Clearing Out the Emotional Clutter

Minimalism is about decluttering.  For me, it began with possessions.  As we emptied so much out of our house, and made those trips to Goodwill, our lives seemed to regain some sort of long-lost sanity. 

Next, we began to declutter our time.  We stopped being busy, so that we could focus on our dreams and passions.  This gave us focus, and helped us to regain a sense of purpose.

But there is still much, much more decluttering to do.  And, this winter, I realized that I needed to start with my thoughts and emotions.  I’ve been faced with challenges this winter–everybody faces challenges, and we all weather them differently.  But I realized that my head was very cluttered, with thoughts, assumptions, and emotions, that made facing challenges more difficult. 

We’ve all got some emotional clutter, and once we “purge” it, our lives will become simpler

Here’s some clutter that I’m bagging up and putting by the curb (forget Goodwill or recycling–this stuff isn’t good for anyone!):

My Own Labels.  You already know I’m not a big fan of labels.  But we put labels on ourselves all the time.  When we say, “I’m not good at drawing/writing/math/whatever,” when we pigeonhole ourselves as cynical, weak, or fragile, when, deep down, we just believe the negative things we may have been told about ourselves, at some time of another…When we do all those things, we are only imposing limits.  When we put our minds to it, we can be and accomplish whatever we set out to do.  The labels are our limits, not the description of our limits.

Worries and fears.  This is a tough one.  Worrying is an attempt to control the uncontrollable.  We think that we can somehow control the unknown, by obsessing over it.  But worry and fear paralyze.  And, rarely, does the thing we’re worried about actually happen.  And when bad things happen, they’re rarely things we’ve been worried about!  It’s hard to take life as it comes, knowing that we can weather the storms, but it frees up a lot of mental space and energy when we can do it.

PerfectionismI think we’re all perfectionists, to varying degrees.  I started out as the classic have-to-get-straight-A’s kind of honor student (then when that didn’t happen, I became the screw-it, if-I-can’t-be-perfect-why-try type, for awhile), but I found a sort of balance there.  However, that didn’t mean I wasn’t a perfectionist anymore.  My house was never clean, because I didn’t have the time to do it perfectly.  I wasn’t losing weight, because I’d quit trying when I couldn’t do it perfectly.  Perfectionism is not anything to brag about, and it’s a huge roadblock that we all need to work on moving past.

Self-Pity.  “Well, someone has to feel sorry for me–this situation is really crappy!”  Or at least that’s what I tell myself, before launching into a private pity party of “why me”‘s.  And it’s absolutely non-productive.  Because pity of any sort is non-productive.  When we’re heading into a storm on Moonraker, there’s no time to look around and ask why.  All there is to do, is to proceed forward.  And so it is in life.  Rather than looking around and feeling sorry for ourselves, we need to move forward and deal with it: face the problem, find new ways to cope, and seek out support when we need it.

OverthinkingI’m a good problem-solver.  In my job, I work with kids who have behavioral issues.  We observe the behavior carefully, analyze the situation, notice every factor surrounding it, and look for patterns.  This is a great way for a team to work together to help a kid overcome major obstacles.  However, this is also a great way to drive yourself crazy.  There is something to be said, for taking things as they are. 

Seeking ApprovalAnother tough one.  We all want to be liked.  But, we need to remember that approval is not love.  Our friends will love us, even if we like different things than them, or make different choices than they do.  When we make choices based on what we think others want us to do, we’re seriously selling ourselves short.

Personalizing Others’ Actions.  We need to remember that everyone else has a life outside of our interactions with them.  If we don’t hear from someone, 9 times out of 10, they’re not avoiding us.  If someone forgets a birthday, it probably isn’t because we made them mad.  If a friend is short with us, it’s probably because they’ve got something going on in their life that has nothing to do with us, but is distracting them.  If someone accuses us of something, they are probably just seeing their own insecurities.  If someone hurts us, it is because they are hurting.  We don’t know the whole story, but we need to realize that it’s probably not about us.

Thinking “I Don’t Deserve It.”  It’s not our job to do behavior-modification on ourselves.  Thinking that we don’t deserve something is just perfectionism, all over again.  We all screw up.  Some of us screw up a lot.  But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take advantage of the beauty and opportunities placed before us. 

Like decluttering the house, decluttering the mind is an ongoing process.  The clutter will always sneak back, and there will always be purges and trips to the curbside. 

It’s just important to continue the journey.


18 thoughts on “Clearing Out the Emotional Clutter

  1. Bethany, I think this is your best post ever!! I need to keep this close to me and remember what you have reminded me. Oh, but about those friends. No not all will stick by you when you decide to change the way you live, but then you know who your real friends were, so it all works out in the end.

      • I’ve never been one to have lots of friends, I have always had just a couple close friends. So yes for me it’s always been about quality over quantity. I hear all the time that people are healthier who have more than a couple friends, but I think they need to take into account the personality types first. For some, like me, who are more introverts (seriously I am) and enjoy time alone a couple good friends is healthier than a large group.

        • I find that I’m MUCH more comfortable getting together with 1-2 people at a time, rather than being in a large group. And–I hate to say it–getting together with lots of people that way would be pretty time consuming!

  2. A lot to tackle there young lady! Few can recognize so much in themselves. I’m going to have to use your list and look in my own back yard.


  3. A very interesting post as I felt I could relate to many of the personal mind-traps. And I couldn’t have read it at a more appropriate time, as I too need to declutter.

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  5. so true, lately I have noticed I have to be careful not to bump into other peoples emotional clutter too! and try and let their mini dramas bounce past, without being affected and without being cold and distant! I’m also noticing when I’m doing this to other people as well, it’s all getting a bit uncomfortable! I think my awareness is changing which is a good thing, Heather x

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