We recently gave my son’s bedroom a makeover. He had been sleeping for months on a queen-sized mattress. The mattress took up the majority of his bedroom, sitting halfway under his desk. He had an elevated bed accessible by a ladder but refused to sleep on it because the dog couldn’t join him.
Cleaning out his closet, re-organizing his belongings and updating his room proved more difficult than I had anticipated.
Change Is Messy
The same thing often happens in our lives. We keep “emotional clutter” and sometimes become unsure of what is safe to “throw out.” We squeeze ourselves around the mental mess and pretend that getting by is the same thing as enjoying life.
Our impulse to avoid “mental clutter” is often the same reason that my son kept putting off the task of clearing his room. He realized that doing so would be messy and time-consuming. The task felt overwhelming. He was fine sleeping under his desk, thank you very much!
Clearing Out The Closet
Luckily for my son, he wasn’t in this project alone. He had me to help him sort through his stuff. He just needed to be ready to accept direction. If you are ready to clear out your “emotional closet,” good for you! Here’s what you need to get started:
1) Actually Look At What You’ve Packed Away
For my son, this included about 16 decks of playing cards (or at least it felt like it), every school project and binder from elementary school, yearbooks and posters, an impressive baseball collection, and a drawer full of old scooter and skateboard parts. Clearly, some of these things needed to be kept for sentimental reasons. But without looking through his stash, he had no idea what he was needlessly holding onto.
Now think about what is in your emotional closet. There are many valuable memories and keepsakes, but they may be lost in the junk you are storing. Are your proud moments cluttered by negative self-judgment about your body or perfectionistic standards? Or maybe you keep other people’s junk stored in your closet. Have you allowed a critical family member’s voice to crowd out what you know to be true for yourself? Explore these thoughts, feelings, self-judgments, and memories. It’s time to decide what is worth keeping.
Read More: Who’s Carrying Your Emotional Baggage?
2) Keep What Serves You NOW
We kept my son’s first baseball jersey and his earliest creative writing samples, and we had a lot of fun reading through what he thought was important to document in his journal at age 6 (“Today I got a substitute bus driver and he was late.”). But what he needed access to now was a clear floor and place to sleep where he wasn’t in danger of bumping his head when he sat up.
When you are clearing your emotional closet, keep the things that serve you now. What are the things that move you towards the best version of yourself? Are you making choices that lead you towards the life you want to live? Sometimes we fear letting go of the past. You may need to get rid of old relationships that no longer serve you or habits that lead you away from your goals rather than towards them.
3) Trust That New Things WILL COME When You Need Them
One of the most difficult parts of any significant purge is parting with things that you think you may need later. For my son, this included things like a huge bag of rubber bands that he caught me trying to throw into the trash pile. “Mom, what if we need rubber bands?”
Pro tip from professional closet organizer, Peter Walsh: hang clothes backward on their hanger. When you wear them, turn them around on the hanger. Every 6 months get rid of the clothes that haven’t been reversed).
The fear of future scarcity often causes us to cling to people, relationships and self-hatred for much longer than is necessary. Stop punishing yourself! One of my favorite mantras recently is “everything is unfolding as it should.” When we focus on the good things that we have, we are more aware of the good things that come our way. This puts you in a frame of mind to make decisions from a place of confidence instead of holding on to unhealthy patterns out of fear.
Enjoy Your New Space
My son’s room looks awesome, by the way. It will be easier to keep clean with less clutter, and he now has a comfortable space where he can hang out, play his guitar, and sleep with his dog (yes, Henry kept his spot in the bed).
Implement these suggestions and enjoy the freedom in your mental space and don’t be afraid to reach out for a helping hand if needed. A good therapist can be instrumental in helping you clean out your emotional closet.