Prior to starting graduate school, I packed my car with clothes, books, and other essentials. I then traveled across the nation to begin my studies. While I was driving, I remember listening to music and thinking to myself, “I have a lot of stuff with me.” When I arrived, I began to unpack my car and started organizing my “stuff” at the apartment. I looked around at how empty it was. I felt the urgency to purchase furniture. Over the course of my graduate school career, I slowly furnished my apartment. By the time it was time to move out, I had to rent a truck in order to fit all of my belongings I began to pack and organize my things into giant Home Depot boxes. There were plenty of things that I looked at and thought to myself, “I will no longer need this… out it goes!”
As I begin a new decade, I was thinking of how similar my life experiences are to the experiences of furnishing my apartment. As we go through life, we have exciting and fulfilling experiences that we want to display for everyone to see. Just like a flat screen TV in the living room or trophies displayed in the areas that are constant reminders of our achievements.
On the other side, we also have challenging experiences that may have challenged our identity, sense of self-worth, and maybe altered the course of our life. Maybe we keep these experiences as a secret. We may put them in a box and hide them somewhere in the closet amongst many other things. Every once in a while, something may trigger these memories and we will reach for the box, open it, look at it and sometimes have no idea what to do with it, so we close it and hide it. Nevertheless, we hold on to all of these experiences as they become a part of us. As time goes on, we continue to accumulate more and more experiences… Just like we accumulate things.
Mind Full of Stuff
Have you ever gone to someone’s house where things were all over the place and it was just messy? As a teenager, I remember visiting one of my friend’s bedrooms. A group of us were going to watch a movie over at their place. When they opened their bedroom door, I had this weird reaction. I didn’t know if I should walk in or turn around… The place was cluttered with clothes thrown all over the place, bedroom sheets everywhere, empty cans, I mean, it was messy. Being in that messy space made me feel really awkward.
Oftentimes, we hold on to experiences, words, thoughts, etc. that clutter our mind. Our mind becomes like this messy room of replaying countless words, images, thoughts, and so forth. We may have had experiences that have shaken us up and we’re too afraid to talk about them, so we put them in a nice box, label it “we don’t talk about it…” and nicely place it back in the closet. We may never have had a chance to properly work through and heal from these experiences, so our mind is connecting every little insecurity and catastrophizing it.
I hear people say, “it’s like I bring bad luck onto myself.” There’s a countless list of things that we can clutter our mind with like drama, complaints, ruminating on the past, and so on A cluttered mind is a restless mind and it feels awkward… Do I walk through the door? Do I dare even open the door? It’s hard to relax and find peace because of all the clutter, so we distract ourselves by always doing something. It feels incredibly uncomfortable to sit in the silence with ourselves because we become aware of the clutter. So, how do we begin the decluttering process?
New Year, New Me!
Here is the thing about moving, you are constantly evaluating your possessions. Whether you’re packing or unpacking, you are aware of the things you’ve accumulated. When I was driving to school, I thought I had a lot of stuff, but when I was leaving school, I needed to rent a moving truck. Both times I had to evaluate, “what am I taking with me and what is only good for the purpose of collecting dust?” Here’s how to begin the decluttering process.
- Be intentional! Just like you intentionally place furniture at home, be intentional about your day. You don’t place a couch in the kitchen… so don’t go with the flow! Set intention for each day.
- Engage in reflective practice. Take five minutes out of your day to check in with yourself. This can be challenging and uncomfortable to do at first, but it can also be rewarding. You can begin with simply focusing your attention on your breath. Your breath is like an anchor, it’s always there with you. Simply notice your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and bring your attention back to the breath. In this moment, nothing needs to be fixed… just notice. In my blog about mindfulness, I’ve introduced the S.T.O.P technique. You can read more about it here!.
- Unplug! We can be sitting in a room but our mind can be on the other side of the globe. Especially with the help of technology we are always connected, whether it be checking email,, responding to texts, receiving news notifications, etc. Take some time to unplug from technology. Put away distractions and focus on the present moment whether it is a conversation with a friend or family member or simply enjoying a cup of tea.
- Be present in the moment!
Go for a walk. Getting outside and doing some kind of physical activity is a great way to get stuff out of your mind. Going for walks gives you the opportunity to be present in the moment, breathe fresh air, and leave the stressors of the day behind.
As I was packing, I became aware of all of my belongings. I went through the process of recognizing, evaluating and making decisions such as, “do I need this? will it be useful? Or is it extra stuff?” Similarly, as you begin to recognize things you may become aware of the stuff your mind is cluttered with.
The mind can be covered with scar tissue from old hurts and traumas and the task of decluttering may be overwhelming. If you find yourself struggling don’t hesitate to reach out for help. It can be scary to reach out for support and we are here to walk with you every step of the way. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and schedule your appointment.
Written by therapist Viktor Terpay
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