My mum used to always do a spring clean of the house. She emptied and cleaned cupboards and drawers, re-arranged things, threw stuff away that was no longer serviceable or needed, cleaned behind and under furniture which was not usually moved, and generally had a good clear-out and re-sort. We would all be pressed into service, helping her, and deciding on which toys etc. could now be thrown or given away.
It was a good tradition that she was following, which gave us a new start each time, and she did it with gusto, obviously pleased by the effect. So what was that tradition really about?
It is a great way to sort, not just your external environment, but also your internal ‘clutter’. You see, the environment we create around us is an external reflection of who we are, and that is something which is constantly developing. If we don’t have regular clear-outs, it’s a bit like gradually collecting a fridge full of left-overs: we are being reminded to be who we used to be, rather than who we are now and who we want to be. It’s not that we need to throw away all our past – some of those leftovers are still useful and integral to us – but we do benefit from consciously choosing what still fits with who we are now. And as we make those choices, we also choose to lessen our attachment to old, no longer useful, habits of thinking and behaving.
For example, have you still got the folders of stuff you studied? What do they create in your thoughts when you look at them? If it’s a sense of achievement, keep a symbolic piece of it, and put it somewhere you’ll see it often. If you genuinely use any of it for reference and reminders, put those parts somewhere you can easily access it. But if those folders make you feel that you still haven’t ‘got’ whatever it was you studied, or that you really ‘should’ look at them again, or keep them, put them in the recycling – you’ve got whatever you could from it at the time, and your future learning will be from a different source. And if they’re no longer relevant to you as you are now, what are they there for?!
A simplified version of this checking that I use all the time now is just to look at each item and ask myself: ‘Does this make my heart sing?’ If it doesn’t, then I assume that it no longer fits with who I have become and it’s time for it to go. This works with clothes, ornaments, furnishings, books, cd’s, all the paraphernalia of everyday life. I want my environment to encourage me to be happy and feel good, don’t you!
Nowadays it’s even easier than it was in my mum’s time. If she had something she no longer really wanted, but that was in good condition, she tended to keep it, because it was wasteful to throw it away. We have hundreds of charity shops, recycling of plastic and paper, and free-cycle or E-bay (if you don’t know of free-cycle, look it up. It’s a locally based way of offering things you don’t want to someone who does).
Now, I prefaced all this with the idea of spring-cleaning as a tradition. It is no longer something that most people do – and it is daunting to tackle a whole houseful of stuff. So make it easy – do a little bit at a time. Just set yourself to clear one cupboard, shelf, drawer, corner of a room, preferably starting with those you see most often, as they have the most impact on your mood and attitude. This is a great project for winter, each week clearing a little bit more out. You’ll be surprised how quickly the areas you’ve done mount up.
And notice how it makes you feel: pleased with yourself, clearer internally as well as externally, freed in some way.
And you may decide to replace some stuff with things that are more ‘you’, the you you are now: a new piece of clothing, a new cushion cover, a new photo in the frame – anything which makes your heart sing, that reflects who you are now, or who you want to be.
Be warned: this can become an addictive activity! I’ve come to love clearing out and sorting out. Every time I do a bit more, I feel as if I am allowing myself to be me a little bit more as well, and freeing myself from past stories that no longer serve me. We are influenced unconsciously by what we have around us, so let’s make that a positive, and useful influence – we have that choice in our homes and personal possessions.
The steps to clearing out
- Identify a small space to start your clearing out – one which you spend a lot of your time in.
- Pick up each thing in that space and ask yourself if it makes your heart sing.
- If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t recycle it or throw it away.
- Give the space a good clean.
- Re-arrange the space with just those things you have kept.
- If you feel you want to, get something new which really fits with who you are now, or who you want to be, to put in that space.