Getting rid of your mental clutter is mission-critical to keeping a clear head and an open mind.

Norm LeMay and Steven Kaufman


If you want to read about all the basics of garbage like routes, landfills and trucks, this is the article for you, because we’re going to cover all of that and more—but from a totally different perspective.


You see, when we hear the word garbage, most of us think about the physical kind—what gets tossed into the can, dragged to the curb and hauled away to the landfill. However, there’s another kind of garbage that can cause just as much trouble if you don’t manage it well. We’re talking about mental trash.


If you step back and look at it, mental garbage affects your entire life, from the way you make business decisions to how happy you are. It’s not a topic most people talk about—but neither is garbage. Yet, trash collection is indispensible to society. Imagine what things would be like if no one picked up the garbage anymore. In the same way, getting rid of your mental clutter is mission-critical to keeping a clear head and an open mind.


So why call it mental trash? You already know about garbage. You’ve been dealing with it your whole life. Though it might sound strange, the skills you use to get rid of physical garbage are the exact same skills you can use to get rid of the trash in your head. That makes you a garbageman. Sure, you may not drive a truck from house to house, but you already know about trash and how to manage it. What if you took those skills and really put them to use for you, clearing out the junk in your head that you don’t need anymore? What would change for you? What would open up if all of that old stuff were no longer blocking your way?


Where Does Mental Trash Come From?

We all start collecting mental garbage from the time we’re little kids. We got in a fight or someone called us a name and our mind made up Thoughts, Beliefs, and Opinions about what happened—what we call TBOs. Here’s the problem: most of us were never taught how to get rid of these. Over  time, these TBOs dictate how much risk we’ll take, how much love we’ll let in, or the kind of job we think we deserve. That’s where it goes sideways.


If we told you that you had to redo all of your routes using 20-year old maps, or put in a new accounting system using software from 2002, you’d tell us we were nuts. All that information is outdated. Well, if the decisions you’re making now are based on TBOs you formed 20, 30 or 40 years ago, isn’t that the same thing? The problem is that we’re not taught to sift through the contents of our head and ask ourselves, “Am I operating on old data?” So we go on our merry way, making decisions and dealing with people without realizing that there may be garbage in the middle of all of those interactions.


Time is one of the key culprits that create mental trash. We don’t get picked last for a third grade recess activity, so we make up a TBO like I’m no good in sports. Then, years pass by and we don’t try out for the high school swim team. As an adult, we go to the gym but we never attend a class. Then, a friend asks us to do a 5K run or join the company softball team and our knee-jerk reaction is to say, “No thanks” even though the event sounds like a lot of fun. We reject it without even questioning where the reaction comes from. It’s old trash, and you can learn how to get rid of it. Let’s take a look at how.


Steps 1 – 3: The Trash Tossing Cycle

We can hear it now. Not another list! Not another set of things to do every day! Well, don’t cringe because the eight steps to clearing your head are based on something you already know how to do: take out the trash.


Let’s say you’re deciding whether you want to keep something or toss it. If you had to boil it down, what’s the one piece of criteria that you use to make that decision?  We think that’s value. If it has value, you’ll keep it. If it doesn’t, it’s in the can. That’s why the first step of tossing your mental trash is learning how to work with value. If you examined the TBOs floating around your mind and asked yourself, “Does this have any value to me?” you would be surprised how often the answer comes back, “No.”


When a hauler dumps your can and you look inside afterwards, what’s in there? A whole lot of nothing, right? That’s called emptiness, and it’s exactly what happens in your mind when you toss out an old TBO. What’s left in its place is emptiness; a little bit of mental breathing room. Now, instead of telling yourself you’re bad at sports, you have the space to create an entirely new opinion about yourself—one that’s a lot more up-to-date about what you’re actually capable of accomplishing. That’s the second step: keeping your can empty.


The third step is to create a route. Break your life into segments like work or family or hobby and ask yourself, “What do I really want for myself in this area?” You turn those answers into goals, and any TBO that doesn’t line up with those goals is garbage that should be tossed into your personal landfill.


These three steps act like a cycle. Every time an old TBO trips you up, you ask yourself if it has any value. If it doesn’t, you toss it and hold open the emptiness you just made until you create a route for that area of your life. Then, you fill up the emptiness with new TBOs that help you finish your route and hit your goals.


The Remaining Steps: Caution Signs Along the Road

When we get behind the wheel, we can all use a little help. There are bumps, hairpin turns and sudden drop-offs that can really throw us off. That’s what road signs do. They warn us about the dangers that can affect our driving. Mental trash is no different. Your ability to toss garbage out of your head can be affected by some internal road conditions. Here are a few of the most common.


The first is your ego, the part of your mind that loves to hold onto trash. Ego hates change. It thrives in the comfort zone—the boundary that defines what it knows and what it doesn’t. Whenever it can, it’ll slip into the driver’s seat and work like crazy to have you hold on to your old, outdated TBOs. Learning to park your ego is a big step towards dumping your mental trash.


Most of us don’t go chasing after the garbage truck in our slippers, shouting, “No! Wait! I didn’t mean to get rid of that banana peel!” We dump and we’re done. Mental garbage doesn’t work like that. A song or a smell or a snippet of conversation that you overhear triggers something in your mind and the next thing you know, a TBO you threw away works its way out of your landfill and you’re right back in the dumps again. It may take you several trips to the can before you can get that trash out of your life.


Toxic waste can also be a problem. Whether it’s low-level waste like credit card debt or high-level like addiction or abuse, we all run into toxic situations and hazardous relationships. Here’s the great news. Your garbageman skills can help you manage it, whether you’re cleaning up the mess yourself or you’re calling in the professionals to do it for your. Learning to spot toxic waste in your life and having a plan to get rid of it is the best way to avoid being contaminated by this nasty kind of garbage.


Sometimes, there’s an issue that gets stuck in your mind like a nail in a tire. You get so caught up in what’s going on that your mind can’t figure out what has value and what doesn’t, so it starts hoarding all the TBOs around that issue. If you’ve ever seen a TV show about hoarding, you know that those houses are so full, you can’t get a stick of gum inside. Well, that’s what your mind is like when you’re hoarding. To control it, you first acknowledge that it’s happening, then you isolate the TBOs that you’re clinging to and you get rid of them. When you start cleaning out your mind like that, you won’t believe how much mental breathing room you free up for yourself.


The last caution sign is taking care of your truck—the one with two legs, not four tires! It’s a lot harder to get through your route when you’re driving a hundred miles and hour and screeching around corners with nuts and bolts flying everywhere. Do the same thing garbage companies do: take great care of your truck. Eat well. Take a break every once in a while. Don’t go to bed mad. Remember: you can’t toss your trash if your truck is lousy condition. Maintain it and you’ll maximize the amount of time you’re on the road and traveling your route.


Here’s a brief summary of the eight steps to getting rid of your mental trash:

Step 1: Find the Value and Toss the Trash

Step 2: Keep Your Can Empty

Step 3: Create Your Route

Step 4: Park Your Ego

Step 5: Leave It in the Landfill

Step 6: Get Away From Toxic Waste

Step 7: Stop Hoarding

Step 8: Take Care of Your Truck


Think Like a Garbageman

A garbageman doesn’t go out and pick up any old can that he sees. He follows his route, does an audit, makes improvements and runs the route again—only this time, better than before.


What pushes that driver to improve his performance is the fundamental concept of change: thinking as if you’ve already reached your goal—even if you haven’t done that yet. If the garbageman, at the beginning of his route, believes with every fiber of his body that he’s going to finish on time and get every can, is he going to waste time on side trips? Is he going to take extra long breaks or not really care what he’s doing? Of course not! He’s going to get that route done. He’s efficient, he’s driven, and he’s got energy and focus. When problems come up—and they always do—he handles them and keeps moving forward.


Managing mental garbage works exactly the same way. Once you start thinking as if you’ve already accomplished your goal—earning enough money for that new car or getting a promotion—your belief system seizes on that goal and starts flooding your subconscious with a simple, consistent message: “I am that person!” When you do that, everything starts to shift around that goal. Pretty soon, you start acting like the person who’s already achieved it—even if you haven’t yet.


Think about the last time you really wanted something. Nothing got in your way, did it? If a negative TBO like “You can’t do this” popped into your head, did it stop you? Heck no! You blew right past it! Then, when you reached your goal, you probably said to yourself, “Wow. That was a lot easier than I thought.” When it’s that important to you, you’re not going to let a pile of old, outdated garbage stand in your way. You’re going to throw it out and keep charging forward. That’s what it means to think like a garbageman.


The Challenges

When you first start dumping your mental trash, you’re going to run into some common challenges. It’s hard to tune into the thoughts running through your mind. You have habits that make you hold onto your old trash. Dumping mental garbage it tougher than you thought, or you have unrealistic expectations of how fast life will change, or you find the whole process a little monotonous.


Don’t worry about it! Every one of these challenges has an answer. You can learn how to break old habits or manage your expectations by enlisting the help of your Inner Garbageman™—that little voice inside of your head that always steers you in the right direction. When you let your Inner Garbageman take the wheel, life gets so much easier. The chaos and the drama start to disappear and you see new possibilities that the old garbage blocked out.


Imagine if all the clutter in your head were gone. What could you accomplish? What amazing things could you do? Now is the time to find out! Start throwing out your mental trash and see what starts to open up for you.


Bringing It Home

Pretend you have a garage that’s an absolute mess. There’s stuff everywhere in it. One morning, you walk out there, turn on the light, and take a long, hard look around. That’s when you realize that the garage could be so much more than what it is. You can turn it into a workshop or a home gym or a space where you can actually park both cars inside. Once you see that vision of what that garage could become, your mind is going to move in one of two ways.


In one instance, you’re going to get caught up in all the garbage: all the work it will take to clean the place out, whether you can find the time, and so on. In the other instance, you’ll be so fired up by your vision that the garbage won’t even be a factor. Guess which way of thinking will transform that garage?


When your vision is more important than your trash, you become virtually unstoppable, no matter what you’re up to. And that’s the choice! Are you going to clear the garbage out of the way and focus on the end point that says, “This is where I want to be,” or are you going to let the garbage win?No one says you have to hold on to your old TBOs. So throw them out, just like you would an old light bulb or a broken mug. Then, go on and live an extraordinary life!


Norm LeMay and Steven Kaufman are co-authors of the book, The Garbageman’s Guide™ to Life: How to Get Out of the Dumps. For more information on dumping your mental trash and a free three-part video course expanding on this article, visit