Now is a great time to take stock of what's working—and not working—in your life.
Around this time of year, you’re bound to see loads of articles about spring cleaning. And with the rise of Marie Kondo’s bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, decluttering has taken on a near-spiritual status. Spring is a time of rebirth, and just as we like to open the windows and give the house new light and new life, it is also the perfect time to break out the vacuum cleaner and clean out our emotional closets, where the dust-bunnies of fear and mildew of stagnation take hold.
Cleaning out a closet has its challenges: Do you keep the much-loved sweater that is stained? Should you hang on to the jeans you swear you’ll fit into again someday? So it comes as no surprise that facing what’s in your emotional closet will take a little courage, patience and dedication. But if you follow these steps, you’ll kick off spring with a well-organized and freshly polished state of mind.
Step 1: Take inventory
The first step for cleaning out anything—emotional or otherwise—is to take a look at everything and see what you have. When it comes to emotional housekeeping, this means making time to write down what’s going on in the main areas of your life: work, home, relationships and love. What’s working well in these areas? What would you like to change? You may want to think about the fundamental building blocks of well-being according to positive psychology (PERMA), and see how you stack up there. Do you feel you have enough meaning in your life? Do you lack a sense of achievement at work, and are you engaged with the world around you?
Step 2: Let go of what’s not working
Just as you’d throw away worn-out T-shirts if you were cleaning out your closet, now is the time to identify and remove (or try to minimize) whatever no longer works for you emotionally. This could be a grudge you’ve been holding on to for years, a job you dread going to every day, or even a friend who no longer shares your values. This step is hard. When it comes to at-home organization, this is usually where people give up and just shove everything back into the closet. Doing the emotional work of letting go of things you’ve held on to but that no longer serve you can be painful, but the more negativity you remove, the more space you’ll have for positivity.
Step 3: Give back what you can
When it comes to actual closet cleaning, you would donate what you no longer need to friends or a charity. While you probably can’t do this with emotional cleaning (you can’t recycle a job, can you?), this is a good time to think about what you can give back to the world. Do you have special talents or skills? Are you a good friend, parent or co-worker? Are you able to donate time, money or efforts to a good cause? We all possess certain emotional skills that others can benefit from, and giving back to others can positively impact your emotional well-being.
Step 4: Decide what you need more of
After you identify what you no longer want and can give to others, it’s time to assess what you need more of in your life. Refer back to what you wrote in Step 1. What steps can you take right now to get more of what you need? For example, if you wrote that you’d like more affection from your partner, now’s the time to ask for it. Or, if you realized you need more alone time, tell your family you’ll be taking an hour to relax solo. Take steps to improve your well-being by actively creating the life you want.
Step 5: Keep working at it
Organized people keep their closets (and the rest of their rooms) arranged neatly by doing little bits of tidying every day. Keep your emotional closet clean by doing frequent check-ins. One of the best ways to do this is by keeping a journal. Checking in daily with the notes you made in Step 1 is the equivalent of putting things away as soon as you get home every night. For some, daily check-ins might be a bit much, but resolve to keep tabs on your emotional state at least once a week. Doing so will help you stay on track—and will prevent having to do a deep-down clean-out in the future.
Dani DiPirro is an author, blogger and designer living in a suburb of Washington, D.C. In 2009, she launched the website PositivelyPresent.com with the intention of sharing her insights about living a positive and present life. Dani is the author of Stay Positive, The Positively Present Guide to Life and a variety of e-books. She is also the founder of Twenty3, a design studio focused on promoting positive, modern graphic design and illustration.