Living Lightly

Decluttering the Voices in My Life

Decluttering the Voices - woman shushing

I sense it. That suffocating feeling of “too much.”

It often comes when there’s too much stuff cluttering my physical space. But that’s not it this time. There’s something else bogging me down. Making me slow. Inefficient. Exhausted.

It’s the unseen presence of too many voices.

I refer to external voices. If my life were a comic strip, the panel would be crowded with speech bubbles, overlapping each other and drowning out my own ability to think or create. It produces inefficiency at best. Paralysis at worst.

So many voices I encounter present me with a whirlwind of decisions of how or if to engage. There are some that soothe and bolster, such as those from music. But others agitate or require a response. Do I ignore the voice or engage with it? If engage, what do I think about it? Do I need to respond? Then how? You see the flow chart forming here. Multiply these questions by every voice and that adds up to a deluge of decision fatigue.

This is not my normal Going Green topic, but my definition of green living promotes life and growth and beauty. None of this can happen when my days are so clogged with voices that responding to them – or choosing not to respond to them – takes all my time, leaving me with little resource for pursuing my goals or joys. That’s not abundant life.

How many voices are in my life? Especially in this time of lockdown, how many can there really be? I started counting yesterday’s. It was pretty easy when it came to in-person voices, books, and music. It got a little harder to keep up with texts, emails, digital comments. Then I started adding up those from the media and social media. Hundreds. Literally hundreds.

How did all these voices get into my life? I don’t recall inviting them. But I did. I wasn’t careful and left the door open. Fortunately, I do have control, and I can clean house. Here’s what I need to do:

  • Audit the voices: Count them. The in-person voices. The in-print voices. Those from TV, radio, podcasts, streaming. Social media, news sites, blog posts, comments.  
  • Prioritize the voices: Identify the most important voices and make sure they get my primetime, so that I don’t come to the end of the day and realize I gave my best attention to voices that don’t ultimately matter. I find that dinner time is an ideal and regular time to make sure I hear my most loved voices –face-to-face, no distraction except sharing food. For important voices that I am not physically with, intentionally reserving time to connect. I think of how my mom has weekly phone calls and FaceTimes with each of her siblings and her best friends, none of whom are local. But she has carved out those times for undivided connection.   
  • Schedule the voices: Voices that inspire and feed should come first in my day, before voices that take. When my kids were younger and rose early, it helped when I got up even earlier, to be proactive rather than reactive in how my day began. So often I didn’t do this, but I was glad when I did. Nowadays the temptation is strong to check my email or social media before I’m even out of bad, and I always regret it because I start having to decide and give before I’ve been filled. Instead, I try to read something that inspires me first, or see the sunrise, or take a walk before letting the world in. While I can’t always control what voices are in my day, I can somewhat control the order, to cushion the taxing ones between the replenshing.
  • Limit the voices: What voices have wandered into my life that really don’t need to be there? They don’t benefit me. They’re not part of my responsibilities. In a sense, I’m borrowing someone else’s burden, or even giving audience to a voice that doesn’t need one. Sometimes I need to go through and quiet these. I can ask the same questions I ask of physical clutter: do I need and use this voice or does it bring me joy? If neither, then off it goes.
  • Confine the voices: Some voices, whether I like them or not, I cannot disconnect. There are some, that though draining, I must engage with, as part of a job or other responsibility. There are other voice sources that are fun in moderation but burdensome in abundance – social media, I’m looking at you. For these sorts, I can set times and places to let them in. Confine social media’s access to one device, and not my phone. (Hardcore!) I decide when and how I’m going to engage with certain difficult voices, and intentionally seek positive voices or even silence to balance those encounters.

Most of the overabundance of voices in my life stems from mindlessness. I just let them all wander in because I’m bored or procrastinating or lazy. Usually this is with media or social media, when I succumb to the temptation to see what’s going on in other people’s lives instead of addressing what’s going on in my own.

This sort of decluttering must be done with some regularity because circumstances change and we change. Voices that were once relevant are no longer. They were useful once, but their time has passed. Eliminating these voices can bring closure to events, jobs, or responsibilities that have passed.

Depending on exactly how crowded I’ve let things get, I might not be able to gain control all at once. I might have to declutter in steps. Perhaps establishing that first-thing-in-the-morning habit of picking up a source of inspiration instead of my phone. Then proceeding to disconnecting from digital voices 1 hour before bed. Then setting aside one evening a week to call a valuable but distant voice.         

I fear I may be misinterpreted here as rude or antisocial. My intent is quite the reverse. Many of the voices in my life I really enjoy. Love, even. But like a room crowded with too many objects, when there are too many voices, the ones I cherish are obscured. And they know it. My kids are old enough to recognize my “staring at the screen” voice, my “listening but not really listening” voice. I see the knowing look in their eyes. My husband knows and calls me on it, bless him. I can discern, too, when I have squandered too much time reading or thinking about distant, impersonal voices that don’t really matter. I feel the poorer for it.

By no means am I advocating cutting oneself off from the world. Rather, this is about being intentional. Protecting time to go deep with the important voices in your life. To let people or inspiration that encourage, replenish, restore do just that. These are the stuff of life, but often I have wasted myself in the onslaught of impersonal or irrelevant voices.  

Our world is noisy. Even stuck in our houses, we have access to so much valuable information and valuable voices, but we also have access to so much junk. If we’re not careful, we get consumed with the latter, because it’s easy, fleetingly pleasant, or clamoring.

When I think about living on the frontier of the American West, one thing that strikes me is how quiet it must have been. The only voices would have been the people you were with and books, if you had them. So much time for introspection and going deep. Of course, so much time spent on mere survival.

I thank you for letting me be one of the voices in your life. I write from the whirlwind here. I am due for a hefty round of voice decluttering. Wish me well, as I do you.

A friend shared with me a timely quote from a voice I don’t know, but I appreciate: “May you grow still enough to hear the splintering of the starlight in the winter sky and the roar at Earth’s fiery core.” -Brother David Steindl-Rast. That’s a thought worth letting in and allowing to fill me.

Further reading

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Jean says:

Thank you for your thoughts on voice’s. Made me realize I let to many voices in some that are definitely not positive.I feel blessed to have found your sight and will check back .
Blessings to you!

PS. Negative voice’s can be so draining I’m beginning to realize this.Once again thank you for your insight.

Den says:

Thank you for this post; and personally, laziness is too often the culprit for my mindlessness.
Thanks for the pep-talk!

Nancy Graham says:

Ohhhh, I have been a user of Dr. Bronner since the 80’s and love the products! Thanks again.

Nancy Graham says:

I cannot thank you enough for what you have expressed. Voice clutter. Forced decision making. Sounds shaping our lives. I have spent enough time following my curiosity down rabbit holes both pre-pandemic and during-pandemic. And while they produce moments that are very useful and inspiring, the majority of voices leave me fatigued with decision making and feeling like I wasted my life a bit. I feel the way you do. I
t’s so helpful to know that others can feel the strong feelings that I do about the topics that I do! Thank you.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Nancy- It’s great to hear this article resonated with you!

Lisa Bronner says:

Thanks for catching that, David. Correction made.

Sirtony says:

Blessings Lisa for beimng a VOICE for Humanity ……my wife and I LOVE your Family’s gifts to humanity …we use them all the time…Thank you !!!!! and Yes … Music is the VOICE of Humanity .. and here is my gift to all THE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD who have No is their Voice song CHILDREN OF THE WORLD have a inspired journey and share…

Meg Lustfeldt says:

Your writings, thoughts are so insightful and valuable. I’m so inspired that I am sharing this with my two grown daughters !!

Thank you for sharing, Meg

Pattie says:

This article so resonated with me! I live with three other adults who are regularly glued to their devices and most conversation revolves around what they read/see on them. The ‘art’ of being truly interested in and connecting with the people we are actually living with has diminished radically.
I look forward each morning to making my cup of coffee and wandering around our property, enjoying the natural beauty and listening to the birds. It starts my day in such a positive, peaceful way.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Pattie- What a perfect way to begin the day. The voices of nature! Thank you for that inspiration!

Jill says:

Thank You for this Real Food for Thought article. It is Very Good advice. Everything has two sides {at least) even these trying times we’re All going thru. Because of the forced changes most of us are making from the pandemic, I find people everywhere are re-evaluating their life choices and becoming more aware of the very things your article is addressing. You might consider expanding it into a small book. Thanks again …

Lisa Bronner says:

Thank you for reading, Jill. And for your kind words.

John says:

05 February 2021

Thank you for sharing the encouragement. I appreciate the tips on ways to reduce the noise. Impressive resiliency. Someone once shared a quote with me that I too grew to appreciate…”It is dreadful when something weighs on your mind, not to have a soul to unburden yourself too. You know what I mean. I tell my piano the things I used to tell you – Frederic Chopin ”
Wishing you well, as you did for me.

Lisa Bronner says:

Thank you for sharing that quote, John. Beautiful and so true. The voices of music and loved ones fill us up and inspire us.

Anita says:

Perfectly timed! I believe we are all struggling with this and it’s time to pause and reflect. I agree on the need to tone down the voices. I just started reading your blogs recently and am officially hooked. Your messages are beautiful and pure as is the direction I am trying to move my life in. Thanks Lisa!

Lisa Bronner says:

Thank you for your kind words, Anita. It’s great to hear you find my blog helpful!

Caroldean Jude says:

It has been a challenging time indeed. This resonates with me on many levels and reminds me of the work that I am studying called IFS or Internal Family Systems. Thank you for sharing!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Caroldean- It’s great to hear this article resonated with you and your work.

Steph says:

I love this article. It’s what I have been feeling about alllllll that is going on. Sometimes it’s too much and people dont know when to quit. When to say they have had enough. In glad to not be the only one who likes clarity in their brain.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Steph- Based on the many lovely comments to this post, including yours, I’d say we are far from alone in this need.

Stephanie says:

Great article, Lisa! There is SO much noise these days and it is just too much sometimes. Quieting life is a journey I’ve been on for over a year. I rarely use social media now, have unsubscribed from so many emails (though I really enjoy yours), and I’ve deleted so many apps from my phone. I loved Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism and highly recommend it. Also, there’s a Youtube documentary called Childhood 2.0 and a Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma that I highly recommend, if you haven’t seen them yet. They both are VERY eye opening. I know that my comment here is just another voice to read, but I wanted to let you know that you’re not alone in your feelings. Blessings to you!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Stephanie- Being you are the second person to recommend Cal Newport’s book, I will make certain to pick it up. Thank you for allowing me to be a voice in your world!

Jen says:

This was so beautiful and much-needed for me to hear, Lisa! Thank you for being one of my (welcome) voices–I, too, have been suffering under the weight of too much and this has helped me clarify why.

Barb says:

This was all inspiring. I recently completely deleted Facebook from my life for this very reason. Too much noise and not in a good way. To say it was no longer bringing me joy is an understatement. Oh for the days when life was simpler. This article may not have been your “typical” cleaning reference but it was one of your most profound ones. Thank you.

Lisa Bronner says:

Thank you, Barb. I’m glad this article spoke to you.

Jazzmynne says:

This is a lovely article, Lisa, and very timely – I am reading “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport and he echoes much of what you’ve written here. The last chapter I read focused on solitude and how important it is to have time alone with your own thoughts, not just to think, but to gain clarity and new perspectives on life.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Jazzmynne- Adding this to my list now. Thanks for the recommendation!

P A says:

Lisa: Thanks for taking the time to write your ‘decluttering the voices’ post. This topic has been foremost on my mind in the past few months. Maybe others can balance all of the incoming sources, but for me the barrage has a paralyzing effect. My response in future will be helped by the thoughtfulness of your article.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi there- I too find that not only can the voices be paralyzing, but they drown out the voices of those I care most about. I’m glad this article resonated with you.

About Lisa Bronner

My grandfather was Dr. Bronner, my family makes soap, and I share ways to use it plus tips on greener living.

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