For a New Beginning: How to Declutter the Mind and Soul

One of the reasons why it's challenging to start a new day is because of the clogged clutter of yesterday that occupies the mind and soul. The act of decluttering the mess within us is part of purification that is praiseworthy in Islam. The writer introduces us to the topic and suggests us some helpful steps to declutter the mind and soul
by Ustazah Nur Hidayah Azman 2021-12-28 • 18 min read
Ustazah Hidayah graduated with Bachelor of Usuluddin (Al-Quran and Al-Hadith) from University of Malaya. She is Chief Creative Officer at BY.HIFA, co-Founder of Sparkreativ, co-Founder of Better Than Yesterday and Senior Editor of AskHadith.Sg.
2021-12-28 • 18 min read

What comes to mind when we read ‘declutter’? By definition, declutter means to remove things you do not need from a place, in order to make it more pleasant and more useful. It is a state of cleanliness achieved through acts of tidying, organising and compartmentalising. The pursuit of constantly keeping all matters well taken care of and working on being mindfully present in the most excellent manner.

New beginning, Declutter mind and soul, messy head

All of these are for a higher purpose; the love and pleasure of the one and only Creator. It is worthy to make reference to what Allah s.w.t. mentions in the Quran,

إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلتَّوَّٰبِينَ وَيُحِبُّ ٱلْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ

“Indeed Allah s.w.t. loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.”

(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:222)

Here we can see an emphasis for Allah s.w.t. 's love for that which is clean and pure. It does not only apply to matters of good hygiene as it encompasses the various components that make up the livelihood of the servant. This point is further weighed beautifully upon the depiction of the state of the believers. They are the ones who constantly work on developing themselves upon faith with peace of mind, a healthy heart and focused acts of worship towards Allah s.w.t. 

As narrated in a Hadith, Abu Malik al-Ash’ariyy reported that the Prophet s.a.w. said,

الطُّهُورُ شَطْرُ الإيمانِ، والْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ تَمْلأُ المِيزانَ

“Cleanliness is half of faith and Alhamdulillah (all praise is for Allah s.w.t.) fills the scale”

(Sahih Muslim)

New beginning, Declutter mind and soul, purification, wudhu

Impacts of Clutter

Clutter has an enormous effect on our lives. Reality shows us that all that is new, fresh and good are unreachable and beyond our embrace when we keep holding on to the things which are old, stale and deteriorating. We are not able to take on more when we have matters piled up on our presently full plate. This is not to be mistaken with removing principles and values which are good and are foundations for good things to be built upon.

Interestingly, clutter also refers to a state or condition of confusion. It goes beyond untidiness and mess. In fact, it is found to be the baggage of our emotional and mental aspect which in turn affects our spiritual body as well. Multiple studies and findings add to a growing body of evidence that clutter can negatively impact our mental well-being.[1] It comes in a package with accumulative stress, low energy, and a decrease in our ability to focus. Additionally, clutter further creates feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, thus slowly disrupting multitudes of our overall wellbeing.

As we seep into the hustle culture in our societies and the bustles of the world, we forget to put much attention upon an integral component of our lives, which in fact is ourselves. Oftentimes the act of decluttering is done to a room or a space, somewhere within the physical realm. Why not this time, we take a step back and take a look through the windows within? How are the states of the mind and soul? Is there any clutter that is getting in the way of our inner peace and pursuit of tranquillity?

Decluttering the Mind

The mind, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought. With the mind, it provides the ability to think, perceive and reason. Al-Muhasibi stated that the ‘Aql or the mind have three actions that are exclusive functions to the faculty; which are speech, deduction and choice.[2]

A cluttered mind is restless and unfocused. It is filled with attempts to move in multiple different directions but end up with only a little accomplished at the end. It constantly experiences whirlwinds of worries, generating toxic thinking and overwhelming feelings. Decluttering the mind is all about clearing the clogged mess in the head, freeing up the needed mental space and achieving clarity within.

New beginning, Declutter mind and soul, messy head, calm head

From the aspect of faith, caring for and protecting the mind is indeed our great responsibility. In fact, this component of preserving the mind and intellect is amongst the objectives and purposes of Islam, also known as the Maqasid al-Shariah. This attempt to preserve the mind will include the declutter of our mental space.

Read: What You Need to Know About Maqasid Al-Shariah

Intriguingly, Allah s.w.t. mentions in the Quran,

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِىٓ ءَادَمَ وَحَمَلْنَـٰهُمْ فِى ٱلْبَرِّ وَٱلْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَـٰهُم مِّنَ ٱلطَّيِّبَـٰتِ وَفَضَّلْنَـٰهُمْ عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍ مِّمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا

“And we have certainly honoured the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea, and provided for them good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with definite preference.”

(Surah al-Isra’, 17:70)

There is no doubt that Allah s.w.t. honoured us in the origin of our creation and favoured human beings over many of His creations by the intellect. It is with this mind that has made us competent for acts of worship, obligatory duties and the pursuit of seeking guidance. Thus, caring for it through means of decluttering will allow us to reach our highest potential in fulfilling our purpose of creation. 

Read: Preserving the Intellect in the Digital Age: Challenges and Recommendations

A mind that is sound, strong and healthy will affect the state of the body. As narrated in a Hadith, Abu Hurayrah r.a. reported that the Prophet s.a.w. said,

الْمُؤْمِنُ القَوِيُّ، خَيْرٌ وَأَحَبُّ إلى اللهِ مِنَ المُؤْمِنِ الضَّعِيفِ، وفي كُلٍّ خَيْرٌ

“A strong believer is better and is more lovable to Allah s.w.t. than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone.”

(Sahih Muslim)

Three Suggestions to Declutter the Mind

1. First things first, pen down the pile of thoughts. More often than not, we tend to hoard too much information and bombard our minds with endless mental notes. Writing down the many things that we have in our minds is a great way to analyse and organise our thoughts. This can include our endless to-do list in our heads, multiple action plans to our challenges and our train of thoughts that have been keeping us up at night.

When all these are written down and kept somewhere safe, it provides a signal telling our minds that these matters are well taken care of. It puts the mind at ease as it helps to manage stress more effectively.

New beginning, Declutter mind and soul, write notes, pen thoughts

2. The next step is to lessen multitasking attempts. This may seem to be counterproductive but the truth is, it does not help to divide our attention and focus on many things at one time. Occasional multitasking may certainly bring no harm, but constant juggling between tasks will limit our attention span, decrease our energy to focus, increase stress and thus create additional clutter as we go along. Whenever possible to single-task, make a list of what is needed to be done and prioritise. Start with the most important and work our way down as one task completes after another.

3. Finally, remove the negativity from the social media experience. Without us realising, much of our time on social media has a huge impact on our mental well-being. Create digital habits and be mindful when going on social media. At the top of this detox is to unfollow content and pages that may attract negativity into our minds. Figure out which source of postings are sources of distress and gloom.

It is time to ask ourselves whether the accounts we follow bring benefit, knowledge and positivity to us or otherwise. After all, we have been countlessly reminded in a Hadith where Abu Hurayrah r.a. reported that the Prophet s.a.w said,

مِنْ حُسنِ إِسْلَامِ المَرءِ تَرْكُهٌ مَا لَا يَعْنِيهِ

“Part of the perfection of a person’s Islam is leaving what does not concern him.”

(Sunan At-Tirmizi)

Decluttering the Soul

In reference to the American Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, the soul has been defined as the spiritual part of a person that embodies and represents life in the human physique. It most often refers to the life force that permeates and animates the body.

Ibn ‘Asyur stated views of Islamic scholars in his tafsir that the Ruh or soul is referred to as the subtle spiritual existence that is found throughout the human physique, of which is visible by the ability of recognition and thought. It is also defined as the honoured entity that was created by the Divine command without any conventional cause of creation. It is an aspect of the unseen, one that reflects the pristine and divine knowledge of Allah s.w.t. As He mentions in the Quran,

وَيَسْـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلرُّوحِ ۖ قُلِ ٱلرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّى وَمَآ أُوتِيتُم مِّنَ ٱلْعِلْمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا

“And they ask you (O Muhammad) about the soul. Say, ‘The soul is of the affair (ie. concern) of my Lord. And you (ie. mankind) have not been given knowledge except a little.”

(Surah al-Isra’, 17:85)

A cluttered soul is uncomfortable, scattered and uneasy. It is filled with motions of worry, not knowing where to head to and constantly end up reaching lost points and dead ends within. It keeps on replaying the sense of void, unable to fill nor replace it with any worldly matter. Decluttering the soul is all about clearing the uncontrolled distress inside of us, letting go of the backlog of anxiousness and unsettled wander.

New beginning, Declutter mind and soul, contemplation, self reflection, soul searching

Read: 5 Praiseworthy Inner-Traits To Develop In Ramadan And Beyond

From the aspect of faith, to take care and cleanse the soul is absolutely our significant responsibility. In fact, it is one of the main mediums to connect with Allah s.w.t, unleashing our potential as servants to The Almighty. As much as the soul is an element that we do not fully comprehend, it gives an impact on our entire being and our whole lives when we care for it or otherwise. Not only does it bring about righteous change in the way we live our lives as believers, but it also is the core of our successful journey in the Hereafter. Assuringly, Allah s.w.t. mentions in the Quran,

يَـٰٓأَيَّتُهَا ٱلنَّفْسُ ٱلْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ. ٱرْجِعِىٓ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً. فَٱدْخُلِى فِى عِبَـٰدِى. وَٱدْخُلِى جَنَّتِى.

“(To the righteous it will be said), ‘O reassured soul, return to your Lord well-pleased and pleasing (to Him). And enter among My (righteous) servants and enter My Paradise.”

(Surah al-Fajr, 89:27-30)

Three Steps to Declutter the Soul

1. First of all, start with moments of Istighfar (Seeking forgiveness). Istighfar is when we humble ourselves and seek forgiveness from Allah s.w.t. for our misdeeds. It is of importance to remember that the clutter that we may experience within our souls could stem from our own shortcomings, mishaps and sins. It is only natural to experience discomfort and guilt when we either consciously or unconsciously engage in matters that displease Allah s.w.t. 

It serves as a motivation and a push factor to bring us back to Him. As such, making Istighfar a habit of the tongue and muscle memory of the heart will not only wash away unpleasant deeds; it too cleanses, purifies and declutters the soul.

2. Next is to constantly engage in acts of remembrance. This can be done by enhancing our approach to our daily life such as switching the melody that we would usually listen to in the background while doing work or on a commute to beneficial podcasts and playlists that reminds us of Allah s.w.t.

Allocating pockets of time in our day to read at least a verse from the Quran or a short Hadith and understand its meaning is helpful too. Additionally, maximise our downtime as we take five to recite some Zikr (the act of spiritual remembrance) or perhaps short supplications that we memorise by heart. These small mindful acts of remembering Allah s.w.t. will give off a great impact in replacement to the clutter within.

New beginning, Declutter mind and soul, Zikir, muhasabah, contemplation and self reflection

3. Last but not least, consider practising Muhasabah in our daily life. Muhasabah is retrospection. It brings our focus back to ourselves and evaluates what good has been done and how we can move forward in better ways. Without discounting the efforts made to uplift and strengthen the soul, it is important to be honest with ourselves and identify which part of us that perhaps needs a little more work and betterment.

Consider the positive habits that we have developed in our pursuit of faith and find ways to remove the unpleasant ones to replace them with acts that are pleased by Allah s.w.t. After all, steps that are taken to please Allah s.w.t. are means to declutter the soul.

Declutter Inside Out

The process of decluttering may require a couple of prompts and constant practical efforts. But once the work begins, it bears fruits of relief- as if letting go of an invisible heavy weight on our shoulders that we do not need dragging us down mentally and spiritually anymore.

Remember, when we declutter and focus on what is within, the outside will take care of itself. This can only be achieved through the will and permission of Allah s.w.t, paired seamlessly with our rightly guided attempts and sincerest intentions.

And Allah s.w.t knows best.
All that is beneficial comes from Allah s.w.t. alone.

 


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201705/5-reasons-why-clutter-disrupts-mental-health

[2] Mikaeel Ahmed Smith, With The Heart in Mind, p. 41, Qalam Books

 

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