Sarah Knight takes on the idea that we have to be invested in everything and everyone and gives us permission for clearing the mental clutter that takes over a media-infused lifestyle.
First Things First
As is obvious by the title of the book, this author cusses. And I am the kind of person who would read this book with the word fuck in just about every sentence. If you are easily offended by these words, this book (and by extension, this review) is probably not for you. I read the book and wrote the review because I’m not offended. In fact, I found some useful things in the book. If you don’t take yourself too seriously but don’t want to be seen reading this in public, I’ve got your back with this review!
Mental Clutter Overload
In the wake of Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up there has been a huge wave of books, blogs, classes and TV interviews about how tidying our space makes life easier and more enjoyable. But even as Kondo says, we should tidy our space so we can proceed with living the life we really want, without the clutter of millions of useless possessions getting in our way and consuming all of our time. Our clutter has seeped out of our drawers and cabinets and into our minds and thoughts.
This is where Knight, in her parody book, picks up. While the text is profanely hilarious, her idea is spot-on. We just give too many fucks. I completely identify with her description of herself pre-mental clutter overhaul.
I tackled numerous projects, tasks and standardized tests in order to prove myself worthy of respect and admiration from my family, friends and even casual acquaintances. I socialized with people I did not like in order to appear benevolent; I performed jobs that were beneath me in order to appear helpful; I ate things that disgusted me in order to appear gracious. In short, I gave way too many fucks for far, far too long. This was no way to live.
As a typical type A overachiever, I know exactly what she is talking about. I care what other people think. I care what other people think about me. As an Enneagram Four, I care that other people think I’m unique. I have spent so many minutes and hours of my life arguing over meaningless things and turning over and over in my mind conversations, actions and reactions. Why? I have no idea. It stresses me out. It keeps me from enjoying my life. And nothing changes.
Clean up Mental Clutter with a Budget
Everything can not be a priority. When everything is important, nothing is important. Prioritizing is essential. I know I have spent way too much time worried about things that don’t matter for more than five minutes. I can’t remember a time in my life I wasn’t not stressed out about something. Even as a child, I was unsatisfied with any grade less than an A. I have cried over errors in punctuation. And even the hint of disappointing someone else, no matter how tangentially I know them, can result in a week of sleepless nights.
Knight introduces the concept of a Fuck Budget, which is a pretty brilliant visual image. Our time, energy and mental and physical space are all finite. If we give it to one thing, it’s less we have to spend on something else. Taking an hour each and every night to craft the perfect bento box lunches for three children means that I will have less time, energy and mental space for reading with the kids, having a conversation with my husband while those wild children are sleeping or taking time to do something I find relaxing. When I think of it as a budget with limited resources to pull from, they can eat school lunch.
The higher the priority, the more effort (or fucks) should go there. So why am I wasting so much time on things I don’t really care about? I am in control of where I spend my attention. I get to make the decisions. Fulfilling my responsibilities to work and family are important to me. I would still choose to expend energy on those things. Eating only organic vegetables grown in my backyard is not as high a priority. This year, instead of planting the big garden I have in the past, the kids threw in a few tomato plants and we played basketball instead.
Easy Categories of Mental Clutter
Some areas of mental clutter are easier to clear than others. The first area of clutter Knight suggests to tackle is things. Start here because it doesn’t affect other people. This would include loving and keeping up with a certain song, band or TV show, fad diets, clothing, sports, books and all sorts of other trends. I’ve decided I care about reading so I’m willing to give a line item to it. But the paleo diet? I DGAF. And I no longer have to pretend to. It’s not even on my list so I have no mental space to give it. Mental clutter quickly reduced.
Knight’s next category is work. This one is a little more difficult since my income may depend on some of these. But there are still areas in which I can clean up the mental clutter. Doing research, editing, organizing and writing are all things I care about when it comes to work. They are the things that matter to me, my employer and those who buy the magazine I work for. Those tasks get a lot of fucks. But there are other non-essential tasks, even in a work environment, that don’t need my time and attention. This changes a lot depending on the work environment, but in my experience, the bigger the employer, the more pointless assignments and paperwork. It’s up to the individual to decide what warrants attention.
Difficult Categories of Mental Clutter
Other people can be a difficult category to cull. We run the risk of hurting feelings, over burdening someone else or hurting relationships. Courtesy rules here. But we can still eliminate some of the fucks we feel we need to give in relationships. If I don’t like going to a certain house or events or hanging with a friend’s spouse, I am allowed to say no. I don’t have to stress about navigating a situation I desperately despise. I can opt out. Same goes for supporting a kid’s fundraiser, keeping up to date on a dog’s misadventures or the heated political debate a friend had at work.
Facebook has some great options to “unfollow” people I still have a connection to but have no desire to see the minutia of their lives. Instant declutter! I’ve also determined in recent years that I hate both baby and wedding showers. If it is someone I’m very close to, I’ll suck it up. Otherwise, my husband’s third cousin can be happy with a card and $20. That’s all the fucks I have to give for that.
And now we are at the penultimate category- family. I know, it sounds awful to ever say you don’t care about something related to a family member. But sometimes we have to back off. A large percentage of our budget automatically goes to family, especially the family we live with and are raising. I care a whole lot about what my kids are doing, learning, eating, playing, saying and sleeping.
But there are things I can let go. I have no space in the budget for Minecraft or Roblox. My kids want to play- fine. My kids want me to play- no thanks. My kids want to tell me everything to did in the game- hell no. Likewise, I’m happy to have a long conversation about what has been going on in a family member’s life. But being chastised for political or religious affiliation- hard pass. Homework, science fair projects, ear infections, grocery shopping and the cleanliness of the kitchen sink are consuming the space required for those things.
Put it into Practice
Clearing mental clutter is not just deciding one day to give it all up. It’s a process. It’s unlearning all of the social requirements that have been drilled into us from an early age. Most of all, it’s giving ourselves permission to not always have a full plate of stress and anxiety. Baby steps in the right direction is still movement.
We have trained ourselves to be concerned about all the things. We are inundated with news of what is happening in all corners of the world every day. We hop on social media and know about every person who has a sick kid, who voted for whom and what groceries everyone can afford.
We can’t change everything. But not giving a fuck about a few things that don’t matter to us frees up some more energy to make a difference in ways that really does matter to us. For my own sanity and to make myself more productive, I need to clear some of the mental clutter.
What things in your life right now could you quit caring about? What priorities would you like to take a larger portion of your budget and which would you like to kick to the curb permanently?
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