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On Cleaning, Decluttering, and Tidying Up My Space (and My Life)

When someone asks me what I usually do when I am sad or angry, I would say: “Cleaning the bathroom while crying my eyes out!”

It was a joke. Well, actually, half a joke.

I do find comfort in cleaning, decluttering, or tidying up anything I could think of (not only the bathroom!), especially when I am sad or angry.

I have no idea why I am actually drawn to these activities when I am feeling down. Maybe because the act of cleaning and decluttering provides me a false sense of control (I got this!). Or because it gives me the opportunity to still be sad (or angry) in a (more) positive way.

Or maybe, the act of throwing broken (or forgotten) things out–reminds me of how I can actually let go of things that no longer serve me and my growth in life. Maybe, the vigorous regimen of brushing, scrubbing and wiping dusty surfaces that follow makes me feel as if I were cleansing myself, emotionally (tears–my organic & natural cleansing agent). Maybe, the painstaking effort in organizing my stuff and tidying up my space is supposed to tell me that it can be done. That now, I can also reorganize my priorities and tidy-up my life (or, more frequently, heart).

I guess, cleaning, decluttering, and tidying up has been my go-to ritual to deal with my (hurt) feelings and my (chaotic) state of being.

***

On a conference I participated in a few years ago, I heard this idea about how we can change our internal state by changing our external environment.

The underlying premise is simple: it’s easier to change things externally than internally; however, when you change your external environment–this change can also affect your internal state.

OK, let’s take an example. Imagine yourself, going about your daily lives. One day, you’re going around in your most comfortable outfit (for me this means sleeveless blouse/shirt, jeans, and sneakers) and on another day, you’re going around doing more or less the same stuff–in a really neat or delicate outfit (maybe an evening gown, or a formal suit). Can you get a sense of how you might act, think, or feel differently–just because you’re wearing a different outfit?

Or imagine yourself working from a plain white cubicle, then working at a cafe with lovely jazz music at the background, and then working from a noisy pub. Do you think there’s a shift in your mental/emotional state as you’re changing your work station from one place to the next?

That is more or less the premise behind the ‘outside-in’ idea. When we have no idea on how to change our internal state of being, change our external environment to get closer to the feeling we’d like to feel.

If we want to feel happy, or healthy (or wealthy, creative, confident, anything, really) but we don’t know how to get there ‘internally’, change our external environment. Change the way we dress, the way we speak, the way we spend our time, our morning routine, our social circle, our daily habit, to feel that way. What kind of outfit change that could make us feel a bit more creative? What kind of morning routine that could make us feel a bit healthier? What kind of people we could surround ourselves with that could make us feel a bit happier?

In this case, cleaning, decluttering, and tidying-up has become my ‘outside-in’ way of changing my internal state by mirroring it through my external environment. When I am sad or angry or feeling down in general, I can’t think of ways to clean, declutter, or tidy up my mental/emotional state. And so, I clean, declutter, and tidy up the bathroom, the bedroom, my drawers… until I feel something shifting inside of me.

***

The absence of broken things and piles of rubbish makes me feel like a big burden has just been lifted out of my shoulders. Empty spaces, racks, or drawers, makes me feel like I can breathe deeply and effortlessly. Gleaming surfaces makes me feel light and in control.

As everything is being placed neatly, right where they are supposed to be placed, I feel as if I am also experiencing that. Everything eventually falls into place, and I am back to where I am supposed to be.

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