Are you guilty of falling short of a true spring clean? The tendency this time of year is to focus on physical clutter, but the kind you can’t see -- emotional clutter -- is just as important to tackle. By emotional clutter we mean all those repressed, suppressed and unexpressed emotions and old beliefs that are keeping you stuck, rooted in a spot that probably no longer represents who you are or what you are capable of.
Emotional clutter acts like an invisible set of horse blinders that keep you from seeing beyond what is right in front of you. They blind you to potential paths forward and from the resources and options you have at your disposal. But because those emotional blinders aren’t physical, they are easy enough to suppress or ignore.
Here are six signs you have emotional clutter to deal with, and ideas for clearing it out.
Your expectations of how others should behave is distancing you from them
Do you have rules for how the people in your life need to show you they love you? For example, do you “need” your husband to start taking out recycling without being nagged to feel more appreciated? The problem with this is twofold: (a) it is extremely rare that these expectations are ever verbalized so the other person has no idea he is fouling up, and (b) your focus on what they aren’t doing right often causes you to miss other, real expressions of love.
What you should do is making you miserable or rebellious
Just as “should” isn’t a good motivator for others (see point No. 1), it’s not a good motivator for you, either. Rather than bowing to “should dos,” the next time you start to do something because you have to, stop. Take five minutes to consider what you really want to do and why. Then decide to make and follow your own rules in that area going forward.
You cringe every time you scroll through your contacts and see that name
Old relationships that ended on an unfortunate note, whether personal or professional, are part of life. If you had one, do yourself a favor and get some closure. Distance is the only thing that will lessen the emotional sting. Delete the contact information from your phone. UnFriend. UnLink. UnFollow. You don’t need to know what they are up to if all it does is make you re-experience a past hurt.
You feel guilty because you let someone down
Human beings are born to please. From the time we can walk, we are socialized to share, pitch in and contribute. The principle of reciprocity serves as a crucial glue for our community-based societies. But it can also lead you to over-commit. If you’re chronically over-extending yourself, and letting people down in the process, you need to swap your “Sure, no problem” for “That sounds really interesting; let me think about it and get back to you with an answer.” Then use the time to determine whether you want to accept the request.
You get a nagging feeling when you think about (or see contact information for) someone
Sometimes so much time has passed since you last connected with someone that you feel guilty just thinking about them or seeing their information in your phone. Rather than suppressing the negative emotion, call them. Ideally, right when you realize you’re feeling guilty. If you can’t do it right then, make an appointment to connect with them before the week is out.
You have uncompleted projects
When you fail to complete a project, you not only have physical reminders of it, but nagging emotional ones as well. The nagging may not be urgent, but it’s there, somewhere in the back of your mind, constantly reminding you that you have something left to do. If you’ve got one (or more) of these, take some time before the day is out to make a list of the projects you want to complete. Then break them down into smaller work steps and schedule them in. If you have a half-started project that you no longer really want to finish, it’s OK. Better to let it go and be at peace with your decision than to continue to carry it around.
The writers are co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized. Send ideas and questions to yourlife(at)getbuttonedup.com. For more columns, go to scrippsnews.com.