If you’re like me (and I know I am), when I think of spring cleaning, I think of buckets, scrub brushes, rags, mops and the like. I also think of emptying closets and pitching clutter.
However, we don’t usually say to a family member, “Look what I found in the back of my closet- a suitcase of anger, a big box overflowing with puffed up pride, and a gym bag full of insecurity given to me by my father. Way up on the top shelf, I found some old resentment, a file box of jealousy, and a lock box of mistrust from past sexual abuse when I was in college. Wow, why have I held onto all this stuff?”
Our “stuff” drains our energy, poisons our relationships, and steals our joy, not to mention how it messes with our ability to set proper expectations or form healthy new relationships. All we know is life hurts so much, or our relationships are so disappointing. The trouble is we have accumulated our emotional clutter bit by bit, unaware of its increasing weight dragging down our spirits, compounding our difficulties. Weirdly enough, sometimes we don’t realize the weight we carry. Our first human tendency is to look around for someone to blame, usually someone close to us. “I’m not happy…. it must be because of you!”
Perhaps something happens- it may be a big thing or even a small thing- and we entertain the thought, “Maybe, just maybe, I’m part of my problem.”
This may sound counter-intuitive, but when someone thinks that thought, they are in a great place of hope, because they are open (even desperate) to change. They are ready to clean house.
So how does someone get rid of emotional clutter?
Do a detox two-step.
Step One: Use intention
Many times we can heal ourselves with a sincere self-examination, and that begins by being intentional. Think about how you pack for a trip so you don’t have to get charged for extra luggage. If you have too much, or if you’re over the allocated weight for your bag, you look though what you’ve packed and decide not to take certain stuff. It sounds overly simple when dealing with emotional clutter, but it’s the same kind of process. You often can decide for yourself that you need to spend less time around negative people; you can decide to make a gratitude list every day instead of a gripe list. You can have a clear the air talk with that family member to help heal a hurt that you’ve been holding onto. A little intention can go a long way.
Step Two: Allow intervention
While intention is good for the soul, sometimes we all need a little outside help. We can’t see what others may be able to clearly see. I say it this way- you may have a proverbial piece of toilet paper stuck to your soul (pun intended) that you have missed on your own. Turn to a trusted friend or a counselor who can help you first identify the emotional clutter, and work to help you “unpack” it so you don’t continue to pay the price day after day. Life is too short- get help, and get help as often as you need it. I encourage you to get in an “intervention group”. It’s a small group where you can grow to trust one another with what’s going on in each other’s lives, and allow each other to help one another out when one gets stuck. Personally, I meet with four other pastors twice a month; we encourage one another, help one another, pray for one another, and it’s great to know I can count on them to respectfully intervene on my behalf when I’m clueless about my own emotional clutter.
You may have already done a detox two step before to get rid of some accumulated emotional clutter along your journey, and you know how good it feels. Regardless, it’s a good idea to make this detox two step an ongoing part of your life so you can soak up as much of the joy as you can, and shed as much of the joy-stealing emotional clutter as you can. You are worth it.
Rev. Greg Griffin is a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor and Forgiveness Coach in private practice in Marietta, GA. His specialty is relationship repair and rescue- helping partners, spouses, and parents and their adolescents. He’s also the author of Dungeon Times Survival Guide, and Vital Faith.