“Declutter your mind, your heart, your home. Let go of the heaviness that is weighing you down.” ~Maria Defillo
I remember perusing through a used bookstore in a small New England town as a teenager. A book caught my eye—maybe because its spine was a MacIntosh apple red—and I slid it off the shelf. It was titled Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston.
Back at home in my apartment in Boston, I devoured it. That book shifted the trajectory of my life. Fast-forward seventeen years later and living clutter-free is not only my lifestyle, it’s my calling and my passion. It’s what I’ve used as the foundation to find home again, inside myself as much as out.
I think I was eighteen when I was in that bookstore. I had devoted the last ten years of my life—sacrificed my childhood—to become a professional ballet dancer. “Sara the Ballerina” was my whole identity, who people knew me as, and the only way I knew myself. But because of very real burnout and a severely limited support system, I chose to go to college. Promising ballet career over.
A commonplace habit in the ballet world, at least in my corner of it, was to never throw away your pointe shoes. We dancers had an intimate relationship with each and every pair, hand-sewing the ribbons and elastic on ourselves just to our liking, each pair my ally or sometimes foe on the battlefield of competitive, ever-unattainable beauty.
Each pair was connected to a certain production, role, or memorable time of growth. Each shiny satin pair was a ticket to the elite club of Ballerina World. Not to mention each pair was $80-$100+ and always handmade. By the time I quit dancing I had bags of used pointe shoes filling up my entire closet and beyond.
Like a good Virgo, I lived very mindfully regarding clutter and consumption through my twenties, in large part due to that book. By age twenty-six, I wanted to test the waters a bit more dramatically, and I let go of 80% of my belongings (including my pointe shoes) to move onto a thirty-foot sailboat with my partner.
It was around this time that I found myself privately realizing just how deep clearing “clutter” goes. I started to independently use the term “emotional clutter,” only to return to my book and see that Karen Kingston wrote a whole chapter called “Clear Your Emotional Clutter.”
I believe that in an intuitive way, I was yearning to simplify the hell out of my external environment so that I could free up the energy to tend to my inner environment. I knew I had internal baggage; I just couldn’t yet clarify what.
You see, contrary to popular belief, when you are free of physical clutter, it doesn’t become rainbows and unicorns, an idea to which many TV shows and books allude. What happens is that what isn’t working in your life gets amplified. Like the surface of a lake clearing after a hard rainfall, clarity rises to the surface of your consciousness about certain things.
One big thing for me was, to be blunt, that I felt miserable most of the time. Why? There were a few key reasons, but one big one was never grieving the stillbirth of my ballet career. This grief was sabotaging my life. It was emotional clutter that I now knew I needed to process and release. After simplifying my external environment and uncovering clarity, that is when the real work began.
Fast-forward seventeen years, and my life is unrecognizable. I live in a different part of the world. My body is different, healthier. I’ve developed the courage and wisdom to only keep unconditionally loving and supportive people in my life (there’s a chapter in Kingston’s book about how people can be clutter too!). I’m re-wiring my brain and nervous system from C-PTSD.
By framing outdated stuff, symptoms of C-PTSD, and old self-limiting beliefs all simply as “clutter” to process and let go, I was able to face a chaotic life and change it to one anchored in sane living.
Now I know with all my heart that physical clutter is just a gentle starting point. By processing through my belongings mindfully, it tunes me into where I am. Where am I emotionally? What unfinished business do I have? What is weighing me down or holding me back? I now speak of it as mental, emotional, and spiritual clutter. This is how clutter-clearing is way more than getting rid of superfluous items.
Clutter-clearing is an industry in itself now. But from comparing my personal experience with what I observe in the mainstream media, a lot of deeper practical wisdom is not making the cut (yet). If I want to live an intentional, empowered life, I have to regularly process all the mental/emotional input and physical extensions of myself in order to feed my spirit.
If you’re also interested in clearing your emotional clutter, these four tips are a good start.
1. A potent journal prompt is to answer these two questions for each area of your life (career, relationships, health, etc.): What unfinished business do I have? What is weighing me down or holding me back?
2. Clutter-Clear! Choose an area of your home/studio/office to start. Curating through your belongings will tune you into what commitments, identities, or desires have expired for you.
3. Emotional clutter that’s common:
- Grief. Not just from loss of loved ones but also from loss of unfulfilled dreams or past versions of yourself.
- Unhealed Trauma. Choose a trusted technique to process the emotional baggage and stick to it. I recommend eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), inner child work, and support groups.
- Self-Limiting Beliefs. We’ll subconsciously believe what authority figures told us about ourselves while growing up for our whole lives, unless we consciously choose otherwise when we’re adults.
4. List out the values of the five people you interact with the most. If they don’t complement your values, life will be a much more intense emotional roller coaster ride.
Remember that self-healing and growth aren’t about finding or discovering something new out there. It’s about letting go of all the junk that’s already there to uncover the real you.