Spark Joy: Declutter Your Mind

Queen of Declutter, Marie Kondo, suggests you hold up an item and ask yourself: Does this spark joy? If the answer is yes, keep it. Otherwise, toss or donate it. This works just as well for things that take up space in our heads.

“Do we have to hang that in here? It’s scaring the kids,” my wife said, pointing to the picture of my great-grandfather I’d recently hung on the dining room wall.

“He’s family,” I protested.

“He’s frightening,” she argued. “We have limited wall space. Can’t we hang something that makes both of us happy?”

Taken in 1889, the photo shows a nine-year-old boy with an arm missing due to a farming accident. His eyes look fierce, likely pissed off about that missing limb. Sadly, I never knew him. He died decades before I was born.

It Sparks the Opposite of Joy

While I love history, antiques, photography, and genealogy, the only emotion the photo sparked in me was sadness. The boy lost his arm working, something he was required to do at a very young age. He looks sad in the picture. Looking at the picture, I agreed with my wife: it did not spark joy.

So Why Are You Holding Onto It?

I asked myself why I wanted that photo to have such a prominent spot on the wall. I loved that the photo represented family, but not what it made me feel. My mom loved her grandfather. I loved my mom. My mom died last year. Missing my mom, the photo of her grandfather was a link to her.

We are all driven by invisible forces until we become conscious of those forces. Then, we have a choice to make: continue as we were, or forge a new path.

Decluttering our minds

Our minds have finite capacity just like our walls, basements, attics, etc. When we fill our minds with garbage, we don’t leave space for treasures. When we collect mental clutter, we run out of room for the things that bring us joy.

Do a quick inventory to see if clutter is taking up space in your head. Do you collect–

  • anger/hatred?
  • resentment/bitterness?
  • fear?
  • regret/shame?

To liberate yourselves from these space-stealers, I offer three suggestions:

Forgive others

Perhaps easier said than done, but this is critical to mental wellness. For nearly twenty years, I held resentment against another person who had long since forgotten that one situation that I could not let go of. It dawned on me that I, alone, suffered from that memory. Instead of calling the person to remind her of how she “did me wrong” so I could then “magnanimously” forgive her, I just forgave her. It didn’t change her. She hadn’t thought about that situation ever in the last twenty years. But forgiving her changed me and freed up room in my head for good memories.

Forgive yourself

Harder than forgiving others is learning to forgive ourselves. As a former counselor, I knew better. Even so, I hoarded years of memories that reminded me of my personal failures. As part of forgiving myself, I learned to push back against shame and regret by saying aloud, “I am no longer the person I was when I made that mistake. I’ve grown. That person doesn’t live here any longer.” Ironically, not forgiving ourselves is nothing more than a trap we bait and set for ourselves. It doesn’t have to be.

Start a new collection

While my dining room used to be a shrine of the dead, now it’s a gallery of the people I most treasure. I’ve removed photos that tend to keep me stuck in the ancient past, replacing them with photos representing recent joys.

“Letting go of the past means opening up to the future.”  ~ Tamara Lechne

We can’t just kick out old thoughts and mental baggage, we must replace them as well, with things that are positive, helpful, and useful to the lives we want to live today–and hope to live in the future. Replace–

  • Resentment, anger, and bitterness about another person with forgiveness and prayers for that person
  • Regret and shame for what was with gratitude for what is

As a final thought, imagine having complete amnesia. [I know this is rare but it happens on daytime soap operas twice a week]. Your memories are blank. You now have the opportunity to decide what hangs on the walls of your mind from this moment on. Wouldn’t you choose to be joyful, positive, grateful, generous, kind, forgiving, and confident? Here’s the best part: you don’t have to experience amnesia to make those same choices today.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ken Grant says:

    In the words of Frank Sinatra…”Regrets, I’ve had a few.” The rest of that says, “but, then again, too few to mention.” That is not exactly where I am. I’ve had a bunch, but still don’t want to dwell on them so I don’t mention them. I’m not a psychologist nor a theologian, but I do know that forgiveness is a healthy thing to do and I do mostly try. Seems that I tend to forget what others have done to me more than I forget what I have done to myself or others. Decluttering my mind is difficult, but I lean on the philosophy of replacing a bad habit with a good one as the best way to assure the bad ones stay away. The more I build good feelings, the deeper I can bury the old regrets. Maybe that is why I write and tell my stories, why I work with local high schoolers to mentor and life coach, and why I dote on my family. Cramming good stuff into my brain may not help declutter it, but it does help hide the bad stuff…most of the time.

    1. Scott Carbonara says:

      Hi Ken. I can always count on you to add value. My dear friend, Wes, told me long ago to pray harder for my enemies than my friends. It’s hard to stay enemies with one you wish to uplift. And likewise, cramming in positive experiences, rewarding relationships, and engaging memories does more to push out the clutter than anything else I know. Thanks again!

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