Decluttering and mental health

We are in time of the year when some people do ‘spring cleaning’. Not just in Ireland, but in other parts of the world too, this winter was prolonged and we are looking forward to the days turning more spring-like. Weather can affect our mood so finding activities that give us energy may help while we wait on the temperatures to get warmer.

Some of us enjoy rummaging through our house, finding things we may not want to keep, revisiting memories attached to different things. Clearing the house can be therapeutic, when we find the time to do it. Personally I don’t always do it in spring, but periodically a few times a year. Whenever I end up clearing whatever accumulated over the months, it takes my whole attention for a few hours, or even the whole day, and the end result usually has a cathartic effect. However, not everyone finds this process easy or even enjoyable.

In January I was at a talk where someone who helps people declutter their houses spoke about different reasons why we hoard things. From love of history some people will keep books or magazines they no longer read, to emotional attachments or associations to a loved one who is no longer around, we have different reasons why we sometimes allow clutter to pile up. One thing I would have liked hearing during that talk is compassion for those who find it hard to let go, for whatever reason. It is true, there are benefits for our health, mental and otherwise, when we clear our living space. Almost like we can breathe again. But at times it will be hard to let go of things we are so used to having around us, and that is okay.

Perhaps it may help creating a ritual that honours the memories that various things in our house evoke. We attach meaning to memories and things, and perhaps some of those are good to keep. Yet if we want to clear the space of things we don’t need, but we have resistance against it due to how meaningful some of it is, creating another meaning for each of the things may help us proceed. Lets say we have three tea-pots that we don’t use, but they remind us of happy times and a lot of memories are attached to it. We could tell a story about it to a friend or even write the story on the paper for ourselves and then decide to give the tea-pots to a charity shop. A new meaning might be that someone else will be blessed with creating their own memories. Similar can be with the piece of clothing, or furniture.

But it is not always going to be that difficult to let go. Put the music on, create space in the week when you can do some spring-cleaning, and try and enjoy. We can start small, with one section, one drawer, or one room. Next week we can do a bit more. In the process we may realise that clearing things externally, helps us to organise our thoughts and emotions internally. We may create room for more joy, more peace, more space for prayer, more space for love.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland