I remember packing my first apartment up in preparation to move overseas for graduate school.
Ten boxes of books, several containers of clothing, keepsakes and one instrument later, I thought to myself, "How do I have so much stuff?"
At the same time, I recall feeling rather distressed throughout the process of downsizing and getting rid of the bulk of my possessions in an effort to make travel easy.
It can be very difficult to let go of the things we have collected.
We come into possession of so many things by making a personal investment — be it time, money, energy or emotion — and this is partly why it can be so painful to let things go.
At one time, we must have made a financial or emotional commitment to acquire the thing, and so, to get rid of it would mean our commitment has been wasted. This is how clutter slowly builds.
Of course, you don’t have to be a material hoarder to experience the harms of clutter. Clutter can wreak havoc on our productivity, creativity and overall happiness.
For this reason, most of us understand the importance of eliminating clutter from the spaces we occupy.
We are all familiar with the simple phenomena of how a messy room keeps us from functioning and feeling our best, but what about a "messy mind?"
A messy mind is a mind cluttered with negative emotions or thought patterns that stand to undermine our greater potential and steal away our better selves.
The very dangerous thing about mental clutter is that it builds silently, simply because we cannot see it.
Yet, we feel its negative effects, which is precisely why becoming familiar with and creating a habit of clearing this type of clutter is so very important.
Here are five types of mental clutter we could all stand to do away with:
There is not one single successful or happy person who has not made a decision he or she has regretted (a "mistake," if you will).
Making mistakes is an inevitability of being human, but the really wonderful thing is we don’t have to let our mistakes define us. And, we don’t have to repeat our mistakes.
If we acknowledge this fact, we can begin to see the decisions that inspire us to feel regret as an opportunity to learn and change ourselves in positive ways.
Regret is unhelpful if it does not bring about learning or personal change.
We cannot change the past, but we can influence the future. By letting go of regret, we actively choose to live in the present.
We can make positive choices that ensure against future regrettable decisions.
Regret teaches us to accept past mistakes as an inevitable part of life, and practice the important art of self-forgiveness.
2. Guilt and Shame
We should take responsibility for our actions and decisions, especially if they have been the source of pain for others.
However, we should also refrain from clinging to guilt and participating in excessive self-blaming.
The danger of guilt is that it can cultivate feelings of anger and resentment, and it can seriously damage our sense of self-worth.
If we do not find worth in ourselves, how can we hope to manifest the best versions of ourselves?
Tempering our guilt can restore our sense of self-worth, which empowers us to be better, and forms a critical foundation for actualizing our best selves.
Fear, in a word, is crippling. Fear can keep us from pursuing new experiences, from chasing our dreams and from simply being ourselves.
Fear operates by making us perceive a threat that may or may not in actuality be there.
If we allow fear to dictate our choices, we may inadvertently bury our deeper potential to succeed, to enjoy and to love.
Consider how the fear of not being loved in return may undermine one’s willingness to give love.
In the classic novel, "The Brothers Karamazov," Fyodor Dostoevsky maintained that hell is “the suffering of being unable to love.”
If love is not our greatest potential as human beings, I don’t know what is.
And if fear is one of the greatest impediments to us acting on and realizing our greater (and greatest) potential, we should not allow it to take house in our heads or our hearts.
Worry is a perfectly normal response to uncertainty, but worry does very little to change or influence the future.
Worrying over the future steals our joy in the present. At its worst, worry can prevent us from taking action at all.
In this way, it shares in fear’s power to cripple us.
By worrying to excess, we cheat ourselves of both peace and pleasure, inevitably expanding the gap between the people we are and the people we want to become.
Taking action and practicing positive thinking can help us to do away with unhelpful worries.
5. Negative Self-Talk
Reflecting on various aspects of ourselves, and engaging in self-criticism, can be an important motivational force when it comes to improving ourselves.
However, if we excessively practice negative self-talk, our self-criticism can produce an opposite effect.
Self-talk, both negative and positive, reinforces the beliefs we hold about ourselves. And this can have a real impact on what becomes a reality.
Telling yourself you can’t do something can actualize it. Fortunately, telling yourself you can do something can also help to make it so.
Practicing positive self-talk builds self-esteem and confidence, leading to a sense of strength and power to be the best we can be.
This may lead us to more satisfying relationships with ourselves and others.
We make a habit of clearing clutter from our homes, our workspaces and most places we spend a significant amount of our time.
Yet, we often neglect to clear clutter from the one place we spend the most time: within ourselves.
In the same way we are in control of what objects we bring into our homes, we are at least partially in control of the things we pack in to our heads and what we choose to carry in our hearts.
We should choose what we pack and carry carefully, and we should do away with what proves to be detrimental.
We should seek to eliminate mental clutter on the basis that it represses our ability to put our best selves forward, in the same way physical clutter prevents us from feeling our best.
It may not be easy, but its value is mighty.
By making a practice of eliminating not only physical clutter, but mental clutter of the variety explored above, we can cultivate a more positive foundation from which to project the greatest and happiest versions of ourselves.