Looking at Your Living Space: When External Clutter Reflects Your Internal Struggles and How to Overcome and Let Go
Summer is in full swing, flowers are in bloom, and as I look around my house, a shocking realization flows through me; my life is in disarray!
People always talk about spring cleaning and decluttering as if it is some kind of ritual. But I’ve never really been the type to stop everything and deep clean once a year. I try very hard, like most I presume, to keep a tidy environment all year long, but this time it’s different. So what happened this year?
I’ve been reflecting on this daily as I slowly tidy up, throw away trash and reorganize my home. The conclusion I came to is that my environment is truly a reflection of my inner and outer life over the last year. As a therapist, this is a concept that I have heard, taught and warned others about, but somehow forgot to consider for myself. This past year was a rocky road filled with highs and lows which are clearly reflected in my living spaces. It started off wonderfully: I was promoted; I started a new hobby and bought a new car. Then two members of my family became very ill and I started traveling to be with my father who was battling tongue cancer while balancing time with my family and still working full time. Thankfully, all turned out ok and everyone in my life is back in good health. The chaos has subdued and I now have the time, energy and desire to get things back in order.
I started with my kitchen. When I stood back, I could see that my kitchen counter had been reduced to a 1×1 foot work space. I had been doing all my meal preps and lunch packing on this one corner of my work space. The rest of the counter had been slowly gathering fruit bags that were never thrown out, half empty bags of nuts, garlic and candy. I found water bottles that had been washed, but never put away and a variety of other household items that would not normally have been stored in my kitchen.
With every item that I picked up I made a small connection. When I threw away the empty bags I remembered buying the fruit that was once in them, the memory of making sure my family had what they needed weekly came right back to me. The feeling of being overwhelmed, but also surviving resurfaced. Then the most amazing thing happened, when I threw out the bag the feelings left with it. A sense of relief replaced the overwhelm and gratitude pushed out the sense of survival. As I cleaned up from the past year I was able to gain the perspective that it had all happened and it was all in the past. Every piece of trash, every misplaced item and every piece of junk mail that I dealt with brought with it a memory of the last year. And each every time I put it where it belonged, a new feeling of satisfaction and completion moved in its place
I am still in the midst of organizing my home, and in turn, my own emotions and thoughts from this past year. But as Gretchen Rubin, the voice of a popular pod cast-Happier, touts “outer order brings inner peace.” I’ve always felt this was true, but this time I have proof.
It is never easy to revisit painful pieces of our lives, but when we do and when we clean it up, the relief that follows is remarkable. Every day I am tempted to ignore the mess that I’ve made over the last year and as I push through that feeling of avoidance it becomes easier and easier to move forward. I leave the past behind me and I move with conviction into the present. My invitation to all of you is to look around yourself and start to organize, process, and move forward. You will be amazed at what cleaning off a kitchen counter can do.
Maya Garcia is the manager for the Family Services Outpatient team at Jefferson Center for Mental Health. She am a Licensed Professional Counselor as well as a certified addiction counselor III. Maya has been working with youth and families in a clinical setting since 2004. She feels that in most cases people have their own answers, but just need help unearthing them.