What’s to be done about emotional clutter?

Photo: Jeremy Cai

As you consider that question, you may be wondering what I mean by “emotional clutter”. When I think about clutter of any kind, I think of a mess — a jumble that is confusing and complicated, and filled with things that can be eliminated to create calm and order. In the emotional realm, clutter is similar. A mess of emotions includes many that are needlessly complex and often undesirable. Messes like that typically grow without awareness.  

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I have been thinking a lot about how we can simplify our cluttered lives. I recently wrote about starting with a focus on you (scroll down to see The Gift of Simplifying). I also urged you to consider the importance of decluttering your environment — and had tips to help you tackle that clutter (that post, Just say “No”, is below). 

Something important tied those two concepts together: saying, “No”. 

Learning what to say “No” to, and saying it with comfort (and without guilt!) is a key skill to build to simplify your life.

Today, I am thinking about another dimension of decluttering that will help you to simplify a hectic life — emotional decluttering. We often overlook the impact of emotional clutter in our lives, which builds when we don’t pay attention to it, and when we don’t consciously say “No” to tame it. 

Why is it important to do emotional decluttering?

In much the way that a cluttered physical environment contributes to making us feel overwhelmed, we are often in a swirl of emotional clutter. And when we let that clutter fester and grow, it adds enormous stress to daily life. Emotional clutter distracts us, distresses us, and drains our energy. We pay a high price when our energy is sapped.

So, the question arrises: What can we do to declutter a life plagued by emotional mess? Try this exercise and see what happens. 

Make a list of ENERGY DRAINERS

Start with a clean sheet of paper. Think about what you may be putting up with, and start listing what comes to mind. Consider what you put up with in both your personal life and at work. What do you tolerate, even grudgingly, that creates resentment, frustration, or anger?

Next, think about things you’ve taken on or accepted that drag you down emotionally and/or energetically. Your list can include people or situations in your life. This may take some careful thought, because we often take things on or accept things that drain us emotionally without being aware of, or acknowledging, the negative consequences.

Look at your list. Consider that these things often drain your energy for positive activities, and that they can impact your thinking in negative ways. Give some thought to that impact. Consider how long the things on your list have been influencing your life, and the consequences of bearing the ongoing emotional clutter.

You may or may not choose to actively do anything about the things on your list now, and that’s fine. Simply becoming aware of them and articulating them will make you more alert to where they interfere, and will also build awareness about their impact. With that new awareness, you may naturally start to address, or eliminate, or resolve them. 

And, you may decide that you are ready to make deliberate changes — ready to say, “No” to the emotional clutter that is sapping your energy. If you are ready to take action, start by choosing an item or two on your list that you feel most comfortable addressing. Take small steps, and continue as you feel ready to address more of the troubling items on your list.

As I have often said, it’s ok to ask for help

Just the way there are some household and office decluttering challenges that are best tackled with the help of a professional organizer, there can be challenges clearing emotional clutter that feel daunting to take on alone. It may be easier for you to say “No” to the excess “stuff” in your environment than to making changes in the realm of emotional clutter, where habits are often deeply entrenched. Coaching can be valuable if you are ready to make a commitment to shifting the mindsets that hamper you, so that you can stop saying “Yes” when you truly want to say “No”. It will provide support and guidance for you to set healthy boundaries of many kinds in your life, so that you can live without emotional clutter — and live big.