Open sliding glass door looking out over water

It’s almost time for Spring cleaning. I can safely say that about anytime, because for me, Spring cleaning doesn’t just happen in the Spring. I learned long ago that if I do my cleaning a little at a time, it’s not so overwhelming.

This same idea applies to our inner world as well. If we take the time every so often to clean out the “junk” that is weighing us down, it’s not so overwhelming. Taking the time to unload anger, resentment, sadness, and worry, a little at a time, saves us from the blow ups that happen if we don’t.

Clutter is an outward expression of our inner selves. If we have a bunch of things sitting around that we don’t use and don’t even really like, then it is keeping us from moving forward energetically. It is an outward sign that we are holding onto emotions and feelings that likely need to be released.  

“The first step in crafting the life that you want, is to get rid of everything you don’t.” – Joshua Becker

What do I mean when I say Spring cleaning?

This term can mean different things to different people. Overall it means doing a deep clean of your house. Most people pull out the furniture and sweep behind it, they clean their windows, and generally do all of the things that they don’t always do in their week to week cleaning. Some people switch their wardrobe over from Fall/Winter clothing to Spring/Summer clothing. Out go the jeans and sweaters, and in come the shorts and tank tops.

For me, I do all of these things, but I also go through and declutter. I get rid of things that I’m no longer using, things that I have never used, and clothing that no longer fits, is worn out, or that I don’t wear. Some people do this step and some don’t.

Why does this big cleaning most often happen in the Spring?

Spring is the time when the weather starts getting warmer. We can throw open the windows, let the fresh air in, and air out the house. In the days before electric washers and dryers, people could hang their curtains and bed linens outside in the warmer weather to dry and air out.

Spring is also an energetic time of renewal and opening back up again. In the Winter months we go inward, both literally and figuratively. It’s cold, it’s often damp, and (depending on where you live) it can get dreary. In the Spring we open back up, the flowers and trees begin to bloom again, and color is added back into our worlds. All of this has the effect of making us happier and more optimistic. Spring is like a fresh start each year.

I propose doing a mini-Spring cleaning every so often, rather than one big one only in the Spring (both externally and internally).

If we do things a little at a time, it’s much less overwhelming, it keeps the energy flowing freely, and it allows us to be much happier.

What are some of the benefits of decluttering our space?

1) More creativity.

One of the biggest enemies of creativity is clutter. If you want to sit down and write, create a marketing campaign, plan a party, paint, or build a table, and you have to move a bunch of things to get to your workspace, you are less likely to do it. You’ll see it as not really worth the time. Each time we push our creativity down like this, it moves deeper and deeper inside of us. This is why most people don’t think they can be creative. They haven’t given themselves the time, or the space, to express this creativity in years.

This is true of problem solving as well (which is another form of creative expression). If we clear out the clutter and open our space up, it opens up our minds and gives our thoughts room to flow.

2) We are less likely to procrastinate on things if our space is decluttered.

If our desk is cluttered up, we get stressed out just looking at it. We often don’t know where to start, so we don’t. We do anything and everything except what we’re supposed to be doing. Because of this, nothing ever really gets done until the last minute. In that last minute we are rushed and stressed out. If instead, we keep things organized from the beginning, we don’t have to search for that paper we need, for that pen that keeps getting buried.

3) Our stress levels decrease significantly.

When we look around us, and our eyes are met with piles of stuff, we begin to stress out. No piles of stuff = less stress.

4) We feel better about ourselves, and more confident, once we clean things up.

This is especially true of clothing. If we keep a bunch of clothes around that don’t fit, that we never wear, or that we don’t even like anymore, it keeps us stuck in that feeling of never being good enough. We look at the clothes that don’t fit, and we think about how much weight we’ve gained. OR, we’ve lost weight, but we keep those larger pants around “just in case”. We don’t give ourselves credit for what we’ve accomplished, and we are afraid that we aren’t good enough to sustain the weight loss, so we keep that energy around. According to the principles of Feng Shui (pronounced fung shway), keeping things that we no longer use, wear, or like, makes the energy around us feel stagnant. So, if you’re feeling stuck or unmotivated, this could be why.

5) Seeing progress in this area of our lives, gives us the boost we need to seek progress in other areas of our lives.

6) Once we clean up the clutter around us, we feel accomplished; instead of feeling defeated and like we aren’t doing well.

Most people that I’ve known, who have a lot of clutter, go through a cycle: they see the clutter and feel bad about themselves because they don’t clean it up and do better, they decide they just don’t care, then they finally clean it up. This cycle repeats itself over and over again, each time things get piled back up again. Now, there are a few who are more comfortable in their clutter. It’s like a kind of security blanket to them. Which leads me to the first step in the decluttering process….

How to begin to declutter

Step 1: Figure out why you’re keeping things to begin with.

We all have at least one place in our house that, when we walk past it, we sigh, shake our heads, and/or slump our shoulders. It’s the place where clutter goes. But why….why do we keep piling things up, if we know it stresses us out? (And no, we can’t just blame our spouse, roommates, or kids)

Is it because you just haven’t taken the time to go through it all?

This task can seem daunting. It’s especially hard to do if you have a million other things pulling you in different directions. If this is the case, you have to schedule a day (or even an hour) and start somewhere. Don’t get into all or nothing thinking, and think that you can’t do even a small portion of it if you can’t get it all done. If you think in this way, then you’ll never do it. You’ll never feel like you have enough time.

Is it because you don’t like to deal with things, so you shove them aside and say, “l’ll deal with this later”, but never do?

This is true for physical clutter and mental clutter. When something upsets us, or makes us angry, we shove it down, instead of dealing with it. We think, “I don’t have time for this”, or “I’m not going to worry about that right now”, or “I need to just get over it and quit being a baby”.

The trouble with this one is, if we don’t deal with those feelings when they arise, if we shove them down or try to ignore them, they don’t go away. They don’t go away until we truly deal with the reason that they are there in the first place. Physical clutter is the same way. If you keep laying things to the side and saying, “I’ll deal with it later”, it just piles up. Then you’re overwhelmed or stressed when you finally have to sit down and go through it all.

Is it because of where you got the items, or who you got them from?

Some people keep collections of things because of who gave it to them, or because of who it belonged to previously. If you’re keeping something just because you feel like you have to, then that collection will end up being a point of resentment in your life, rather than a point of joy. These sentimental items are the hardest to pass on. This is especially true if the items came from someone who has themselves passed on. This is something that each person has to work through and figure out for themselves. Sometimes we can’t let go of the items because they represent the person that we’ve lost. If we get rid of the items, then we feel like we’re getting rid of that person’s memory. It’s never easy to lose someone. Moving on from that loss takes time. Once you have though, let go of the items that you don’t like as well. That way the energy of being in that place doesn’t stick around unwanted.

In her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, Marie Kondo suggests starting with the items that are the least sentimental. This way, you can make progress more quickly, see that progress, and feel more accomplished. Then, as you build momentum, you can move on to the more sentimental items and feel more prepared to deal with those items.

Is it because, to you, your stuff represents success?

To some, all of the things around them is a measure of success. They didn’t have a lot growing up and all the stuff (no matter what it is) makes them feel like they have made it in life. The more you have, the happier you are. At least that’s what they tell themselves. The sad thing is, if they aren’t happy for other reasons, then no amount of stuff will make them happy. If they have an overall mindset of lack, then they could have all of the things in the world and still wouldn’t feel secure.

Is it because you don’t feel good enough?

Some feel like they aren’t enough as a person (not smart enough, not pretty enough, not rich enough, etc.) so they try to fill that feeling of lack with things. If we don’t feel secure within ourselves, if we feel like there is never enough to go around, then we will never have enough stuff to change that mindset. You first have to change your mindset and then you’ll begin to see that you have enough, and you are enough. It’s part of the “I’ll be happy when” cycle. I’ll be happy when I get…whatever it is.

Is it because that’s how you grew up?

For some, they had a cluttered household when they were growing up. Now this one can swing one of two ways: either a person grew up in a household where there was a lot of clutter and so a house doesn’t feel like home if they don’t have an overabundance of things OR they grew up in a house full of clutter and they are completely anti-clutter in every way. I tend to fall in the second half of that category.

Is it a control issue?

Having a lot of stuff can be a control issue. Some people feel that if they have enough stuff around them, then they can better deal with the unknowns of life. In their mind, they can control what happens with something from their collection.

This is not an exhaustive list of reasons, but hopefully it’s enough to get you started in your search within yourself. These are some of the reasons that I’ve seen within myself and others around me for harboring clutter.   

Step 2: Baby Steps

Dave Ramsey is a financial guru. He’s helped thousands of people get out of debt, and use their money to live the life that they love. In the “paying off debt” portion of his Total Money Makeover program, he encourages people to take baby steps. What he means by baby steps is this: you list your debt from smallest to largest. You pay off the smallest bill first. Then you move to the next smallest, and so on and so forth, until you pay off the largest one last. Doing things in this way allows you to see progress more quickly. We humans like instant gratification. We like to see things moving quickly.

Now let’s transfer this theory to decluttering our inner and outer worlds. Start small.

Take the time each week to de-clutter one space in your house. Depending on how much time you have it can be a small space or a large space. It can be a table top or an entire room. If you are overwhelmed already, and you need some sort of system to get you started, try the feng shui theory of moving 27 things.

According to this theory, if you move 27 things then it is enough to move the stagnant energy around and get things flowing again. So, if you can’t pick just one area to focus on, pick 27 things. Don’t overthink it, just start with one. Is there a pair of shoes sitting where they don’t belong? Move them to where they do. Then look there and see what can be done, and do it.

Some people are better off working on one small space at a time. This helps them to focus and get more done. Others get overwhelmed when they are faced with figuring out what to do with one space. They often end up just moving the piles from one place to another. These types of people (of which I am one most times) benefit from beginning by moving 27 things. Once you get the ball rolling, you will find your groove, and you’ll get things done. Figure out what works best for you and do it that way.  

Work on your inner world in the same way. Start small. Start by doing something called automatic writing. Sit and write out your thoughts, without filtering them. Try doing this for at least 5 minutes straight each time you do it. You can work your way up from there. Write whatever comes to mind, whether it makes sense or not. Don’t judge what comes out as good or bad. Don’t think, “I shouldn’t think this way”, or “why am I thinking about that again”. At this point, just write. Even if the words that come to mind are “green bag tag lags behind the orange brown bear butt”, write it out. Doing this may feel and sound silly, but it helps to basically pour these thoughts out of our heads. The important thoughts, the thoughts that may be causing us problems, are mixed in between all of this gibberish. I’ve had some of my best ideas while doing automatic writing.

Once you do this several times, things will start to come up and come out that you may not have even realized were still in your brain. This is when you can begin to do the work of releasing those thought processes that are no longer doing you any good. Those attachments to the past, those thoughts of worry, anger, sadness, etc. When you release these thoughts and emotions, you make room for the things that you actually want to be thinking about.

As you make this shift, your outer world will begin to match your inner world. You will find that you need less things around you to make you happy. I’m not saying that you have to become a minimalist, or live in a tent with nothing (unless you want to of course), but you will be able to release those things that are just there to fill an emotional void of some sort; those things that don’t actually bring you any joy.

When we aren’t using our energy to hold onto old thoughts and feelings, we can use that energy to move ourselves forward.

(The photo at the top is by Leonardo Rossatti)