Time to de-clutter… (pt 4)

June 4, 2009

This week, I’ve been discussing how to simplify your life through holistic de-cluttering. So now you’ve sorted out your home and the practical side of your life, it’s time to delve into the deeper aspects of your world. Emotional de-cluttering is about checking out your present emotional and interpersonal landscape and making positive changes which express the authentic you. Think of yourself as a sculptor, chipping away at a huge block of stone to reveal the beautiful and unique statue – your true self – beneath.

Here are a few ideas to help you begin the process:

For an instant emotional boost, try avoiding news programmes and papers for a while. There’s enough to deal with in your immediate vicinity without having to deal with the collective bad news of the world, especially as the content has been so heavily manipulated and dictated by the people who run the media.  Most news consists of ‘millions of people died a horrible death today’ followed by ‘meanwhile in other news – lots of politicians and businessmen indulge in smug debate whilst shafting the rest of us.’  Worrying, getting angry, feeling the pain of others and being riddled with guilt because you feel powerless to help is counterproductive  – what did the blanket  coverage of the Baby P case achieve other than mass guilt, anger and distress in the national collective conscious? If you take on this type of emotional clutter on a daily basis, you may end up disenabled with despair. A more constructive way to channel those feelings is to become actively involved in a cause which particularly concerns you and which you can do something about. Join Amnesty or Liberty or whatever group represents best what you feel most strongly about. Pro-activity will reduce those feelings of helplessness and replace those negative emotions with confidence and determination.

Another pro-active way to reduce emotional clutter in your everyday life is through learning about assertiveness. Being assertive makes the process of emotional de-cluttering so much easier and revitalises your relationships, as you will have the emotional clarity and space to reflect on what you want and don’t want in your personal interactions. You will also find that when you feel confident enough to speak your truth, your self-respect increases and you will receive more respect from others too. In her book A Woman in Your Own Right: Assertiveness and YouAnne Dickson lists the basic rights we all have as individuals – that is, the rights we deserve simply through our existence. Though the basis of these rights is not particularly new or revolutionary, you can use them as markers for your own self-esteem and respect, should you find yourself involved in any personal exchange which creates feelings of self-doubt and anxiety.

  • I have the right to state my own needs and set my own priorities as a person independent of any role that I may assume in my life.
  • I have the right to be treated with respect as an intelligent, capable and equal human being.
  • I have the right to express my feelings.
  • I have the right to express my opinions and values.
  • I have the right to say yes or no for myself.
  • I have the right to make mistakes.
  • I have the right to change my mind.
  • I have the right to say I don’t understand.
  • I have the right to ask for what I want.
  • I have the right to decline responsibility for other people’s problems.
  • I have the right to deal with others without being dependent on them for approval.

(I will look at all these rights in more depth next week.)

One outcome of your emotional de-cluttering may be an increasing awareness – or even a sudden realisation – that there are certain people you no longer want or need in your life. Sometimes we hang on to friends who we no longer have anything in common with, out of a misguided sense of loyalty or obligation because they’ve been in our lives a long time. Or  maybe there are certain people who pollute you with their bad energy every time you see them – the selfish friend who only takes and never gives, the whining ‘poor me’ friend who never makes positive change but expects you to keep listening to their repetitive complaints, the critical friend who puts you down and sneers at everything you say…. So, go through your address book and listen to your intuition. If your heart sinks when you read someone’s name, or if the thought of seeing that person makes you desperately start to think up excuses to avoid seeing them, then maybe this is someone you should think about ditching. How you do this is up to you – you can either phase them out slowly or, if you’ve got the assertiveness bug, tell them the truth. Life’s too short to waste time appeasing and entertaining people you don’t really care for.

Your original family – the people who’ve been around in your life since you were a child – can be somewhat harder to deal with. Unless you’ve been seriously abused, then chances are you’re going to continue to see these people for the rest of your – or their – lives. After all, your family might have some really irritating – and often downright rude – behaviours and an annoying tendency to treat you as if you’re still the person you were at 14, but they’re still family and the only people who shared that familial experience with you – and despite your differences, you know you’ll always be there for each other when the chips are down.  However, this does not mean you  have to tolerate being spoken to or treated disrespectfully. In some families, the culture of familiarity appears to encourage members to speak critically and rudely to each other – or maybe scapegoatting takes place, where all the family’s negative feelings are projected on to and acted out by one family member. If your family is like this, then you’ll find a particular assertiveness technique useful (and this one is also effective on children) – don’t reward the bad behaviour. Refuse to engage in the old dynamics which make them feel comfortable and if they insist on continuing to talk to you in that way, simply leave (or hang up the phone) calmly, and minimise your contact until their attitude towards you changes. The trick is to make the relationship bearable and manageable for you so that it doesn’t add to your emotional clutter, triggering feelings of anger, guilt, depression etc whenever you spend time with them.

To minimise your emotional clutter, there may be other changes you need to make. When you think about your life, which aspects are you content with and which trigger feelings of frustration, disappointment, regret, sadness?  Your job? Your long term relationship? The place where you live? What steps could you begin to take – and remember, you only need to take baby steps, the change doesn’t have to be overnight – to bring you closer to the life which reflects your true self? (For some advice on a technique to kick-start this process, please refer back to my blog ‘The greatest gift you will ever give yourself’.)

Of course, there’s a good chance that your present issues exist because you’re weighed down with old baggage from your past. For example, lack of assertiveness can indicate long-term low self-esteem, or you may be attracting dysfunctional and co-dependent relationships into your life because you’re continuing to act out past family dynamics. Exorcising this past stuff – your psychological clutter – reduces the amount of emotional clutter you carry in the present – and I’ll talk about more about how to psychologically de-clutter tomorrow.



  1. […] 15, 2009 by The Empathic Guide As promised in part 4 of the de-cluttering blogs (and slightly later than planned), here is the more in-depth look at the bill of rights as listed […]

  2. […] sense of emotional and psychological wellbeing. The emotional de-cluttering article can be found here and the psychological de-cluttering piece can be found […]

  3. […] Part four moves on to the deeper aspects of your world with a look at emotional de-cluttering. […]

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