. 

3. Pinterest

On a casual Tuesday while the Glazed and Lacquered Roast Turkey is in the oven developing that burnished mahogany skin, you can use your free hand to crank out a homemade unicorn kaleidoscope craft with your enthusiastic kiddos while simultaneously knitting a new hat with your toes. 

Let’s talk about self-imposed pressure. Pinterest (and the interweb) offers us no shortage of picture perfect meals, crafts, and hobbies that can quickly leave us feeling like we aren’t doing enough. 

Do what delights you, but don’t let Pinterest plant seeds of self-doubt. You are enough just the way you are. 

4. Performance Reviews

Each year, annual performance reviews at your job might make you nervous. They leave you thinking: Am I doing things right? Am I good enough? How can I improve? Even if you aren't performing perfectly, the feedback from the evaluator is generally constructive and positive. That is, until you take on the job title “Parent". 

As a Parent, it can feel like you get hourly performance reviews. The evaluator (your child) rarely holds back. She’s a stream on nonsensical emotions with expectations that make your head spin. Despite best efforts, it appears she's never satisfied with your hard work. 

5. Recognizing Seasons of Life

There’s something so inviting about gardening. I crave the ability to grow my own food to provide for my family. The slow, intentional nature of taking it day-by-day as the seeds I have sown sprout from the Earth…the whole idea is so attractive for me. 

But right now, with young children, I suck at gardening. It doesn't feel relaxing to me, it feels like mental clutter. My lettuce bolts. The birds eat every last blueberry. And most days I don’t have the energy to water it. 

So I’m pressing pause on this dream. Am I failure at gardening?  Nope. I'm simply choosing to save this dream for another season of life. I don’t have to do everything and be everything right now. What can you save for another season of life?

6. The News

A generation ago, we only heard about missing children on the milk carton and we rarely knew of a case of childhood cancer. The news came with the morning paper and the evening television broadcast. On a given day, parents consumed maybe 10 to 20 news stories. 

Contrast that with today, where we may be exposed to 100+ news stories. The news surrounds us. Nearly all day long we are exposed to it via phone alerts, social media, podcasts, etc.

Not only broadcast news, but in this generation, our social networks are larger. If a friend of a friend of your sister’s friend has a child that choked on a strawberry, you have seen the story on Facebook. Now you worry every time your child eats a strawberry. 

If the news feels heavy, that’s because it is. You are carrying a ten-fold load of it compared to the parents who came before you. 

7. The Perfect Partner

“I want him to spend quality time with our baby. But when I ask him to do that, he puts the baby in the jogging stroller and goes out for a run. That’s not quality time!”

A friend shared this reflection which resonated deeply with me. In early motherhood, I was battling perfectionist tendencies. I had idealized images of what “quality time” looked like with my kids. Down on the floor playing. Eye contact. Reading books. Phones put away. Rinse and repeat. I believed that I should be interacting with my kids like this at all times. I didn’t keep those idealizations to myself—these perfectionist tendencies spilled onto my partner too. 

Your partner is going to have a unique relationship with your children. It is not yours to micromanage. Support it and recognize that even though it is different, it is still meaningful and beautiful.

8. Looking Next Door

Too often we glance next door to see what the Jones’ are doing. The truth is, we need to stop looking next door and start looking inside ourselves for answers. If your gut tells you that simplicity is enough for your children, trust it. 

What society tells you that kids need to be happy: 

  • The latest hit toys
  • Piles of candy 
  • Newly decorated bedrooms 
  • Perfect, Superhero Parents

What kids actually need to be happy:

  • Time spent together
  • A habit of exercise + movement
  • A relationship with nature 
  • Happy, Imperfect Parents

9. The Contradictory “Shoulds”

You should stay home with your children // You should have a full-time career.

You should feed your kid lots of green vegetables // You should let your children choose what they will eat. 

You should make sure your children get a full night sleep // You should never let your children cry.

You should limit screen time. // You should make sure children know how to use technology.

You should follow your heart and do what is right for your family. Then mute the rest of the “shoulds” because they very clearly contradict one another. 

10. It's Not Too Late to Take Action

Mental Clutter doesn’t have to be a life sentence. You can make change. If you are committed to self-care but aren’t sure where to start, I want to invite you to join us in The Mental Unload™. It starts Thursday, June 25th. 

Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.