In a particularly memorable episode of How I Met Your Mother, its protagonist Ted Mosby visualises people on the street physically carting around their emotional baggage—there are dinky briefcases, there are stuffed suitcases and, in Ted’s case, there is a vintage leather trunk labelled with his unacknowledged trauma over being left at the altar. While this speaks volumes of the show’s penchant for visual metaphors, it serves as a striking indicator of the emotional cargo we heft around as well—invisible to the naked eye, but dragging us down with its weight nonetheless. The only way to get rid of it is to devote time to decluttering your mental space, and with the festive season brimming on the horizon, it might be time to pair your annual spring cleaning with its emotional counterpart as well.
What is mental spring cleaning and why do we need it?
Vidhi Tamboli, counselling psychologist and co-founder of The Mood Space, likens the act of spring cleaning our mental space to the urge that we feel to declutter and clean our homes. “Research suggests that physically cleaning up messy spaces can lead to reduced levels of stress and anxiety. It stands to reason that engaging in both physical and emotional spring cleaning can help you set new goals for yourself in terms of how you prioritise different aspects of life,” she says.
Tamboli believes that engaging in spring cleaning for your mind is necessary because we often don’t notice the emotional baggage we are carrying from the past. She explains, “We are constantly consumed with multiple thoughts racing through our minds. With so many things to take care of, we often tend to push our mental needs to the backseat and end up giving them the least priority. Over time, the thoughts start piling up, leading to an increase in stress, anxiety, emotional outbursts and conflicts in relationships, among others.” Opting for internal spring cleaning, then, helps us recognise the emotional and mental clutter that we are clinging on to.
How to conduct spring cleaning for your emotional health
If you’ve been wondering whether you should indulge in mental spring cleaning, Tamboli would like to affirm that everyone is an ideal candidate, given the stresses of modern life. For those looking to pinpoint the areas of their mental health that could use some sprucing up, she suggests some guided prompts. “Actively listen to your body and mind—what does it need? How are you feeling emotionally? How often do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed? Or do you feel the need to get busy and shut down uncomfortable thoughts? Take a moment to notice this and find consistent ways to engage in self-care,” advises the Mumbai-based counselling psychologist. If you are hoping to get started, here’s her handy blueprint for inviting some peace and calm to your inner space:
Become aware of your emotions
We all feel anger, jealousy, frustrations and fear, among a host of other emotions. By becoming aware of these emotions swirling in your mind, you can allow yourself to feel them, accept them and eventually free yourself from them.
Try writing a letter
If you have difficulty verbalising what’s on your mind, writing a letter can serve as a form of journaling. By penning down the uncomfortable thoughts, worries and fears on paper, you can free them from within the confines of your mind.
Contrary to toxic positivity, gratitude helps you acknowledge current challenges while also being appreciative of other blessings of life. Gratitude can be practised in myriad ways in everyday life, whether it is penning a daily list of the things that you are thankful for or prioritising positive relationships and healthy influences in your life.
The root cause of mental clutter is a host of anxiety, whether anchored by worries of the past or a fixation on the future. In this scenario, it becomes essential to practise mindfulness by allowing yourself to stay grounded in the present moment.
Examine your inner space
Self-care can look different for everyone, and a healthy place to begin is to identify the missing piece. What are some self-care habits that you can engage in, whether that’s relaxation, reading, art or gardening? How can you declutter your mental space and prioritise what you need? Ask yourself which positive influences you need in your life and which are the toxic relationships that it might be time to let go of.
The payoff for setting time aside—whether on a daily, weekly or monthly basis—for decluttering your mental framework is that clean, organised feeling from within. “Think about how you’d feel when you clean up a messy corner of your room. Airing out the messy corners of your mind will usher in a sense of calm, growth and newfound inspiration to act on the things you need to and to get rid of things that are dragging you down,” she concludes.