Getting Rid of Emotional Clutter (And Making Room for the Things That You Really Want)
My sweet mother-in-law just turned 90. She's been like a mother to me after losing my own mom to cancer. 'Nanny's' life has demonstrated so many admirable qualities I want to emulate. But I confess there’s one quality I’ll avoid modeling. She’s a bit of a pack rat. Having gone through her life habitually saving endless mementos and squirreling away countless ‘but-it-was-on-sale’ finds, every drawer, closet, shelf and storage bin is at capacity load. Downsizing for a small condo is now a monumental chore.
We're All Pack Rats Whether or not you fall into the category of a pack rat with possessions, most of us accumulate mental baggage. We collect drawers crammed with frustrations and closets brimming with unresolved conflicts.
Make Room for Happiness By the time we reach middle age, we find that there’s not a lot of room left over for happiness. At least that was my assessment as I found myself preparing to be an empty nester. I had stored away so many irritations and grievances, my soul felt cluttered. I decided to do some serious sorting out of my emotional clutter.
Create a Plan I made a plan. I took three steps.
I applied Marie Kondo’s ‘joy’ mantra to my emotional life.
Find the Comfort of Counsel Going to a good counselor is like getting spa sessions for your soul. A trained clinician can massage the muscles of memory and relieve their kinks and tightness. They can help you breathe more deeply and relax more into your life.
If you're considering counseling, there's great guidance in finding one HERE.
Take a Journaling Journey
There’s something powerful about writing in a journal. Especially when using skillful prompts. That’s exactly what the ‘Self Authoring’ course is! By dissecting your life into decades or seasons, you’re able to see themes and create a sense of order in your understanding.
If you're interested in Jordan Peterson's 'Self Authoring' Course, you can find out more info HERE.
Use the Kondo Rule As I talked to my counselor and journaled my way through messy memories, I used Marie Kondo’s ‘joy’ mantra as a filter. Asking myself, ‘Does this attitude spark joy?’ (Or does this response or reaction facilitate joy?)
‘“The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one's hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.’ Marie Kondo
Know it's Messy Business Sorting through life is messy business. I actually think it’s easier to sort through closets and drawers than it is to sift through life issues. Kondo’s encouragement to those purging closet chaos is just as pertinent to those attempting to do the same to their internal clutter.
Commit to the Process Stay committed to the process. It takes a gritty determination to declutter. The commitment to bring emotional clarity requires even more grit. The temptation to quit always lurks. Out of sight, out of mind describes the temptress. But our unresolved angst isn’t really ‘out of mind.’ It’s like an open tab that is always running in the background, draining us of vibrancy.
Don't be Discouraged Culling throughemotional baggage is daunting. As troubling memories are pulled out from the back of mental recesses, their sting can be freshly felt. But it’s a process. As painful residue tumbles out and piles at your feet, with resolve the mess does dissolve.
‘Don't be discouraged if your home temporarily looks worse while you're in the process of tidying.’ Marie Kondo
How are your emotional drawers and closets? If you find they're at maximum capacity, know you're not alone!
I hope these tips help inspire you on your own journey to clear out the cumbersome clutter make room for lots more joy.
Have you ever noticed some particular thing and then find that you just keep noticing it? It could be a car, a word, a breed of dog, a particular style of house, or just about anything. Suddenly, you’re aware of that thing all over the place. Yeah, we’ve all had it happen at some point. It’s actually got a name! It’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon - it’s a frequency bias.
Well, recently, I’ve repeatedly come across the idea that joy is something that’s super important to our emotional well being. (duh!) I know. It’s so elemental. But sometimes the simplest truths are the most profound.
Marie Kondo, the organizational guru, revolutionized our lives with her instructions to sort our ‘stuff’ by considering their ‘joy factor.’
I bet we could also sort through emotional clutter if we could put her ‘joy’ guideline to work on other parts of our lives.
What if we honestly appraised our commitments, our friendships or memberships by asking the question, ‘Does this spark joy?’
I’m NOT advocating self centered narcissism. I’m just saying we usually make commitments from a viewpoint of ‘I guess I should’ rather than ‘I really want’.
I only wish I’d thought of this years ago! This would’ve alleviated a lot of angst. I am a recovering ‘should’ addict. I’m currently sorting through the effects of collecting way too many shouldas’, and oughtas’.
I’m recuperating from a severe case of ‘Mom Burnout’ due to all of my self imposed ‘shoulds’. As a mom of five, I remember feeling empathy in reading this Mother Goose rhyme:
But, I know now it wasn’t necessarily my kids who caused the burn- out. It was all the other commitments and obligations. What if we moms were to hold up each of our engagements and ask, “Does this spark joy?’ or ‘Is this just another ‘should’ that’s going to clutter our lives?’ Marie Kondo struck a sensitive chord in our hearts with her invitation to question our joy levels. Joy is a rare commodity today. We put our heads down and trudge ahead like automatons. Her elegantly simple criteria jolted us to stop and think, ‘Does this make me feel any joy?’
As moms, we can easily find ourselves bound to patterns of self sacrifice long after the nightly feedings are just a memory. What if we intentionally considered ways to spark joy in our day-to-day routines? If the ‘Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe’ had done so, she would’ve been much better off. I know I would’ve been! I’ve been taking intentional regular steps.
My own personal journey in recovering my joy started when I enrolled in, ‘The Science of Well-Being’, a free six week online course from Yale University. FREE! That’s enough to spark a lot of joy! Having just completed it, I highly recommend it!
Intentional actions taken to awaken joy is one of the featured points in the course. Joy. It’s such a simple word - just three little letters. But it can have such a huge impact on our emotional wellness. After taking the course, I continued learning about specific ways we can spark joy. Below is a list I’ve gathered.
Ways to spark joy every day: Dance to some awesome music. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Plan a fun night/day out with friends. Make new contacts. Volunteer your time. Grow a new hobby. Return to an old hobby. Send a meal to someone. Take a scenic bike ride. Watch a sunset or sunrise. Pick (or buy) some fresh flowers. Make something with your hands. Learn a new skill Go on an adventure (even a tiny one.) Play with an animal. Light scented candles. Do a puzzle. Soak in a bubble bath. Try a yummy new recipe. Make your bed each morning after waking up. Write a letter of appreciation to someone. Play solitaire with real cards. Go for a walk or run. Curl up with a book. Make a gratitude list. Put on relaxing music and stretch for 20 minutes. Write a mini-poem about your day. Draw or watercolor. Prepare a smoothie. Go to a new coffee shop. Visit a museum.
We have routines. We put our heads down and check off our to-do lists. But did you know the simple act of being intentional about doing just one small thing each day we really get pleasure from can fortify our emotional well being just like a daily vitamin fortifies our body?
Doing one ‘happy thing’ everyday...fuels your motivation, improves emotional health and increases productivity. It also gives you a new outlook on life and enhances your relationships!
We usually celebrate big accomplishments. But congratulating yourself even on those tiny incremental victories, can spark joy, affirm your self worth and increase your motivation to keep going.. Celebrating yourself even for little wins...Increases your energyPromotes personal growthBoosts your happiness levelsAffirms self-worth.
Each morning before you get out of bed thank the Lord for five things for which you are grateful. It’s a nice way to start the day, and you’ll find yourself thinking about a lot more than five. Practicing gratitude…
I asked myself this question and did some soul searching. Here's a list of 20 ways I'm making my attempts!
The milestone of six decades loomed before me. The question of 'graceful aging' began to consume my thoughts. Ads promise diminished wrinkles and toned physiques. But what about keeping my emotions feeling young? Making a list of what I want to avoid is helping me see a path to mindfully pursue aging gracefully.
I knew what I did NOT want.
I did not want to be crusty and inflexible - in soul or body.
I did not want to be full of cranky bitterness.
I did not want to be isolated and lonely.
This was my back door approach to defining the practices that would help ensure a better path to aging well.
Your emotions need tending just as much as your body. Maintain a spiritual practice. Smile more. Start writing. It’s a great way to unpack life and process your feelings.Here’s my master list. I keep it on my desk.
#1.) Stay open and flexible. Remind yourself opportunities often express themselves in ways we’d never imagine.Embrace change. Resisting it wastes precious time and energy.
#2.) Keep adventure alive. Travel. Whether it is a trip to the mall, theater, a sports event or even a different state or country, little and big adventures can produce wonderful results.
#3.) Create, make. Do. Always have a project/something to solve. Making progress feels good and brings you happiness.
#4.) Savor the joy of little pleasures. Do something you enjoy every day. When you immerse yourself in things you enjoy, you can’t wait to do them again. And then you do them again, and again and again, and the enjoyment continues.
#5.) Cherish your loyal confidant. Someone you can tell anything is a requirement for emotional your well-being.
#6.) Celebrate yourself. Congratulate yourself on even small accomplishments and use them as inspiration for new tasks. #7.) Cultivate positivity. Share happiness. Make a point to spread joy whenever possible. It feels good to make someone else feel good, and it’s very inexpensive to do.
#8.) Treat others with dignity. You’ll find respect comes back to you.
#9.) Tend to yourself. Value your body. Walk a lot. Eat smartly, but every once in a while line up a row of warm chocolate chip cookies and dip them in milk.
#10.) Value your emotions. Your emotions need tending just as much as your body. Maintain a spiritual practice. Smile more. Start writing. It’s a great way to unpack life and process your feelings.
#11.) Practice gratitude. Each morning before you get out of bed, think of 5 things you are grateful for. Gratitude is like an anti-wrinkle cream for your soul.
#12.) Laugh more. Laugh and cry. But laugh a lot more. It releases those endorphins – the body’s natural feel-good chemicals
#13.) Create a haven. Make your home your special place by personalizing it and making it comfortable. Everyone needs a refuge that’s uniquely theirs.
#14.) Keep connections. Friendships are invisible vitamins for life. Remember the truth, ‘Make new friends. Keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.’
#15.) Develop a sense of perspective. Consider mortality; it will help you appreciate each day as a gift.
#16.) Practice acceptance. Embrace the present.Consider the joys of old age. You’re smarter; you’re more experienced and you have more time to do the things you enjoy.
#17.) Release your regrets. Regrets are like anchors that keep you moored in the past, depleting you of vitality and confidence.
#18.) Show yourself kindness. Practice gentleness with yourself. Talk to yourself as you would to a friend.
#19.) Practice mindful reactions. Take control of how you react to things. Take deep breaths and count to 10 - or even 100, if needed! #20.) Seek ways to give. Giving to others, even in small ways, is a powerful way to keep your heart feeling full of life.
These are some ways I’ve chosen to adjust my life to pursue aging gracefully. The list grew out of some honest self evaluation. What would be on your list? Have you thought about ‘aging gracefully? I’d love to hear your thoughts on your journey!
How do you feel loved? Know the language that communicates your love You have a unique way in which you feel and give love. It is your special 'language.' This was the insightful observation laid out for us by Gary Chapman in “The Five Love Languages." His concepts describing the ways in which we feel loved and appreciated have resonated with our hearts since 1992.
Understand how you're wired Each of the five ‘love languages” - compliments, time, touch, gifts, help - are enticing. For years, I struggled to fit my assessment into one of the categories. But I always felt none were scratching where I itched. I sensed my truest core language was absent from the list.
Ask yourself what truly resonates Quality time came the closest. Close, but no cigar. I highly value time spent with close friends, but time is just the surface layer. I slowly observed that it was a particular type of time that allowed me to feel seen and heard.
Ask yourself what you truly relish I relish time spent in reciprocal inquisitive conversation. It’s the added dimension of mutual delighted curiosity that rings my bell. This is my language of love.
How do you show you really care? By asking questions, I show others I care for them. And by being asked questions, I feel seen. It is this exchange that, for me, digs deep reservoirs of relationship. For me, time spent in conversation with mutual curiosity is a clear channel of genuine love. It's this reciprocity that allows us to see beyond the shallow surface of small talk.
What's your love language super-power? My ability to get curious about others has always come easy to me. It is my superpower. Though this power had its origins in people-pleasing, and needed to be harnessed into health, nevertheless, it empowers my relationships.
How to nurture healthier relationships? In shedding my people-pleasing skin, I sought a way to examine the quality of a relationship. By asking one simple question, I could nurture more healthy interactions. This is now my litmus test : How easy is it for this person to leave their ego at the door?
Have you ever felt something was amiss? In earlier years, when I tried to give and receive love by showing curiosity, I ended up playing the part of an ‘good listener.’ I knew something was amiss. And I often sensed that folks appreciated my companionship the way they would appreciate a finely framed mirror—a surface in which they could adore their own reflection.
What are you not willing to do? Now I’m no longer willing to be a part of one-sided relationships. As someone who spent much of her life feeling unseen, I notice when someone really makes an effort to see me.
What do you value? I value direct eye contact and inquiries such as, “But really—how are you feeling today?” I value it and I reciprocate. I value a pause in a story being told with an inclusive welcome, “Have you ever experienced anything like that?” I value an ability in conversation to hold just as much space as the space being taken up. And I value conversations that are a waltz of ideas instead of monologues on soap boxes.
What do you see as your relational responsibilities? Ultimately, it was my responsibility to shift this pattern and make space in my life for healthier connections. I could continue to feel victimized by one-sided relationships, or I could leave them behind and trust that I deserved better—and that better existed. We co-create these healthier, reciprocal connections by communicating, clearly, what we need in order to feel seen. The framework of love language gives us a simple way to understand the manner in which we ‘speak love’ and how we ‘hear love.’
Are you hoping for mind readers? Being able to articulate our specific language is unbelievably helpful to those around us. Because, after all, most of us are not mind readers!
How can you be understood more easily? “My love language is curiosity. I feel most loved when others show curiosity by asking questions, showing they want to understand me.” By offering this simple truth, I give others a clear understanding of what makes me tick. Of course, whether they choose to act on that information is up to them.
Do you understand your language? Understanding our language of love can help us navigate our relational world. If we find ourselves in relationships that are one-sided, we need to be willing to let them go. Though there’s an initial loneliness that comes from leaving old patterns, the horizon radiates with brighter possibilities.
Sabotaging Well Being We live under the illusion that we can control situations. At least most of us do. That illusion sabotages our emotional well-being. In reality, the grip of control we imagine we’ve got, is a mirage. Learning to release control and live in flow is the beginning of emotional self care.
We’ve all heard the take-charge-of-your-life-gurus promising magical success formulas.
PLANNING + ACTION = desired results
The lure of guarantees Yeah, of course, there is value gained in the planning process. But the lure of outcome guarantees can infect our thinking with an insidious virus. We begin to believe our formulas are imbued with power to manipulate the future to conform to our will.
The virus is real I can attest to the affects of the 'I-Am-In-Control' virus.
I tried to control our kids’ lives. I actually thought I could regulate their thoughts, attitudes and decisions with the shape of my predetermined mold of expectations.
I believed life-results were up to me. My business would grow by sweat and hustle and my health would be guaranteed with the correct regimen.
I hyper ventilated over planning projects and parties, and events as if I possessed the super-powers to create spectacles of perfection.
Stressed, anxious and exhausted I seriously jeopardized my emotional well being with stress, anxiety and exhaustion. I made the decision to open my clinched hands, and let the illusory reigns of controlfall.
A fish parable Consider the fish who swim in the mighty expanse of ocean.They swim along their merry way in the midstof uncertain, chaotic sea water. They hold no illusion that of control. They don’t conceive of thinking they can have influence over their course. They just swim. With acceptance, they flow, eat, hide, and mate. They live out their lives doing what they were created to do. Swimming.
What if we thought of ourselves more like the fish? What if we yielded more to the flow of life? I wonder how we might live more like this? Maybe we could start by pulling up the nails we’ve hammered around our goals? What if we held our hopes with an open palm?
How might loosening control make life look differently?
We could experience a less frustration and more peace.
We could focus more on being kind to those around us, relinquishing our attempts of control over them.
We could feel more acceptance for our corner of the world - as it is instead of being annoyed, stressed, angry.
We could create space to live more ‘in the moment.’
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen. Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
Addicted to worry My name is Eleatta, and I am a worry addict in recovery. A fretful undertow of anxiety courses through my thoughts gripping my gut like the cuff of a blood pressure gauge. BUT I am learning how to construct dikes to alter the watery swells. I'm learning self-care really starts with tending to our thought life. When my confessions of fretful consternations are met with surprise, I concur with a smile, ‘Yeah, I hid it well…until I didn’t.’ And I explain how the undertow pulled me into darker and darker places until it became obvious that I had two choices. I would either learn how to redirect the flow of my ruminations or drown underneath their force.
Tools to change Through adept counseling, good friends and self-education, I’m learning to manage the tides of worry by building preventive barriers. Much like sand bags are filled, stacked and used as dikes to hold incoming flood waters, I’m filling my thoughts with new substantive weight to strengthen and protect the borders of my emotional well being. I wish I’d learned this skill much earlier, but as the saying goes, ‘Better late than never!’
Building strong dikes Dike building experts say the strongest dike reinforcements follow specific guidelines.
Step 1.) Clean away the base area, thoroughly removing any debris. Step 2.) Determine how high the dike needs to be based on the flood predictions Step 3.) Properly fill sand bags. Step 4.) Tap, press and pack the bags as they’re stacked to create a tight seal.
Similar steps can be taken to build strong ‘thought dikes.’
Step 1.)Clean away debris. Task- Identify thoughts that are scattered around the edges of your thinking. For me, those thoughts were fragments of fearing rejection left over from childhood wounds.
Step 2.)Get clear on a particular type of flood you anticipate. Task - Again, mine was fearing rejection, so when faced with new opportunities for my business, I could predict the oncoming waters with a meteorologist’s accuracy.
Step 3.) Properly fill those sand bags. Task - Through meditation, I poured new, healthier thoughts into my psyche.
Step 4.)Press bags to create a tight seal. Task - With purposeful intention, I tapped , packed and compressed these stacks of thoughts with determination.
Scrolling through I see lush, filtered photos of bubble bathing, clay-masked women, sandy stretches of serene beaches, and vibrant spreads of fruits and veggies. They peddle self-care mantras and quotes from sages and stars. Ok. Agreed. We do need to take care of ourselves. We do indeed need reminders that we become better versions of ourselves when we respect our requirement for nurturing. But the photos can be misleading.
Don’t get me wrong Mindfully holding yoga poses, slowly sipping steaming tea, and luxuriating in spa massages certainly have their place! Oh my god, do they ever! But the very best self-care practices really begin in our heads. We should pamper ourselves with these luscious practices, for sure. But we should also take a look at the kinds of words we use on ourselves. If we’ve got negative thoughts playing on an internal loop, a bubble bath has limited power.
No, I haven’t yet I've not yet mastered the art of conquering every single cruddy self-deprecating thought in my head. But I can honestly say I’ve made some huge strides
Sipping green tea We sip green tea to rid ourselves of toxins.We seek out massages to loosen stiffened muscles. And seeking to transform our running negative monologue can release tight emotional kinks.
Tilting Why do we tilt toward self-criticism?Maybe it’s a human condition of brokenness. (Some personalities lend themselves to a darker disposition). Maybe it’s from damaging chapters in our lives (Mine sprang from a thumb amputation at the age of six). Maybe we tell ourselves we’re no good because we think it'll shield us from other's opinions. I'm sure the reasons are limitless.
Stinkin' thinkin' But, whatever the reason lurking behind our self-disavowal, there’s only one result - stinking’ thinking’. With each condemning thought we entertain, we end up digging trenches in our brains that beckon an ever-increasing stream of nay-saying thoughts.
No Pollyanna Of course, the intention here isn’t to become some pie-in-the-sky pollyanna with fake, shallow positivity. No, the idea is to look at our negative thoughts head-on. Then take a measured, prescriptive approach.
Grab it and stare it down Here's how we need to deal with our negative-nelly thoughts. When we see one approaching, grab it. Stare it down. Then challenge it.
A Deeper Look For a continued probe, healthline.com gives a relatable list of 'the sky is falling' and it's all because of me scenarios.
Here’s an excerpt. For the full article, click here. Which of these rings true for you? I confess, I've probably done them all.
Overgeneralising? Your colleague sends you back an article you wrote with some amends. You decide you’re rubbish at your job. Catastrophising? Your boyfriend said he’d text you when he got home okay. He forgets, and you get scared he’s been attacked and is lying in the street. Personalising? Your friends forget to add you to a group chat, but you incorrectly assume that you’ve been excluded on purpose. Mind reading? Someone gives you a funny look on the street because they thought they recognized you – but you assume they’re thinking that you’re ugly. Mentally filtering? You pass your driving test with 5 minors. Instead of celebrating your success, you beat yourself up for the 5 mistakes you made. Discounting the positive? You get a top mark on a piece of coursework, but you explain it away as a fluke or sheer luck. Making “should” statements? A client at work is unhappy because you missed a small section of a report. You demean yourself because you “should” have seen it and “should” be better and “shouldn’t” be making mistakes. Emotionally reasoning? Your feel guilty, so you reason that you’ve definitely done something wrong. Labeling? You accidentally upset a child, so you label yourself in single, total terms: “a bitch” or “evil.”
Sound Familiar? Do these sound as familiar to you as they do to me?
Our thoughts mold our self-perception and frame our self-esteem. I remember my Mom always saying, "Pretty is as pretty does." And even from an early age, I understood her meaning. How we think of ourselves is reflected outwardly. I only wish I'd read articles such as these long ago.
Make Bookends We all have negative thoughts. It’s just part of being human. But being aware of them, understanding their origins, and knowing how to deal with them puts us on the best path toward true self care. So, when you think, “Ugh! I didn’t get all the things done today that I’d wanted!” Bookend that thought with affirmations of what you DID accomplish. Curating our thoughts gives us control over the “noise” in our head. Though negative thoughts are inevitable, learning to navigate up, over and through them is the very foundation of self care.