Many people accumulate more stuff in their homes while spending more time indoors during the winter. If you look around you may notice gifts that you received but didn’t really want, cards you meant to send out (eek!) or that ambitious knitting project you gave up on in late January. When spring finally rolls around you may want to use the longer days and rebirth of nature as an opportunity for a fresh start. If you are already considering doing some traditional spring cleaning — culling your wardrobe or chasing away those dust bunnies that have started a family under your couch — you may want to take the time to consider doing a little emotional spring cleaning to sweep away some of the mental clutter that can build up over time.
You surely know the tell-tale signs of physical clutter: overfull drawers that won’t close or closets that are so cramped that your sweaters look like they have been holding their breath all winter long. Mental clutter is harder to spot, but it can be even more harmful to your life. When working with patients in my private practice I encourage them to do a mental spring cleaning evaluation in order make sure that they haven’t been accumulating habits, behaviors or people in their lives that aren’t really good for them.
De-cluttering your house and de-cluttering your mind are actually very similar. You tend to feel better when you are living in a clean space — in fact, a recent study from UCLA showed that just looking at clutter elevated women’s stress hormones — the men’s stress remained unchanged — you also feel a lightness when you can let go of behavioral patterns from your past which don’t fit you anymore.
1. Habits — Really take a look at your inner dialogue and ask yourself, “Is this helping or hurting me?” If you have clothing in your closet that doesn’t fit, get rid of it. They do not serve you any longer. Same thing goes with a thought. If your internal conversations don’t feel good, then they don’t fit — just like those jeans that are too tight now. “Get rid of those thoughts and replace them with ones that feel good,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., a psychologist and physical therapist from Chicago and author of Better than Perfect: 7 Essential Strategies to Crush your Inner Critic. Emotional clutter can be even more harmful than physical clutter.
2. Time — Pick up the calendar and look for opportunities where you can squeeze in some important activities that you never seem to get around to. If you take an hour lunch break, try cutting it to 40 minutes. Use the rest of the time to finish that quilting project, or research new career possibilities. A few spare minutes are all you need to do those things that tend to get pushed off for later.
3. Relationships — This is probably one of the least pleasant areas to spring clean, but it’s one of the most important. Healthy relationships are essential to mental health. I encourage folks to be mindful of who they are spending their precious time with, and how those folks affect their mood. Feel drained after spending time with the neighbor down the street? Might be time to re-think the friendship. None of us wants to see friends and family as having a negative influence on our lives, but if they are holding us back from being truly happy and fulfilled, we need to take a hard look at the role they play. Be honest with yourself and take a look at the relationships that may not be right for you, or which you may have outgrown. “Don’t let the past determine your future,” says Dr. Lombardo. You can’t force or expect your friends and family to change, but you can make choices about who you choose to let into your life.
If it takes until summer or beyond to get your mental spring cleaning done, that’s okay. Give yourself a break. Remember: Rome was neither built nor cleaned in day. What matters most is that you take the time to do cleaning. Once you do, you will almost certainly find that you have more time and energy for doing the things that bring you joy, like spending time with people you love and living your best life!This article was originally published on Huffington Post