By Susan McCarthy
If you find decluttering an overwhelming process that wears on you emotionally, writing Morning Pages can shift your attention to your thought and calm some of the emotions that rise up while clearing through your possessions.
I was talking with a friend who felt stuck in her life, and I suggested Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way as a program that might help her breakthrough her mental blocks. I’d worked through the book a few times, but not for years, so I told her that if she were game, we could go through the 12-week program together.
I didn’t remember most of the details of Cameron’s Way, just my favorite part that I’ve done on and off for 25-ish years, something Cameron calls Morning Pages. And it occurred to me that these could be a great way of dealing with tangled thoughts and emotions while you're decluttering.
What Are Morning Pages?
Simply, morning pages are three, handwritten, stream-of-consciousness pages done, as the name suggests, first thing in the morning.
Morning Pages don’t have to be about anything important. They aren’t supposed to be pretty with perfect grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Your handwriting can be messy. Your thoughts can be discombobulated, drifting from one thought to the next between one sentence and the next.
Some days, my Morning Pages start off with a list of tasks I want to get done during the day. Other days, I spill my frustration over the pages. Sometimes, I draft an article or talk through an idea with pencil or pen while my hand skims across the page. My Pages might be whiny or hopeful or a trail of distracted thoughts.
What Are the Benefits of Morning Pages?
So, why do I think you should write Morning Pages while decluttering? Particularly if you aren’t a writer and you aren’t doing anything with the pages you fill?
If you feel stressed while decluttering, running over the same thought time and again, writing forces you to crystalize that thought and see it for what it is. I think that some thoughts get trapped in our head as a fragment of an idea. We get caught on that fragment.
However, writing down the thought and writing about it makes it easier for you to see it for what it is.
Cameron refers to the Morning Pages as a “brain drain” because that’s the function of the Pages. By doing them first thing in the morning, I feel as if I’m sweeping through my jumble of morning thoughts, decluttering the space inside my skull, readying it for the day.
Keep in mind that Morning Pages aren’t something to be done only by writers or artists. They aren’t supposed to be read by anyone other than you. And you shouldn’t even review them all that often. When I finish a notebook, I might glance through it, but I usually just toss them.
(If you feel self-conscious, you can toss the notebook in with messy garbage or used kitty litter.)
How Writing Morning Pages Can Help You While Decluttering
While it’s too easy to think of decluttering as about nothing more than tossing stuff in trash bags, we can easily get caught up in our thoughts and emotions about our stuff.
You think how you bought all this stuff to start a new hobby that sounded exciting. You face clothing that no longer (or never) fit. You find things that have been hidden in the back of a closet for years but now that you’ve laid your hands on the item, it suddenly seems important.
Grab your notebook (it doesn’t even have to be morning) and sketch out your thoughts as to why it’s so difficult to get rid of these things.
You may find that you have nothing interesting to write about these things. You might jot down a whiny paragraph. You could tell a story you remember about an item.
Instead of dismissing your thoughts and feelings, you give them space. Obviously, not every item will demand so much attention from you. And even if you find yourself doing more writing than decluttering in the beginning, know that this writing process will help you better understand what you want from decluttering.
What You Need to Write Morning Pages
All you need is something to write with and something to write on. The brain connects with handwriting in a different way than it does with typing. Go for the deeper connection and write by hand. Even if you’re bemoaning your messy handwriting, remember, no one will read these pages.
I like writing in a spiral notebook because they are inexpensive and unintimidating. You can certainly write in a pretty, hardbound journal. However, if you can’t bring yourself to mar those pristine pages with anything other than your most brilliant thoughts, get a cheap notebook from a dollar store.
Select a pen that writes smoothly across the page. I prefer a gel pen over a ballpoint pen. Because I don’t plan to reread what I’ve written, I’ll use pink or light green ink when writing my Morning Pages. The only other thing you need, is time first thing in the morning.
How to Make Morning Pages a Habit
Find your motivation. One of the more intimidating parts of Morning Pages is that Cameron suggests writing three pages. That’s a lot of writing, particularly if you aren’t in the habit of writing much – or your mornings are already busy.
The first thing to consider is, is this something you really want to do? Just because I think doing a brain drain first thing in the morning is a great way to declutter my thoughts and deal with feelings about possessions, doesn’t mean you’re ready to jump in and make writing three stream-of-consciousness pages a new habit tomorrow morning.
You may be rolling your eyes at the mere idea of having enough time to write a single paragraph. Well, start with one page, or even half a page.
If you aren’t interested in trying this habit – maybe it reminds you of the journal you had to keep for a high school English class, don’t bother to try. Perhaps one of the most important things to realize about forming habits is that if you aren’t interested in doing the habit, then don’t bother trying.
If you aren’t motivated, why frustrate yourself trying to do something you feel lukewarm or cool toward?
Decide when you’ll write your pages. You could set a specific time to write your pages, say, 8 a.m., but that would require your mornings to run like clockwork. A better technique is to link this habit to something you already do. For example, I turn on the coffeemaker and then sit down while waiting for the coffee to brew. After I sit down, I open my notebook, write the date, and then start my brain drain.
I know that I’m going to sit down after starting the coffeemaker, so this is a clear prompt for me to start writing.
Make this habit easy to do. I keep my notebook in my bedroom, on the chair which is at the foot of my bed. Each night, when I get ready for bed, I make certain to put this notebook and my pen where it will be handy. Since I often wake before my husband, I don’t want to turn on a light or start scrabbling for my notebook. To make writing my Morning Pages easy to do, I set up the habit the night before.
The first thing you want to do is to make certain you have the notebook or journal and the pen you plan to use. Not to be obvious, but it’s difficult to engage in a habit if you don’t have the basic supplies. And knowing that you have them handy means that you won’t spend your first session looking for that notebook that you were certain was in that drawer.
The next thing to do is decide where you’ll keep this notebook and pen. Do you want to keep it where you’ll write your pages or someplace else that will be handy? If it’s a hassle to get your notebook – it’s at the bottom of a pile of papers or you don’t walk past it in the morning, you might skip writing.
If you find that the location you’ve chosen to keep your notebook doesn’t work for you, change it. Same thing goes for the action meant to prompt you into writing – tweak it if it doesn’t work for you.
And if you’ve decided that you’d rather write when thoughts come up about the stuff that you are decluttering, then keep your notebook handy to the location where you are sorting through your things.
Make Writing Morning Pages a Manageable Habit. Even for someone who writes, jumping into a habit that asks you do a brain drain of three handwritten pages is intimidating. Break this down into something that seems easy to do. And, no, there’s no set answer to that question.
To figure out what would work for you, consider if you could write two pages. No? One page? Half a page? A single sentence? Remember, starting is the challenge. One you have pen to paper; you may do more than planned. However, it can be useful to know your minimum goal so you can choose to stop when you attain it.
Is Writing Morning Pages Right for You?
Are you intrigued by the idea of starting your day by decluttering your brain? Do you like the idea of sitting down with a notebook and doing stream-of-consciousness writing with no expectation that what you write will be perfect or useful in any obvious way?
If you feel motivated to try this active meditation, select a morning activity that will prompt you to sit down with your notebook. Make certain that your notebook and writing utensil are handy so you’re ready to do your writing.
And finally, select the tiniest, simplest version of this habit – a version that you could do even on a busy day. Remember, you can always spend more time with this habit on the days you’re inclined to do so.
You can start writing Morning Pages to sort through your thoughts and feelings about the decluttering process. However, if you enjoy the sense of well-being you experience by draining your distracting thoughts first thing in the morning, you may have discovered a new habit to keep.
More Resources to Help You Declutter Your Thoughts
Hi, I'm Susan
I'm a former teacher who became a professional organizer (and not because I'm a natural-born neatnik). I live with my husband and fluffy cat on a river in Massachusetts. I crochet, make handmade cards, and love reading young adult novels. Learn more about my decluttering journey here.