What is Emotional Clutter?

Trishna Patnaik-Trishna Patnaik, Mumbai based fine artist, art therapist and healer

Cleaning out the emotional clutter is definitely a hard job. It takes tremendous will and dedication. It requires a daily dose of conscious effort. There will be enough tears. There will be some hard days. But the outcome is definitely worth it.

Clutter is clutter – whether it’s in our physical space or our mental space, the things that have outstayed their purpose have a way of sitting there innocently enough too. They drain our energy, crowd our space and get in the way of us moving forward. Emotional clutter tends to disguise itself up as something that’s there for all good and no harm. The truth is that like any form of clutter, we need to sort through it now and then to see if it’s working hard to flourish us, maintain us or whether it’s weighing us down.

Like anything that’s been in our life for a while, emotional clutter can feel good to have around!  It can give us an excuse not to start, the reason to hold back and the familiarity we need to keep thinking that what we’re doing is just fine – whether it is or not.  

The truth is that the more you let go of the things that no longer work hard for you, the more you’ll make way for the things that do. Be brave. Let go and see what happens. You can always grab hold of them again if you want to. (But once they’re gone, you probably won’t want to!)

When we say, ‘This is who I am’ what we actually mean is this is what I think who I am. We are just narrating the biography we and others have written for us. The good news is we have the power to change and re-write these biographies at any time. Once we organize each experience of our life in a neat pile, only then we can discover our true potential.

 “Don’t let negative and toxic people rent space in your head. Raise the rent and kick them out!”― Robert Tew

Identifying and eliminating factors that cause Emotional Clutter:   

To be the perfect something.

Some days we’ll be so good at what we do it will be scary. On others we’ll be a red hot mess. The closer you are to perfect in one role, the further away you’ll be from perfect in another. Whatever you are is enough – so try on different roles for size, take a step sideways, and dare to get it wrong sometimes. Be the human version of human. They’re so much better to be around than the perfect ones.


One-sided friendships. Toxic relationships. People that drain you, fade you or reduce you. Where you can, draw a bold heavy underline between you and them and use the space they’re taking up for the people who you actually want to be around. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said that we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with. It makes sense. Sometimes it’s not about you or them, but about the combination of both of you.

The DEAL about NOT making a decision …

Not making a decision is still making a decision – to stay still. This is fine for a while, even wise, but leave inaction for too long and eventually it will hold you down with its knees over your belly and you’ll find it hard to move. Sometimes doing nothing can be worse than getting it wrong. At least if you do something and it doesn’t work out, you can move on but the ‘what ifs’ of inaction will keep you stuck forever.

The MANY reasons not to. 

No matter what, there will always be reasons not to. It will never feel scarier than when you’re perched on the edge of yes or no, stop or go, but fear can be a dirty little liar and can present itself as a stop sign. It’s not. It’s a sign that you’re about to do something really brave. Take the chance. Make the call, send the email, start the conversation, say the words – and let the possibilities open up to you. 

Comparison. Oh Yes! That.

It’s so easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others. The truth is that you can never know what’s happened behind the scenes or what someone has been through to get to where they are. If you’re still on your way, stay focused and don’t be knocked off track by the fact that someone else is further along the path than you. From the outside, they may look more successful, happier, richer, kinder or more important. You can be all of those things. Actually, there’s no reason you can’t be more.

Major Avoidance.

It’s normal to avoid things because of the fear of what might happen if you go for it, but avoiding the important things also brings its own consequences. Difficult things don’t go away just because they’re ignored. Be brave, turn, and face. It’s the only way to get the difficult things dealt with to make way for something better.

There’s NO guard rail at the gene pool.

The fact that you share genetics with someone doesn’t mean you have to spend time with them. If you feel ‘less than’ when you’re with them, that’s a pretty clear signal to limit contact. Nobody said genes were good at deciding relationships, but you are if you want to be.  You don’t have to like your family of origin. Not even a little bit. Be tolerant and kind but don’t be a doormat. Nobody said you had to agree with people, like them or spend time with them just because you share DNA.

Memories are NOT facts.

Here’s the thing about memories. They aren’t always that accurate. Our memories are a product of what we attend to and the way we interpret things – all of which are defined by us. When we’re happy, we pay attention to happy things and turn events into memories through a happy filter. We look for things to confirm our point of view and pay less attention to the inconsistencies. We do the same when we’re feeling negative. It’s human nature – we all do it. Let go of the idea that your memories are accurate and know the difference between your memories and the facts. Inaccurate memories can be the most stifling kind of clutter.

Also read: Don’t let lockdown anger disrupt domestic harmony

The CONSTANT need for approval.

You don’t have to be adored and approved of by everyone. Some people will love you, some people might not think that much of you and some people won’t think about you at all. There will always be critics, but you’ll often find that they’re critical of the world. Keep the ones who love you, learn from the ones who don’t and move on. Anything else is wasting your time and getting in your way.

Bleeding through a ‘bad’ situation.

Framing something as a bad situation has the potential to leach confidence and motivation. Just because things aren’t good, doesn’t mean they’re bad. Everything we go through shapes us, but whether that shaping is for better or worse is up to us. It’s important not to let confidence, motivation and self-esteem leak out through the cracks of a bad situation. We can choose to be the victim of our circumstances or we can take the wheel and choose how to respond. But if this ever happens just remember one thing. Don’t lose hope. Take a big breath and deal with one corner at a time.

So, to sum up, before we plan to add any new stuff in our beautiful mind, let’s put on some music, grab those mental boxes and imaginary markers and get started with some emotional decluttering by following the above steps.

Life is like a library owned by the author. In it, are a few books which he wrote himself, but most of them were written for him. — Harry Emorson Fosdick

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