The Emotional Work of a Lifetime
Humans are complex emotional beings with a fondness for
patterns, stories, and collections. They do not tend to be rational or
objective beings, however. This combination of traits leads most of us to amass
narratives, thought patterns, and other emotionally informed habits that we
carry with us and refer to whenever something in our present triggers the
memory of them. This psychic backlog that we hold onto tends to inform, often
inaccurately, how we feel about ourselves and how we respond to the situations
we find ourselves in. With conscious effort over time, we can decrease the
backlog we carry. And when we can let go of some of that collection, we are
able to be more present, better understand ourselves, and navigate the
obstacles we encounter in the present in a way that is based on the actual
situation at hand.
What is Emotional Clutter?
Emotional clutter is that stuff that hangs around, taking up precious mental space, and generally making us feel negative about ourselves in some way. It can take many forms, including persistent thought patterns, emotionally charged physical clutter, cycles of destructive behavior, and the application of unrealistic standards. Some of these things serve functional purposes or may have at one point in the past, which can increase the difficulty of recognizing and addressing them. And, even if they aren’t serving a useful purpose, we often come to feel comfortable with them—they give us a sense of familiarity. Though we may not like them, continuing to rely on all the clutter excuses us from having to do the hard work of investigating and working through our issues, and ultimately, growing beyond them.
Examples of Emotional Clutter
Some examples of emotional clutter are:
- Not being able to get rid of something we don’t want anymore because of who it came from, or a memory attached to it.
- Thinking we’re not enough.
- Maintaining relationships that make us feel bad about ourselves.
- Comparing ourselves to others.
- Persistent indecision.
- Negative stories we repeatedly tell about ourselves.
- Consistently positioning oneself as the victim.
Emotional clutter can be anything, material or immaterial,
that serves as a holding place for negative thoughts and patterns that never
seem to get resolved and maybe don’t feel like they have a basis in a specific
event or in the present.
What is Emotional Decluttering?
Emotional decluttering is seeking emotional well-being by
letting go of destructive thoughts, negative cycles, and toxic influences. It’s
not about denying the full spectrum of emotions but embracing the capacity we
have to feel and more clearly and mindfully understanding our emotions. Through
mindfulness and consistency, we can change our negative thought pathways and
build or strengthen positive ones, making it easier for us to understand and
work through obstacles, experience joy, access creativity, and get more clarity
on who we are.
Steps to Remove Emotional
- Tune in to the emotional state. The first step is to catch ourselves when we are engaging with emotional clutter, and this can be more challenging than it may sound. Try to notice the moment(s) when thoughts or behaviors turn toward repeated negative cycles or narratives.
- Identify the emotion(s). Once we’ve noticed that we are in the midst of a negative cycle or narrative, we need to try to understand exactly what the feelings are and then look for the source. This can be a hard process and may take multiple tries to get all the way through it. It’s okay to put it down and return later, just be honest about that decision. That will make it easier to remember and decide to return.
- Catalog the triggers. Once the emotion and its cause(s) have been identified, it’s time to start paying attention to the sparks that (re)ignite this particular fire. Maybe it’s a physical item that holds a memory, maybe it’s talking to a certain person, maybe it’s scrolling through social media. Whatever they may be, take stock of the triggers, and then make decisions about how to navigate them in the future (maybe getting rid of the physical item or giving it a good cleaning; building in some self-care measures when speaking to the identified person or limiting contact with them; perhaps taking a break from social media or disconnecting from specific profiles that have a negative impact, etc.).
- Set goals. As we work to declutter our emotional space, we will make room. Then we must decide what to do with that space. Who do we want to be? This is not about comparison, this is about orienting in the direction we want to go, regardless of what anyone else is doing.
- Build and strengthen your support network. It is important for us to identify people we can talk to during difficult moments, and practices to engage in that help us feel centered, whole, and calm. This is hard work, and it will likely take place over an extended period of time. Strengthening our support networks will help make emotional decluttering a sustainable project.
- Consider new habits. Similar to setting goals, it will help to find some small, everyday practices, rituals, or areas of focus to spending time and energy on. Emotional decluttering is about diverting energy away from negative thought patterns, so creating new habits that help foster positive thought patterns is beneficial. Some examples include meditation, journaling, stretching, making art, cooking, and gardening.
Invest in Personal Growth
Emotional decluttering is often a challenging and lengthy task. However, the rewards are literally life-changing. Clearing emotional clutter makes more room for us to listen to ourselves, experience our own growth, and find joy and celebration in the unique things that make our lives ours. Emotional decluttering is an important way we can invest in our overall wellness and growth.
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