At any moment in time, the state of our mental health depends on any number of simple and complicated internal and external factors. Stress is a major source of and contributor to that state of mental health.
Whether mental or physical, clutter creates stress. And as we discussed in my prior blog post, the last thing we need, in higher education or as diverse individuals, is additional stress. In fact, physical clutter can actually create a sort of “mental clutter.”
According to many psychologists, clutter makes it more difficult to relax, distracts our attention and focus from more important areas, frustrates us and makes us anxious by signaling us that our work is never done.
With that in mind, last year I created the EmBODY WELL #SpringRelease Challenge to run during the month of March. Running it again this year, during every day of the month, I challenge my clients and students to release something. Anything. A person, place, thing, word, thought, way of thinking, limiting belief or assumption, etc.
My personal experience last year with #SpringRelease was incredible. Not only did I feel a sense of relief whenever I released something, but it also gave me a huge feeling of accomplishment. I felt more productive and energized with each thing I released.
With physical clutter, admittedly, I can be a bit Type A. When there is a lot of clutter or things are not in a certain order in my surroundings, it “makes me crazy.”
Even if you are not as Type A as I am, you will still appreciate the difference you can feel when trashing, giving away or recycling something that you no longer need, want or use.
Studies have shown that clutter can adversely affect performance. The releasing of clutter, therefore, can actually lead to increased performance levels. The feeling we experience is a powerful combination of the positive mental effects of a less stressful physical environment and the positive feelings associated with checking off an item on a to-do list! We feel a sense of euphoria that creates energy and encourages us to accomplish more.
Releasing even the smallest thing daily can create momentum that we can build on.
You may think this sounds like “spring cleaning.” I have done spring cleaning, but the intentional process of a small daily #SpringRelease looks and feels very different.
First, the concept of small daily releases is less intimidating, which makes it easier to start and do.
Second, small daily releases over a period of time are more likely to create a sustainable change in mindset, in this case a habit of releasing things.
For me, every consecutive day that I released something, the act of releasing became less stressful and more gratifying. By the end of the month, I am actually looking forward to and looking for more things I can release. Last year, even after ending the challenge on March 31, I kept looking for opportunities to release. This was because not only had it become easier for me to do, I felt great doing it.
Another difference from traditional “spring cleaning” is that #SpringRelease includes mental clutter. Being intentional about releasing a certain way of thinking or speaking that is negative or harmful to you or others can be very freeing. And, with the focus on “just one day” and “just one thing” to start, you can slowly build a degree of self-awareness that can be extremely beneficial to your overall emotional intelligence.
Here are a few ideas to support your #SpringRelease:
1) Anything counts. Don’t make it a chore! As I mentioned, #SpringRelease is not about creating a big self-transformational project or making our spaces obsessively, compulsively neat. It is about taking small steps to open space in our minds for creativity and productivity. Think of #SpringRelease as supporting the release of things that do not serve to eventually make room for things we deserve.
2) Find your “clutter zones.” These are the places that we put things on hold until we “get to them.” Mine? My garage, car trunk and office. I find that I put items that I want out of sight and out of mind in these places. However, as long as these items are still around, they occupy a part of our brains, consciously or subconsciously. Not only do they occupy a part of our brains, they also can be a source of guilt and embarrassment. (I never wanted to get help to load anything into my car because my car trunk was a mess.) Also, when releasing in clutter zones, I am easily and quickly encouraged to release more; it naturally cascades into full-on spring cleaning and clearing.
3) Encourage yourself! Even though the feeling of accomplishment alone can be sufficient reward for me, if you need a little extra boost, every time you release something successfully, give yourself a mini-reward. Visually check it off on the calendar or make a contribution to a fund that you can spend at the end of the month.
4) Make it social! Enlist the support and encouragement of friends! Challenge friends to see who can release the most!
5) Learn from your clutter. Melva Green, co-author of Breathing Room and resident psychiatrist from Hoarders, says our clutter can teach us lessons. Without judgement, take note of the patterns in those things you want to, don’t want to, can or cannot release. (Breathing Room: Open Your Heart by Decluttering Your Home by Lauren Rosenfeld and Melva Green shares detailed, systematic processes and solutions for decluttering your home and your life.)
Remember, all of us can benefit from a little decluttering. Although the #SpringRelease Challenge occurs every March, feel free to do it whenever you feel the need. With #SpringRelease, take daily steps to find your way through the mental and physical clutter to improved mental health.
Tanya Leake is a certified health coach, wellness presenter and group fitness and dance instructor based in Atlanta. Her column appears in Diverse every other week.