Tidying Up Your Mental Space

By Durel Allen, MSW, RSW

It’s one of those things that we know, but don’t readily admit – we don’t function very well in a cluttered space. Think about how much your mood improves after tidying up, or getting rid of all the junk stored in that back closet (“look at all this space!”). It feels good. I believe this the reason spring cleaning is a big deal. Everything is emerging from months of cold and darkness, and it’s time for renewal; time to clear out the junk, and welcome all things new!

Our mental space is no different.

We are not our best selves when our minds are cluttered, and it makes it difficult to navigate daily circumstances when there are so many mental and emotional barriers in the way. So it is good practice to declutter our minds.

Marie Kondo, queen of “tidying up” shared some of her rules for decluttering, some of which I believe can be applied to our mental space.

1. Commit to the process

Choosing to clear your mental space of the things that overwhelm and incapacitate you takes time and commitment. This may mean setting aside time each day/week and consistently practicing strategies to declutter your mind. These include practicing mindfulness meditation, guided visualization, journaling, etc. Whatever strategy your engage, it takes deliberate effort and time.

2. Discard

This is perhaps the most important, and arguably the most difficult part of the process. This involves taking time to identify problematic beliefs and habits, deconstructing and accepting why they are problematic, and (and here comes the tough part) letting them go. This phase is difficult because these habits and beliefs – as dysfunctional as they are – are familiar and safe to us. We’ve relied on these trinkets to shield us from what we perceive as threats to our sense of self. But if you think about it, they really amount to stuff in your mental junk drawer that create the illusion there isn’t enough space available for something new. It’s time to sort them and release them.

3. Hold on to what brings you joy

This speaks for itself, but is not always easy to accept because of barriers of shame (“I don’t deserve to be happy”), self-loathing (“I’m not worthy”), or other problematic thoughts and habits we still hold on to. In the process of tidying up your mental space, think about what brings you joy – people, hobbies, places – and practice engaging with these things consistently. Creating a positive mental space improves your mood, and helps to regulate your emotions in a healthy way.

So you see, tidying up isn’t only for your home or office. If you haven’t already, start the spring cleaning with tidying up your mental space.

Durel Allen, MSW, RSW

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