Getting Rid of Emotional Clutter (And Making Way for the Things That You Really Want)

Getting Rid of Emotional Clutte

Clutter is clutter – whether it’s our physical space or our mental space, the things that have outstayed their purpose have a way of sitting there innocently enough, but they drain our energy, crowd our space and get in the way of us moving forward. Emotional clutter tends to dress itself up as something that’s there for all good and no harm. It can be sneaky like that. The truth is that like any clutter, we need to sort through it now and then to see if it’s working hard to flourish us, maintain us or whether it’s weighing us down like concrete skin.

Like anything that’s been in our life for a while, emotional clutter can feel good to have around. It can give us the excuse not to start, the reason to hold back and the familiarity we need to keep thinking that what we’re doing is just fine – whether it is or not.  

The truth is that the more you let go of the things that no longer work hard for you, the more you’ll make way for the things that do. Here are some of the things to watch out for. Be brave. Let go and see what happens. You can always grab hold of them again if you want to. (But once they’re gone, you probably won’t want to!):

  1. Having to be the perfect something. (Know it?).

    Some days we’ll be so good at what we do it will be scary. On others we’ll be a red hot mess. Every day though, we’ll be enough. Having to be the perfect partner/ parent/ colleague/ employee (uggghh – I’m weary just naming them) – well it’s tiring. And impossible. The closer you are to perfect in one role, the further away you’ll be from perfect in another. Whatever you are is enough – so try on different roles for size, take a step sideways, and dare to get it wrong sometimes. Be the human version of human. They’re so much better to be around than the perfect ones.

  2. People-clutter.

    One-sided friendships. Toxic relationships. People that drain you, fade you or reduce you. Where you can, draw a bold heavy underline between you and them and use the space they’re taking up for the people who you actually want to be around. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with. It makes sense. We become open to the people we allow close to us. We become open to their love, their wisdom, their warmth, their influence and their opinions – especially their opinion of us. When we open ourselves to the good, we also open ourselves to the bad. It’s just the way it is. How would you describe each of your five people in five words? If the words are ones that feel bad, ask what you’re getting out of the relationship. If it’s not good for you, it’s just not good. Fullstop. Sometimes it’s not about you or them, but about the combination of both of you.

  3. The thing about not making a decision …

    Not making a decision is still making a decision – to stay still. This is fine for a while, even wise, but leave inaction for too long and eventually it will hold you down with its knees over your belly and you’ll find it hard to move. Sometimes doing nothing can be worse than getting it wrong. At least if you do something and it doesn’t work out, you can move on but the ‘what ifs’ of inaction will keep you stuck forever. Sometimes the only way forward is with a leap of faith. We tie up so much mental and emotional energy by holding ourselves back from moving. What are the things you’re putting off making a decision on? Put a deadline on it and go for it. Otherwise, what’s stopping you from letting it go? 

  4. The drama. Oh the drama!

    Not the fun kind of drama that comes with ad breaks, but the kind that will send you crazy if you let it. I’m talking about the drama that lands upon you by way of voicemails, texts, emails and anything else you feel bad about every time you go there. Are there people or things in your life that just keep the drama coming like it has no place else to be? The delete key was invented specifically to loosen the hold of the idiots in our lives. Use it readily. That’s what it’s for.

  5. The reasons not to. 

    No matter what, there will always be reasons not to – not to start the relationship, make the change, go for that job, take the holiday, start the adventure, talk to ‘him’. It will never feel scarier than when you’re perched on the edge of yes or no, stop or go, but fear can be a dirty little liar and can present itself as a stop sign. It’s not. It’s a sign that you’re about to do something really brave. Take the chance. Just one small step over the line – then let the momentum take you from there. Make the call, send the email, start the conversation, say the words – and let the possibilities open up to you. 

  6. Comparison. Yes. That.

    It’s so easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others. (Oh I know this one!) The truth is that you can never know what’s happened behind the scenes or what someone has been through to get to where they are. If you’re still on your way, stay focused and don’t be knocked off track by the fact that someone else is further along the path than you. From the outside, they may look more successful, happier, richer, kinder or more important. But keep going. You can be all of those things. Actually, there’s no reason you can’t be more.

  7. Avoidance.

    It’s normal to avoid things because of the fear of what might happen if you go for it, but avoiding the important things also brings its own consequences. Difficult things don’t go away just because they’re ignored. It would be good of them if they took the hint, but they generally don’t work like that. Be brave, turn, and face. It’s the only way to get the difficult things dealt with to make way for something better.

  8. Thoughts to fly by or fall by.

    The best things begin with a thought and can die with a thought. Our thoughts have so much power, but they are only that – thoughts. Choose the ones that you give power to wisely. The right ones will give you flight. The wrong ones will keep you grounded. The really wrong ones will face-plant you into the runway. Be deliberate. It’s completely in your hands.

  9. The things that are meant to feel beautiful to be around. But aren’t.

    Anything that makes you feel fat, ugly, frumpy, stupid or less than just doesn’t deserve a place in your life. People, magazines, tv shows, books, boyfriends, friends, partners, relatives. If they feel bad to be around, they’re bad to have around.

  10. Friends. Oh wait. No they’re not.

    A specific kind of ‘people clutter’. They’re the ‘friends’ you walk away from feeling like rubbish. They’re the ones who are never there when you need them, expect you to be on call, deliver back-handed compliments to you as though you’re the keeper of crappy things to say to people, and constantly remind you of how great they are but never notice that you’re pretty damn fine yourself.  They’re toxic and they’re takers and they’re taking up precious space. Move them on.

  11. I know we’re over. I really do. But I’m just going to hang on to this … just … because … 

    Anything that keeps you in the past, and sad, isn’t good for you. I’m talking about the people (as in exes) you keep friended on Facebook or stay connected to through any form of social media. You might tell yourself it’s fine, that you’re still friends, that you’re big enough to handle it – blah blah blah – but what’s more likely is that it will turn out to be a breathtaking act of self-sabotage. It’s likely you’ll keep checking (secretly – who wouldn’t?) to make sure there’s nobody new, or if there is that they don’t look as happy with the new person as they did with you. You know where this is headed and it’s not to anywhere that will feel good. Just stop. Let them go. Unfriend. Unfollow. Unlike. It’s clutter you don’t need and there’s nothing for you there.  

  12. There’s no guard rail at the gene pool.

    The fact that you share genetics with someone doesn’t mean you have to spend time with them. If you feel ‘less than’ when you’re with them, that’s a pretty clear signal to limit contact. Nobody said genes were good at deciding relationships, but you are if you want to be.  You don’t have to like your family of origin. Not even a little bit. Be tolerant and kind but don’t be a doormat. We grow up with certain messages from our family and because those messages have been around for a while – as in ‘for our entire lives’ – we tend to swallow them whole without actually looking at what they mean for us. Chew them up, see how they taste, swallow them or spit them out. Nobody said you had to agree with people, like them or spend time with them just because you share DNA.

  13. Memories aren’t facts. (Though they’ll have you thinking they are.)

    Here’s the thing about memories. They aren’t always that accurate. Our memories are a product of what we attend to and the way we interpret things – all of which are defined by us. When we’re happy, we pay attention to happy things and turn events into memories through a happy filter. We look for things to confirm our point of view and pay less attention to the inconsistencies. We do the same when we’re feeling negative. It’s human nature – we all do it. Let me give you an example. If you’re going through a stage where you believe that you’re not great at relationships because they always seem to end (or because one just has), you’ll sort through memories (automatically and subconsciously) and keep the ones that match the way you feel. Chances are they’ll be ones where you’ve been hurt or disappointed, but you won’t pay attention to the memories of relationships that have worked and the ones that involve people who have adored being with you. Let go of the idea that your memories are accurate and know the difference between your memories and the facts. Inaccurate memories can be the most stifling kind of clutter.

  14. The need for approval.

    You don’t have to be adored and approved of by everyone. Some people will love you, some people might not think that much of you and some people won’t think about you at all. There will always be critics, but you’ll often find that they’re critical of the world. It’s just that there up to your part of the world right now. Keep the ones who love you (as long as it’s not love from a long range lens, of course), learn from the ones who don’t and move on. Anything else is wasting your time and getting in your way.

  15. Thinking about the same thing over and over and over and … (Seriously – it’s not gonna change. It’s just not.)

    Who hasn’t thought over and over and over about something to try to feel better about it?  There comes a point where going over and over something that feels bad will be bad for you. It’s called rumination and it’s a risk factor for depression. Sometimes there are no answers. If they haven’t shown themselves to you by now, going over it one more time probably won’t bring them out into the open either. Change happens, sometimes for no obvious reason, but when it does it’s important to be open to new paths, people and opportunities rather than staying stuck and trying to force something to happen with the old. There will be times in life that we’ll feel stripped back to bone, but this feeling won’t stay. Eventually, we’ll rebuild in ways that we couldn’t have imagined, but this will only happen once the what-ifs, maybes, shoulds and any other limiting thoughts stop cluttering our mental space.

  16. Waiting for things to make sense.

    Life doesn’t happen in storybook form with clear beginnings, middles and ends. (Pity.) It can be tempting to hold back from moving forward (e.g. from a broken relationship) until things make sense (‘but I don’t get it – we were just so happy’). The problem with this is that many times the very thing that will make it all make sense hasn’t happened yet, and won’t happen until you let go of the clutter and move in the right direction. Look back in your life at the things that didn’t make sense at the time. More than likely, by now (depending on how far back you’ve gone), you’ll see that in some way, they’ve contributed to getting you to where you are now, even if in the most minor way.  Things will make sense eventually. Be patient and wait for the pieces to fit. For me, I can see how relationships that didn’t work out were getting me ready for the one that did. There have also been jobs I’ve applied for, and didn’t get, that at the time felt devastating but were also leaving the way clear for the right opportunities that proved to be better than anything I missed out on.

  17. Bleeding out through a ‘bad’ situation.

    Framing something as a bad situation has the potential to leach confidence and motivation. Just because things aren’t good, doesn’t mean they’re bad. Everything we go through shapes us, but whether that shaping is for better or worse is up to us. It’s important not to let confidence, motivation and self-esteem leak out through the cracks of a bad situation. We can choose to be the victim of our circumstances or we can take the wheel and choose how to respond. We can’t always choose what happens to us but in everything is an opportunity to be braver, stronger, wiser, kinder, more resilient than before. Of course, sometimes it’s completely okay to fall apart first. Sometimes it feels like the only option. Just make sure you know where your feet are when you’re ready to stand.

  18. Thinking that for a relationship to be successful, it has to last forever.

    A successful relationship is one in which there is love, learning and growth. Sometimes, for at least one person in the couple, the growth can stop and the relationship, and the people in it, stall – but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been a successful one. Every relationship at some point, reaches a make it or break it point. In some relationships, this point is the time to fight for the relationship. When both of you are ‘in’ don’t take the struggle as a sign that things are about to end but that you’re about to enter a new stage of the relationship. There is also enormous courage in knowing when the time is up. We underestimate the degree to which we change. The people we were say, 10 years ago, will  be different to the people we are now. Sometimes that means that relationships, jobs and other pieces of our past will no longer fit who we are. Sometimes they grow with us. Sometimes they don’t. That doesn’t mean they weren’t important, successful or phenomenal to be in at the time. Hanging on when there is nothing left to hang on to can be enormously stifling. Sometimes it’s okay to let go. Sometimes it’s the only thing left to do.

It can be so tempting to keep walking past the emotional clutter in our lives and telling ourselves in that, ‘oh nothing – just some stuff’ tone that we’ll get around to sorting through it one day, ‘but for now, it’s no problem, really’. Don’t believe everything you think. Emotional clutter will hold you back and keep you stuck and have you believing that it’s doing it all for you. It’s not. You just don’t need it. 

You already know what’s good for you – you just have to listen to it. Ill health and unhappiness come when we fight that knowledge and stay with things that are no longer working. Trust that you have what it takes. Everything you need is inside you. It always has been.

 

15 Comments

Pamela

Thanks so much. I am doing some soul searching and found this very enlightening!?????

Reply
Yusuf

This is my first time of commenting on a blog. This is a very awesome post Mr. Sigmund. Bless You.

Reply
Augustine barasa

Thanks alot i av learned today
much u av really touched me am gad to move wth my life & let emotional clutters go

Reply
Pamela

Honestly, I admire your timing with social shares as much as your incredible, insightful writing about the human experience. This piece is relevant to a friend’s situation today, and thus I’ve just passed it along.

Thank you, thank you–for all you do.

Reply
Gia

Such useful words and perfectly articulated. Thank you so much. This is just what I needed to see.

Reply
Ellen

Thank you, Karen. This article made me think. I am going to make some decisions about things that are cluttering my life.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome. We all need a de-clutter now and then, don’t we. I’m so pleased this has been useful for you.

Reply

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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