Most of the time when people think of "minimalism" they think of less stuff. Or tiny houses. Or 34.8 perfectly arranged items that all fit into a single backpack. Or, to a lesser extent, lots of tiny houses, each with their own backpacks filled with 34.8 perfectly arranged items.

But what if we applied minimalism to our mental space?

What if we decided to declutter thoughts that were no longer (or never) served us? What if we agreed not to add anything to our plates until something is removed? What if we achieved "inbox zero" for our brains?!? (Ok, I don't even know what that one would actually mean, but it sounds cool, right?)

Paring life and thoughts down to only what's essential means we've got to prioritize. Boundaries need to be set and tested. If you reply to emails late at night and on weekends, people you work with will expect you to be available at those times. Or if you never say no to friends who are constantly asking for your time/energy, those friends will always expect that of you. Because if we don't set boundaries for ourselves, others will set them for us--and we may not like where they draw the line.

We can't do everything. We can't say yes to everything. We especially can't have zero boundaries if we want to have the mental space needed to create things.

Mental minimalism requires focus on the present. Because focus only works if you're focusing on one thing (it's funny how many people tell me the number of things they're "focused" on). The past and future have a tricky way of creeping into our thoughts, and if our thoughts now live in a tiny house with a meticulously organized backpack, there just isn't room for many of them.

The past tells us things like our previous failures define us or that we aren't the type of person that could ever do something we want to do. The future is equally awful at taking away our focus, by screaming at us that what we're working on could fail, or that people will mock us, or that we have to say yes to something because it could be our big break, or that everything we've currently got might be taken from us (possibly involving a zombie apocalypse).

Don't let those thoughts that don't serve you into your tiny mental house! There's no room, and they'll make a mess of your carefully arranged backpack.

I like to think of my own mental minimalism as an MVP, which in this case, refers to: Minimum Viable Progress.

I can't make progress in life if I overextend myself. I can't make progress if my thoughts are caught up in the past and present. And I also can't make progress if my mind wants to own a task that's too big and daunting to accomplish in a single step (like having "write a book" on my todo list). It's also impossible to make meaningful progress if I'm instead focused on vapid growth instead of simply considering what "enough" is.

Our minds, like our houses, have a tendency of filling up the space available--simply because it's there. Instead, why not fill that space That way there's room to grow, focus on and own (both mentally and physically) only that which serves us.

Hi, I'm Paul Jarvis. I write a weekly newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches where I share articles about working and living online with 35k subscribers: