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Emotional Clutter: Clear Your Mind & Be Free To Move Forward


When you hear the word “clutter,” you probably think about all the stuff lying around the house – piles of papers on the kitchen counter, overflowing toy boxes, and stacks of books you are going to read some day. But there’s also clutter of another kind – emotional.

This is the “stuff” that clouds your mind, usually made up of negative thoughts about the past or future. It might include things you wish you would have accomplished, regrets you may have, worries about the future, or even doubts about your present life.

Emotional clutter gets in the way of your efforts to live a fulfilling life. It creates obstacles when you’re working toward goals, clouds your thinking and vision for the future, and generally can keep you from moving forward.

Wellness is about making positive choices you can make to create a healthy and balanced lifestyle. And those choices aren’t just about behaviors you want to change like increasing physical activity or adding more vegetables to your diet.

They’re also about taking steps to get rid of the things that aren’t good for you – not only physical things like unhealthy foods – but also emotional “baggage” that doesn’t nurture you or keeps you from moving toward a more positive future.

When you get rid of emotional clutter, you enhance your ability to look out and all around you. If your mind is constantly weighed down by regrets, doubts, and worries, it’s hard to see beyond them to notice and recognize the things that could bring you a better life. All that negative noise in your head can keep you from being in touch with your inner self, and it prevents you from moving toward inner peace.

Signs You Have Emotional Clutter

If you’re not sure if your mind is cluttered by negative emotions, consider the following questions:

  1. What are your thoughts and feelings when you are alone and in a quiet space? Do you feel calm, or do you feel tense and experience anxiety? Do you feel like you need to keep yourself busy to distract yourself from negative feelings, or are you content to just relax?
  2. Do you sometimes feel stuck in the life you are living? Are you satisfied with your life, or have you been dissatisfied for a while? If it’s the latter, have you made any changes to move toward more satisfaction, or do you stay in the same rut even though you know it’s time for a change?
  3. Do you have a hard time letting go of bad relationships? Are there people in your life you would be better off without, but you haven’t made the decision to let them go?
  4. Do you find it difficult to start something new if it requires an emotional investment? Do you have a hard time opening yourself up in new relationships or to new endeavors that pose a challenge?

How To Get Rid Of Your Emotional Clutter

After considering the questions above, if you feel like negative emotions might be holding you back, there are a few steps you can take to “clean house.” Now is the time to let it go!

Think about what is bringing about the negative thoughts and emotional blockages.

For so many people, negative thoughts in adulthood stem from the things they were told as a child.

Are there things your parents or teachers or other adults said to you when you were growing up that affected you? Maybe they had certain expectations of you that you still carry with you today, even though those aren’t the things that make you happy. If you are living your life based on the expectations of someone else, it’s time to separate what you were told versus what is true to the real you.

Regardless of what your parents told you about your relationships, your career, your faith, or your values, find your own truth. Understanding what’s important to you, and then pursuing those things without regard to what others will think, will help you keep negative thoughts away.

If you don’t think your emotional “baggage” stems from childhood messages, try digging deeper. You may have regrets about the past, misgivings about the present, or concerns about the future. If that’s what’s happening, think about the possible origins of those feelings and how those things are causing emotional “buildup.” Consider how you can let go of those regrets or worries, so you can enjoy the present.

Do the tough work to understand and process your negative emotions

When you have some time to sit quietly and reflect for a while, try making a list of all your nagging thoughts. Don’t think too hard, just let your thoughts flow freely and write down anything that pops in your head. Pour out all your regrets, worries, fears, shame/embarrassments or resentments.

When you’re done, review your list and see which ones seem to come up the most. If you can identify recurring themes, you will give you a clearer picture of what is holding you back.

Make things right

If you have regrets or guilt that stem from your actions that impacted someone else, pick up the phone and make your apologies. Send an email or a text if that’s easier. Genuinely express your regrets, and then let it go so you can lighten your load.

Get rid of extra things

If you have emotional clutter, it’s likely you have physical clutter – and vice versa. The two usually go hand-in-hand. One way to start getting rid of emotional clutter is to get rid of the physical things around your house that are unnecessarily piling up.

Can you go through each room in your house and get rid of 10 things? You might very well find that when you get rid of old things you don’t use, you will also chip away at old emotions that have been blocking you for too long.

Throwing things away (or donating or recycling) has a therapeutic and cleansing effect. You will begin to feel like a weight has been lifted because you are actively letting go of the things around you that have been distracting you and slowing you down for a long time.

Cut ties

No, I’m not advocating that you ruthlessly cut people out of your life if you feel they wronged you once or twice. But if there are people who really are bad for you  – you know the ones who push your buttons or only bring negativity or are endlessly critical – it might be time to just make the decision to gently ease them out.

And while you’re at it, remove their number from your phone, delete their email from your contact list, and “un-friend” them on facebook. If he or she is someone who makes you cringe at the mere sight of their name, eliminate the possibility of revisiting old negativity, and you’ll have more free space – both physically and mentally.

Get extra help if you need it

There’s an excellent book called Clutter Busting Your Life: Clearing Physical and Emotional Clutter to Reconnect with Yourself and Others. It’s a great handbook with questions, quizzes and exercises that can help guide you out of whatever is holding you back and move you into a more free and clear place.

If you think you need more help, consider working with a therapist. Your best help might come from an experienced professional who can help you create a customized plan of action to work through whatever is holding you back. Don’t let time or money keep you from this step if you need it. Taking care of yourself is always a good investment – make yourself a priority!

Dream big!

Once you have made the effort to identify the causes of your emotional clutter and you have taken the steps to start clearing them from your mind, it’s time to look forward! Open your mind to all the possibilities your future might hold. Take a look at Bucket Lists: How To Create The Guide To Your Own Life, and start thinking about all the things you would like to do some day.

Look at your relationships, your job, your lifestyle, and think for a minute about all the ways you can make them better. Without the obstacle of emotional clutter, the sky’s the limit on the goals you can set and the achievements you can reach!

Do a little mental spring cleaning, and you can get a fresh start in almost any area of your life. Go for it, and keep me posted on your progress! I’d love to hear from you in the comments about your own work to clear emotional clutter, and you can also connect with me on twitter at @OneMoveForward.