This is the second in the series of things that you can do to help your mental health and sense of wellbeing; one thing for wellbeing. And, this week we’re talking about decluttering.

What does it mean?

If you’re like me, the thought of decluttering just makes me close the door on any chaos. Those cupboards (or rooms??) where you dread opening the door in case something falls out? I know you’ll have them – or you’ve had them in the past! However, decluttering doesn’t have to be this drastic to have a positive impact. And, how come it makes us feel better anyway.

And, before we go any further, what about our emotions? How many of them do you experience that might not be useful? Are there some you’re not even aware of? When do they come along unexpectedly and inexplicably? How many inluence your behaviour without purpose?

One more thing – what about thoughts and beliefs? We all have thought processes happening all of the time, running through our unconscious. How many of them happen on a loop, running away in the background without ever coming to the fore? How many of these are unhelpful and run patterns and programmes that we’re not conscious of?

Why do we keep so much anyway?

Physical stuff;

It’s true that some people take comfort in being surrounded by stuff – there are many reasons for this. There are recognised differences between hoarding and collecting, tho we don’t have space to discuss that here. Often our stuff can bring pleasure – memories of people or experiences or maybe a really useful thingymajig that might come in handy.

Sometimes people keep things because they experience a sense of lack from earlier in life – so, having stuff is comforting as it reduces any anxiety felt when thinking about not having enough. And, just because the hoarding manifests through something physical and seemingly unrelated, it’s possible that it is actually as a result of something like experiencing a lack of food.

Where someone experiences procrastination, lack of confidence or difficulty in decision making, sometimes it’s just too darn difficult to make a decision about what should stay and what should go.

Often, this behaviour can be triggered by a traumatic event such as loss and feelings can be overwhelming. For many, it can become distressing where repeat behaviour starts to have an impact on life in general. That’s when physical decluttering comes in.

Physical decluttering

Getting a feeling of purpose and control can be a good thing for our mental wellbeing. But what comes first is a change in mindset that we’ll be safe if we declutter, that we can be OK without the ‘stuff’. Making sense of our surroundings can hep soothe our sympathetic nervous system and help our brain reduce the cortisol and other stress hormones.

Being surrounded by clutter can reduce focus and increase ability to concentrate – how many of you feel the need to tidy your desk before starting work, or organise the washing up before reaching for the squeezy? It often makes a job easier if there’s an ordered approach. This is reported to be because of how our brain takes in visual information.

It’s widely reported that having a feeling of satisfaction of completion can be really good for motivating us. One of the really simple things that people with depression are encouraged to do is make their bed when they get up. As a really positive start to the day, people then become more motivated to achieve more with their day.

The key to doing this successfully is to understanding why it happens in the first place; why is stuff so important? You can then change your mindset which is a powerful driver. Then, start small and do a bit each day. Ask someone to help you if having a buddy is motivating. And, the more you repeat this, the more it will become a natural pattern.

Emotions;

Often our emotions, our feelings, are driven by whether or not we have our basic needs in life met. Where we cannot settle our mamalian brain because we’re hungry or feel isolated, this might trigger some behaviours that are running on old patterns. Our emotions might drive us to something like over eating, forming inappropriate relationships or routinely leaving jobs when it becomes difficult in an effort to meet our needs so that we feel comforted. There’s more in Kay Cooke’s work on basic needs if you want to find out more.

Emotional decluttering;

Noticing the emotions in the first place is key to this part. Keeping a diary of behaviour and what emotions were around at the time is an effective way of doing this. What’s important is that you do this without judgement – just notice – ‘that’s interesting’. Recognising that they’re just emotions is key.

Are there particular patterns that run in the family? Have you noticed that particular behaviour and emotions happen at particular times? Once you know the triggers, you can begin to practice different patterns. It’ll feel a bit scary at first, but much healthier. Having prompts, or even avoiding the triggers for a while whilst you practice the new way can often help.

Thoughts and beliefs;

Those thought patterns and beliefs that have been developing for us since our childhood can be helpful. It’s what allows us to live our life without getting bogged down in actively making decisions when our brains are taking in millions of bits of information all of the time. We all create this internal dialogue and world.

Thoughts are very powerful and become beliefs over time. They can change our body chemistry as well as drive other behaviour; when those thought patterns start running on negative tapes, we can feel a ‘victim’ of them. You’ll have heard people say ‘I keep going over it in my head’ or ‘I can’t do that, I’m too old’. What these have in common is that the people feel ‘stuck’. I often have clients saying that they can’t get past, or can’t move or resolve things because of these patterns and beliefs. It’s self sabotage and can often undermine conscious efforts for change.

Decluttering thoughts and beliefs;

Some of this is similar to decluttering emotions – identifying triggers is very important. And, then having compassion for yourself about the origins of the thoughts and beliefs.

Challenging those beliefs can take courage, but very possible. Asking ‘what if I didn’t think like this?’ or ‘how is this belief serving me?’ or ‘what if I’m wrong about this?’ Testing the thoughts and beliefs is important, as is creating new ones that you build on purpose. Being open and honest about all of this is essential.

So, why declutter?

There are many reasons why decluttering might be a good thing for our mental wellbeing. I’m not suggesting a Marie Kondo approach (tho you can if that’s useful to you). Sometimes that can seem a little brutal and an essential part of decluttering, whether physical, emotional or thoughts/beliefs, is a sense of self compassion, honesty and a curiosity for what could be different. Having someone alongside you whilst you do it also means you can be accountable for your progress and change as well as having a sounding board for some of your debates.

Whatever tidying you’re doing, doing it mindfully can have benefits to your mental health. Not only do you get all the benefits of regularly practicing mindfulness, you get some order restored too.

Our brains are constantly pruning neurons that are not being used. Where we’re not using skills or cognitive functions, our brains are very efficient at removing what’s not needed. Where we keep practicing behaviours or thoughts that are not helpful, we’re simply making sure that these connections are strengthened in our brains. So, why not make stronger connections of helpful thoughts and behaviours by decluttering?

This isn’t an exhaustive list – and you’ll have your own examples of how decluttering has helped you. However you do it, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction can really help wellbeing.

Next Steps

Why not start today? Start now? What’s holding you back? Stuff? Emotions? Thoughts/emotions? How successful will you be with this one thing for wellbeing?

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