Internal clutter. We all have it. It shows up as negative self-talk, limiting beliefs, faulty thinking and limiting perspectives. Most of us are unconscious about the variety of clutter that runs the show in our brains.
You’re probably noticing that I’m including myself when I talk about mental clutter. The first therapist I worked with told me that I had a black cloud over my head. She was referring to the array of negative beliefs about life and what I could expect from it that I had laid out before her.
Upon reflection I was able to identify that I had inherited many of those beliefs from my father who has always been a glass half empty kind of guy. I remember him referring to “the malevolent universe” when talking about the state of our world. Little did I know that being exposed to that type of perspective and other pessimistic beliefs colored my view of our world as a scary, dark, unpredictable place. When my therapist shared her observation with me, she made me aware that toxic internal clutter was blocking me from being able to trust and experience feelings of joy. She opened a door for healing and developing a new perspective.
When I can’t seem to get traction in my life, when I get caught up in self-doubt, self-criticism and feeling uncertain and shaky about aspects of my life, I remind myself that I need to check in with the voices in my head. I examine my thoughts, the beliefs that are surfacing, my current perspectives regarding my purpose, my performance, and my journey. Invariably I discover that I’ve slipped into old ways of thinking. Bringing those monsters into awareness is essential before I can change them and make my way back to being fully connected with my best self.
If you find yourself struggling, check for mental clutter. What messages are playing in your head? How are you viewing your reality? Like attracts like. Negative beliefs, self-talk and perspectives attract more of the same.
Bring that clutter to light. Notice it. Don’t judge it. Internal clutter is a choice. But, you must first notice it and its effect on your feelings, behavior and view of your life and the world. Bring mental clutter to light and you’ll be on your way to a better life. Awareness first. You cannot expel energies you haven’t identified. It may not be pleasant process. But, it’s a step in the direction of positive change.
What started as a determination to pull up all of the poison ivy that had invaded my flower beds ended up being a 2.5 hour marathon of pruning and weeding. Once I’d conquered that annoying invader of my gardens, a task I’d been avoiding for months, I felt ready for anything! I had no idea that that three leafed plant was blocking my motivation to do some serious work in my garden. Once it was gone, I had my garden back, and I could see so many possibilities for making needed improvements.
What most surprised me was a new awareness that my beloved butterfly bush needed a significant pruning. As I looked at it with its luscious bright purple tubular flowers, I noted that the weight of the branches was bending the bush almost in half. It looked like a burdened soul carrying a very heavy weight. Since feng shui has taught me that the energy of things around me affect my energy, like the off-putting energy of the poison ivy, I overcame my reluctance to cut off branches laden with flowers. I was all over that bush!
This past year I have been carrying some very heavy burdens, like caring for my mother who has Alzheimer’s. That bush reminded me of how I felt many times when I was juggling too many very weighty balls and feeling so weary. I definitely did not want anything in my yard or home to hold the energy of being burdened. As I chopped off more and more branches the bush began straightening up. When I was done, it was standing tall.
The lesson of the butterfly bush is that if I release some of what I’m carrying by saying no more often, lowering my sometimes unrealistic expectations, and asking for more help instead of trying to do everything myself, I too can stand tall, reaching for the sky instead of gazing at the ground.
What began as a determination to eradicate an unwanted plant ended up as a valuable reminder that I do have choices when feeling burdened by responsibilities. I can choose self-care and letting go. What obligations can you release today to lighten your load so you too can look up and see the sky?
Some people assume that since I’m a professional organizer I have many sophisticated systems for keeping my life in order. As I observed myself capturing “to do” items yesterday I smiled to myself and thought, “Oh, if they could see me now!”
My current system for making note of action items that I want to be sure not to lose sight of is anything but sophisticated! I always carry a small pad around with me. When I promise to do something for someone or a task I need to do pops into my head, I jot it down on a page in that pad. I then rip out the page and stuff it in my purse. Because loose papers in my purse almost always catch my eye and bug me, they get removed from my purse when I get into my car. The items that will be done from the car stay in a section of my console where I put reminder notes. The others are put in my lunch bag that gets emptied out every night. From the kitchen counter my notes are then transported to my desk where I take action on them.
Now, this system would not work if I had a purse full of all kinds of loose paper. Those reminder notes would just join the sea of paper and be lost. It would also not work if I weren’t pretty systematic about regularly clearing papers from my purse on a daily basis. It also helps that I am visually hypersensitive, meaning I see EVERYTHING, particularly things that are out of place! Those loose papers really bug me which spurs me to move them along to where they can be acted on.
The systems you use to keep track of the multitude of tasks you must do to keep your life running smoothly don’t have to cost much nor do they have to be sophisticated. What’s most important is that they work! For now my floating reminder system works. How do you keep track of the action items that come at you as you move through your day?
How does a professional organizer define a banner day? It’s a day when two clients report that they experience immediate results from clutter clearing.
I ran into one client who frequents the same coffee shop I do, and her first words when she saw me were, “I got so much done!” This client has her home office set up in her dining room. Over time she had accumulated a ring of clutter around her. Normally I can’t get at much of that clutter because she is sitting in the middle of it, and moving any of it is quite anxiety provoking. On my last visit she was running late, so I was able to start work without her. I took the opportunity to clear out the area around her chair. When she arrived I had a pile of bags and papers to go through with her, and the area where she works felt so much lighter, so much better. In that session we were able to go through all those things that had been sitting stagnant for quite some time, moving things along for filing, action, trash and to give away. My client was thrilled about the progress!
When my client reported, “I got so much done!” I was pleased, but I wasn’t surprised. The clutter around her chair was a block to her productivity. Those things that had been stagnant so long held dead, negative energies. They made it impossible for her to clear that clutter on her own. Once that block of negative energy was removed and order restored, the area had a positive energy, one that made mental clarity possible, and she was able to do many difficult tasks that previously were difficult to accomplish when surrounded by negative energy.
That same day another client reported “I slept much better last night.” The previous day I’d helped her reclaim basic order in her bedroom that had become completely cluttered since her return from college. It’s no wonder that she’d some difficulty sleeping in that room! Everything is alive with energy and the energy talks to you all the time. When she tried to sleep in the midst of chaos, the energy of everything strewn about her was chattering at her all night long. There were just too many things talking to be able to have a restful night’s sleep. Our clutter clearing together had quieted all those conversations, and good sleep was possible.
Want to be more productive? Want better sleep? Clear some clutter! Every little bit helps! Quiet those negative energies and you too can experience immediate positive results.
It seems a current theme in my life is grief and letting go. My mother’s cognitive functions are slowly deteriorating due to dementia. I’m losing my competent, energetic Mom bit by bit. I recently was right in the middle of helping her transition to assisted living, dealing with her grief about leaving her beloved home, the place where she had so many happy memories with John, the love of her life. And, then I had to clear out her house, take apart the remains of her life piece by piece. I encountered lots of sadness along the way, and grief underlies so many of my interactions with her these days.
Because I am trained as a counselor and have had plenty of counseling on my journey, I recognize grief when I’m in it, and know that allowing it and moving through it is the most beneficial route for me. But, most people don’t have the benefit of the kind of knowing I’ve acquired over the years of counseling training and my own therapy. In the clutter clearing process grief can be one of those barriers that can paralyze a person despite their best of intentions to complete a clutter clearing project. Uncomfortable feelings of sadness, loss, and even anger can totally derail the clutter clearing process.
I recently learned of a paper clutter clearing victory by a client who ran into papers associated with his deceased mother. Despite the sadness he encountered he persevered. When he ran into the grief he noticed it, acknowledged it and kept going. It probably helped that he had made a commitment to me, his coach, to clear those papers. He had a compelling need to show me what he could do. But, I think the real reason he was able to keep going was because he noticed the grief, allowed himself to feel it, but chose not to pull the entire scab of his sadness off his wound. Instead he acknowledged it and kept moving.
That’s how I got my mother’s house cleared out. I didn’t want that pain to go on and on. I shed tears, recovered, and moved on. I shed some more tears, recovered and moved on. By the way, I was able to allow my grief, manage it and move on not only because I understand the grieving process, but also because I had the loving support of my husband. Emotional support is an essential ingredient in the grieving process.
I suspect that some people are not aware that they can manage the grief they encounter. They don’t realize that they have choices about how they respond to it. They can run into uncomfortable feelings, stop and flee from them, leaving the wound intact and keeping themselves stuck. They can run into those feelings, identify them as grief, feel them and sink into despair and depression, again stopping their possible progress. Or they can encounter sadness, allow it, and view it as an opportunity to release some pain that they carry with them. By doing that they have the chance to let go of the negative energy of feelings that really don’t serve them, that may be keeping them stuck or limiting their personal or professional growth.
The next time you get stuck when clutter clearing, ask yourself, “Is this grief? Did I run into some feelings that were uncomfortable?” If so, take a deep breath and remember that you have a choice. You can run or you can allow the feelings. You can choose to immerse yourself in them and stop or feel them for a short while, recover and move on. Grief can stop you or be a real opportunity for healing, growth and forward progress.
I rewarded myself for weeks of hard work clearing out my mother’s house and getting it ready to sell with some time to do just what I wanted to do. My husband warned, “You’ll just work the whole time.” He knows me so well! I’m one of those people who gets a rush by getting things done. And, I enjoy my work and value keeping my life organized and staying on top of the many things I must do to maintain my home, maintain and grow my business, stay healthy, maintain good relationships, be productive, and help my mother. So, yes, I work a lot!
What did I do with my “free” time? Instead of plopping down in front of Dancing With the Stars or a good book, I set up a newly acquired writing desk that I had brought home when I cleared Mom’s house. It is a beautiful treasure that once belonged to Mart, my father’s mother. What began as an idea to move some supplies for writing notes to friends and family resulted in my clearing out and reorganizing two drawers in my office desk plus one supply drawer of pens and pencils. All it took was getting started on one drawer and my project blossomed. Why? Because all the items related to writing notes were in three locations. Once I got into each location to pull out items to put in Mart’s desk I realized that the whole drawer needed an overhaul.
Why am I telling you this? Because it’s the kind of thing that happens when you begin rearranging things in your space. Now, I could have pulled out what I wanted to put in Mart’s desk and left a jumble behind in all three places. Instead I seized the opportunity and the energy I felt to clear out and create a new order. All three drawers are now uncluttered and so much more functional. It will now be a breeze to locate items that I need within seconds. And, in the process I got rid of things that no longer serve my current needs. I’m not fighting with ugly greeting cards or struggling with an overwhelming quantity of seasonal cards I would have never used.
I also could have started that project and quit halfway through, because it did require making a lot of decisions. What kept me going? The knowledge that I was making space for new, good things to come to me. The belief that lightening my physical load would give me relief in my daily functioning. And, I knew I could create spaces that felt better than they did when I started. I kept telling myself, “Out with the dead stuff!”
Now my little writing desk is ready for use. I’ve already retrieved some rubber bands from it, and was glad to have had that supply close at hand. The order that greets me when I open my desk drawer gives me a sense of well-being. You too can achieve these benefits! Start with believing it is possible, and then make it happen–even if you have to get help to make it so. Many people have brains that cannot do what I did last night. It’s not a character flaw. It’s just a fact. Get help and get clear! You too can achieve a sense of well-being by clearing out and creating a new order.
Oh, and did I work all evening long? Well, not the whole evening. I did take a break to eat and watch Dancing With the Stars before I sorted my pens and pencils and checked them out to see what worked and what didn’t. . . .