Many of us suffer from physical clutter in our homes (myself included). It’s a modern housekeeping malady–we have tons of stuff, lying all over the place or squirreled away wherever it can fit. Most of us don’t even want to THINK about opening our storage closets or outbuildings anymore.
Clutter Isn’t Just Physical
But clutter doesn’t just manifest as piles of old receipts on the desk or stacks of old books on the floor. Clutter appears also in our heads. I find myself pushing aside various half-completed mental to-do lists and worries in order to try to complete a task; when I drive, I often start sorting through old guilt, things I forgot to do, and random ideas that pop to mind when, of course, I can’t stop to write them down.
Yep, my mind is a very cluttered place, just like many of the rooms in my house. Any horizontal space in my home is instantly a clutter magnet, and any free neurons in my brain are instantly taken up with endlessly processing and reprocessing worry and guilt. The worry is about tomorrow, and the guilt is about yesterday. Today is too full of failing to even process most of the time.
I would feel fairly safe in guessing that most of us suffer from cluttered minds. If you look at the increasing instances of car accidents, workplace problems, and relationship/family strife, it all seems to point to stress and overcrowded minds. Victims and perpetrators of car accidents alike say “I never saw him/her coming,” for instance. We were too mentally busy to properly look, perhaps, or to properly brake to avoid an accident. I’ve had more than a few near misses myself, so it’s easy for anybody to slip up. We also slip up in our emotional lives, hurting others and never even noticing because of the mental clutter we are tripping over.
Housekeeping for the Mind
Trying to de-junk our homes is one thing. It seems to be easier to separate out what is clearly too broken to save, too dirty to bother cleaning, and too old to matter when we are handling physical objects–well, at least for people who don’t hoard random stuff like Propel water bottles. (Not my finest moment, I assure you.)
But what about de-junking our brains? It’s much more difficult to discard old bad memories, especially when it seems like they hold a terrible truth about the kind of people we really are inside.
For example: Sometimes I lie awake at night thinking about the time I chucked a rock behind me during recess, trying to get back at some of the mean boys who were throwing rocks at my legs as I ran by. I hit another little girl instead, and I really hurt her leg–bruised it up something awful. And I never truly apologized. It’s been almost twenty years and I still think about it, because in those moments I was vengeful and selfish, and it led to carelessness that hurt someone else. And not only did I hurt someone, I never apologized. Is that the kind of person other people remember me as? Is that the kind of person I still am?
That’s one small example of my guilty mental clutter, among the many dirty and shameful memories I have stacked in my mental closet. It’s like I hoard these memories as a reminder that I am capable of being an awful person, just in case I ever get a little bit too full of myself, just a little too proud of the person I’ve become.
I have a feeling that a lot of us do this to ourselves, maybe not always to de-puff our egos, but for reasons of our own. Maybe we feel we’re not good enough to warrant being happy, or maybe we keep these old memories around as a way of keeping ourselves from backsliding back to where we were. In any case, these cluttered memories, those old worries, guilt, and fears, keep us from living the kind of life we want to live, just as the stacks and stacks of junk in my room right now are keeping me from living the kind of life I want for myself. We can make ourselves literally sick doing this kind of stuff to our minds–anxiety, depression, insomnia, and chronic stress don’t just appear from nowhere.
Courage to Pick up the Mental Broom
If we want uncluttered minds, we have to be willing to work to clear it. My very wise and very forgiving boyfriend has talked with me often about letting go of old guilt, even saying one time, “You know, you’re probably the only one who even remembers that this happened. If the people you hurt or offended that long ago have forgotten it, then why are you still holding on to it?”
I explained my point above, about my old actions possibly revealing an ugly truth about me, and he said, “Well, if you didn’t have any flaws and never made any mistakes, you’d be Jesus, and as awesome as Jesus is, I don’t know if I could date Him.” We laughed, but he was right. I needed to let go of old junk in my head; even if the “ugly truth” was true at the time, I can work now to fix that flaw in myself now. People can change, houses can be clean again, and minds can be clear.
I can’t say I sleep like a baby at night now, because I don’t. I still have old guilt and new worries swirling about on my mental floor. But at least I am now armed with a broom, and can sweep those problems out. You can be armed with a mental broom, too.