Decluttering tips for mental, emotional and physical freedom.
With the equinox last week, spring is finally here! Days are getting longer and warmer, windows are being pushed open and gardens are beginning to bloom. As both tulips and garage sales pop up around the neighborhood, spring is in full swing. And, with spring, comes spring cleaning.
While most people associate spring cleaning with the cleaning up or clearing out of physical space—which can be a great way to relieve stress—it’s important that we also clear out mental and emotional debris during transitionary times of year. Transitions, aka, change, create stress—even those that bring positive change, such as weddings, hosting parties or even a simple change in lifestyle.
Understanding Change And Stress
The terms stress, coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye in 1936, is defined as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” According to Selye, stress differs from other physical responses in that it can be created by both positive and negative stressors. Negative, uncomfortable stress is known as distress. Less talked about, but still relevant, positive stress is called eustress. Regardless of if the stress is considered positive or negative, it impacts us physically, mentally and emotionally.
When we are under stress, our brains release cortisol, a stress hormone that can create a number of mental and physical health issues, including lower immune functioning, weight gain, increased blood pressure, heightened cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Elevated cortisol levels can also increase risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Both eustress and distress trigger cortisol production; however, eustress induced cortisol levels usually drop after the completion of a task (the party is over, the deadline was met, etc.). Distress, however, is often ongoing and, with no specific task to complete, builds up in the blood and wreaks havoc on the mind and body.
Declutter To De-Stress
Thankfully there are actions that you can take to reduce stress, including cleaning out closets and clearing out the garage. Studies show that in addition to a clean diet, exercise and adequate sleep, cleaning can help to reduce cortisol levels and stress. The very act of cleaning allows for the release of energy, and most people feel calmer and more at ease when in a clean and clutter-free environment. Think, “tidy home, tidy mind.”
Clutter in our lives tends to go far beyond the external, though. We all carry mental and emotional clutter as well as too much material stuff around that keeps us stuck, spinning, unfocused and oftentimes unhappy. When cleaning out your home, car and closets, it’s also important to clean out other aspects of your life and self that may have become cluttered or stagnant over the last few months.
The following decluttering tips can help you clean up, clear out and create the space you need to feel mentally, emotionally and physically happy.
Declutter Your Space
We declutter physically by deliberately altering our environments. One of these environments is our bodies, which is why it’s important to pay attention to diet. Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., senior director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training, offers some great tips in her Discover Good article, Four Ways To Declutter Your Diet. From getting rid of calorie clutter to the clutter in the fridge, this article offers some interesting points on how to spring clean your diet.
When it comes to other physical environments, such as our cars, closets, desktops and drawers, there are thoughtful, effective actions we can take to create space—and drawing from principles of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can help. ACT is an empirically proven, psychologically flexible approach to achieving wellbeing. With a focus on compassion, values, goals and taking actions that are in alignment with values and goals, ACT can help most anyone with almost anything—including decluttering.
To physically declutter your home, try taking these simple actions:
- Determine what is important and what is not—whether that’s in your kitchen, car or desk.
- When in the process of cleaning, touch everything only once.
- Once in hand, ACT on it: File it away. Do it. Throw it away. Or, donate it.
Declutter Your Mind
An ACT process, which is also a mindfulness skill, that I often offer to clients who feel overwhelmed by their thoughts is a technique called defusion. While the process of defusion doesn’t necessarily “fix” a challenging thought, it can help to create space in your mind, and decluttering is all about creating space.
Declutter with defusion:
Here’s how defusion works. Steven Hayes, founder of ACT, suggests thinking of a thought that revisits you when you’re having a bad day and feeling particularly poorly about something you did or said (or might do or say). It might be something like, “I’m not good enough.” Think of a go-to of yours. Now that you’ve noticed the thought, pause and connect to the experience you have with the thought. Then repeat three times:
I’m having the thought that “I’m not good enough.” (3x’s)
Now, say that you’re noticing having that thought three times.
I’m noticing that I’m having the thought that “I’m not good enough.” (3x’s)
Finally, say that you’re noticing that you’re noticing the thought three times.
I’m noticing that I’m noticing that I’m having the thought “I’m not good enough.” (3x’s)
Again, this quick and simple exercise won’t immediately change a thought or necessarily make it go away. However, the process can assist you to slow down and notice your thinking. With the slowing down and noticing, you create space and distance that can help you engage in actions that are more supportive of who, what and where you want to be. The byproduct of defusion is a decluttering of being entangled with mind chatter.
Name the story:
Another tip that can be helpful in clearing out mental clutter is to name the repetitive thoughts and stories you’ve internalized over time—which we all do naturally—that you catastrophize in your mind and don’t serve your best self. You know these stories: “I always have too much to do.” “I’m just going to mess this up, too.” “I’m never going to lose weight.” Bundle up the story into a nice little package and give it a name. If it helps, make it humorous. Often by deliberately naming the story, your powerful thoughts have less influence on your behavior. For more information on this and other helpful tips on creating new and helpful thinking habits, visit a post I wrote last year, Break Old Habits With New Ones.
Declutter Your Heart
Emotional, heart and spirit-centered decluttering comes down to being present. Right here, right now is where everything occurs; however, most of us are either ruminating over what happened yesterday or worried about what is going to happen tomorrow. Focusing on your breath and five senses can help ground you into the present moment, however, doing so can prove difficult when in the middle of a busy office, loud family or constantly dinging phone. When you start to feel emotionally overwhelmed, it’s time to give yourself space.
Create space for yourself
Take time to be in solitude. This might sound like a luxury given the pressures of work and family, however, making a commitment to self-care and taking action to clear your emotional slate is vital to sustained wellbeing and promotes healing, clarity, personal discoveries and growth. It can also help you to be a more present and able to really show up at work and for your loved ones. And, you can do simple things to care for yourself. Doing things like adult coloring, taking a walk, getting a massage and soaking in a bath can improve your emotional wellbeing. Is there a specific event, special place or form of movement or meditation that you find peaceful, rejuvenating or relaxing?
As a busy practicing therapist and life coach with a family I adore, I have learned—overtime, albeit—the value of slowing down and engaging in activities that are meaningful and recharging for me. This spring, I’m treating myself to a Singing Bowl Concert in the 5 Star Salt Caves, made from Himalayan pink salt. The meditative music created by gongs, Tibetan singing bowls and crystal bowls in this special space is sure to help me recline, relax and recharge.
What do you do to declutter physically, mentally and emotionally? Do you have any tried and true tips that help you spring clean so you can clear the space needed to create something anew? And, once you’re decluttered mind, body and heart, what do you intend to do with that fresh, new space? Keep an eye out for my next blog, Spring Into Intentions, that explores just that. Spring is an excellent time to create goals and plant intentions. I’d love to hear what you’re making space for in this new, fertile season.