“Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.” ~Nathan W. Morris
I have a confession to make. I don’t live a minimalist life of decluttered simplicity. I have too much unused stuff packed in too many boxes stacked on too many shelves. And while I could do better in this respect, there are other cluttered parts of our lives in need of some spring-cleaning as well.
Too many of us suffer from our own cluttered emotional closets stuffed with messy habits of thought and crowded feelings we’ve clung to for far too long.
Perhaps it’s time we practiced a little emotional minimalism as well.
Now I want to make sure I’m very clear here. By “emotional minimalism” I’m not suggesting a life of emotional constipation, stifling feelings or beating ourselves up for feeling a bit sad or mad.
Rather, this is a call to do away with emotional clutter—all the junk we no longer want or use but sits in hearts gathering dust and causing problems.
5 Ways to Live an Uncluttered Emotional Life
(or emotional minimalism 101)
1. Minimize Anger
We have a bookshelf in the study with too many picture frames and plaques and other nick knacks and doodads on it. The result is lots of accumulated dust in inconvenient-to-clean places. Too much stuff gets in the way and too little dusting is done as a result.
Our anger can be like that as well. Our hearts get stuffed with too many emotional doohickeys that get increasingly difficult to clean out. Anger compounds upon anger and soon tiny infractions start to seem bigger and darker and more difficult to shrug off.
The binding habit of anger can be a powerful habit to break though. But you can start by refusing to blame others for your mood any longer. Stop assuming evil intent in others’ misplaced word, look or tone. Stop demanding perfection and just allow people to just be people, as flawed as we all are, without taking those flaws as personal insult and injury.
Let your tight grip on life loosen up enough to allow it to unfold without judgment. And while you’re loosening your grip, let anger slip out of your hand as well, and evaporate into a new attitude of compassion and patience.
2. Minimize Envy
Of all the spaces in my home, my garage is the most cluttered. We have unopened boxes stacked on metal shelving from 10 years ago when we first moved to our current home. I don’t even know what’s in them anymore.
The most pressing issue is a problem with available space. The more of the completely useless stuff we keep in the garage, the more of the periodically useful stuff has to be kept inside.
Envy can be just like that. It clutters hearts and dirties relationships until there is no more room for real love.
It is a form of selfishness and greed turned jealous with age. In other words, it’s a desire to get, not so much by getting, but by either taking what someone else has or taking pleasure in seeing theirs fall apart.
Envy rests on assumptions of life as a zero-sum game, that one person’s fortune means there’s less treasure available for me. Besides that kind of thinking being untrue, it is also self-sabotaging.
Instead, be happy for others good fortune. Take yourself out of the equation. Step into their shoes and let your heart open to them. Allow the cleansing quality of love to move through you as it passes to others. Love, after all, is the universal antidote to envy.
3. Minimize Grudges
Our youngest is six years old and we’re not having anymore kids. And yet it’s difficult to let go of his baby stuff. We have old baby clothes and his crib and toys he no longer plays with in the garage. They fill boxes, crates and bags on shelves.
So why do we keep it all? In part they are physical representations of precious memories. My wife worries that our memories will fade when the things representing them are no longer around to see and remind us.
Aren’t we like that too when it comes to holding onto grudges? We get hurt and hold onto the pain for fear of forgetting, and thereby becoming vulnerable to getting hurt again.
But that’s no way to live. Living life looking in the rear-view mirror keeps you standing still or bumping into all the obstacles along the path in front of you.
Instead, toss out the bottled-up hatred. Let go of the need to punish and just open your heart and forgive. Unplug the drains of hurt. And take each moment as a moment unto itself, free of roots buried in the past or future.
4. Minimize Fear
We have a sleeping bag, a few boots and gloves and other miscellaneous camping equipment in the back of my car. The thing is, the camping trip we packed for was over a year ago.
And so here I am hauling camping equipment around in my car wherever I go. There’s a lesson here because sometimes we take emotional clutter where it’s not needed as well. Fear is one such piece of junk we often haul around unnecessarily.
You can’t completely eliminate fear and probably shouldn’t. It’s a handy device to have when contemplating a casual swim in shark-infested waters. Recklessness, after all, is the total absence of fear, not the presence of courage. But don’t let fear control you. Courage is taking right action in spite of being afraid. Still, the intensity of fear can and often should be reduced in those who become overwhelmed with anxiety over the object of their fears. This is particularly true when those fears are not rational.
Fearing a lion, for instance, while strolling through the Serengeti alone, munching on some fried chicken, can be a rational fear. Fearing a lion in Central Park is not. Fearing shark attack while splashing around the Great Barrier Reef is rational. Fearing shark attack while swimming at night in the backyard pool is not.
As you buckle down and move forward despite your fears, you will usually come to realize the fear itself was much larger than the reality of it.
5. Minimize Pessimism
I don’t know how many trash bags of old clothes we’ve given to charity over the years. We don’t ask for anything in return. We simply give it away. That’s a strategy we can use for our habits of negative thinking too. Give it all away. Don’t hold on to it for another moment. Don’t ask for proof that things will work out or that things will turn out better than you may suspect. Just donate them. Leave them at the doorstep and resolutely walk the other way.
Pessimists have the advantage of always being right (at least in their own minds). Why? Because they ignore the 1,000 times things turned out pretty good and declare victory once something bad happens that their optimist counterparts failed to predict.
But they also push people away and damage relationships. They corrupt happiness and cripple growth and opportunity and excellence and success.
So bundle up your negative thinking and ship off the ugly package of self-defeat and surrender to the far away land of No More.
We all come with baggage. That just makes us human. The biggest problem is when we keep adding more junk to our already over-stuffed emotional bags, never throwing anything out, never letting anything go, holding on to every new insult, hurt feeling and angry thought.
There are steps we can take to clear the emotional clutter and live happier, freer, more peaceful lives. I hope I’ve introduced some of those steps to you here, or at least inspired you to look for your own steps to clear the clutter that is still acting as a drag on your happiness
Spring is upon us, so go clean out a closet or something. But while you’re at it, unpack a heavy heart as well. That’s some spring cleaning you’ll be happy you performed this year.
YOUR TURN …
- How do you do your emotional spring cleaning?
- What emotional dust and debris did I leave off the list?
- We would love to read your thoughts in the comments below!