Minimalism for the heart: what to do with emotional clutter
On any given day I’m a lot of things… aren't we all? I'm a mama of two, raspberry lover, reading fort maker, procrastinator, meaningful moment seeker, introvert, wife, chef-in-progress, sister, keeper of the home, writer, and nap taker—to name a few. Also, I'm a minimalist.
Not quite the kind that keeps an empty nightstand or boasts one plate and fork per person in the cupboards. (We'd wind up eating with our hands off paper plates, for sure.) But the kind of minimalist who breathes easier when the counters are cleared and socks in the drawers have some wiggle room. The kind who (hopefully) gazes at my to-do list or my son's bedroom packed to the brim and asks myself What matters most? then tries my hardest to let go of what doesn't—overflowing Lego bins included.
Letting go, I’ve decided, is an acquired skill. At least, it has been for me. It took years of decluttering before I finally bundled up my childhood collection of teddy bears to be loved by someone new. And it's taken me even longer to prune down my office supplies and note card stash. But I take on the title of minimalist all the same.
Still, there is always more breathing room to be had. And it’s not always physical clutter that’s closing in. Sure, the stack of unread mail grows alongside the unruly bins of spices in the pantry—I’m a procrastinator and chef-in-progress, after all.
But lately the weight of disappointment, frustration, and (I’m embarrassed to admit) resentment has been piling on. With a finicky body and the unpredictable disorder causing it, summer presents its own challenges that I somehow forget every year. The lazy mornings and read-a-thons are wonderful, yes, but there are also long, noisy days without the downtime or nap my body relies on. With the recent loss of my driver’s license, swimming lessons and library trips are only a wish. And the camping trips—they remain a family adventure we have yet to figure out around my limitations and wheelchair. So my family goes, I stay.
No matter how long you spend on the bright side of things, it seems dashed dreams and discouragement can clutter the heart just as easy as the accumulation of trinkets and Tupperware can clutter the home. I don’t think it’s always very apparent—that our hearts have become jumbled. I think it’s far easier to point fingers at an uncooperative body, a rough patch in a relationship, or the less-than-desirable stroganoff that didn’t even make it to the dinner table than to accept that our own suffocating inner battles are to blame.
But in order to find peace (and sanity) again, I know I need to let go of all the junk it’s buried beneath. Because of all things, the heart needs space for what matters most too.
Resentment doesn’t leave much room for compassion. Jealousy and judgement can devour love quicker than a flame eats up a pile of kindling. Shame and doubt can muddle all hope of progress and peace until that’s all you can feel.
At times like these when my heart feels crowded and heavy, the minimalist in me wants to focus in on the unwanted, pack it in a box, and send it off to be donated. But raw emotions aren’t as easy to sort as clothes crammed in a closet. Plus, if my decluttering sessions are any kind of indicator, the moment I try to let go of something is the moment my grip seems to become impossible to loosen—because there’s always a reason to hold on a little while longer.
So how do you part ways with despair, annoyance, or bitterness? How do you free yourself from the mess of remorse, envy, or a plain old bad attitude? How do you release the death grip and just let it go?
I can’t say I’ve got it perfectly figured out yet, but for now I offer this: Forget about letting go and instead start obsessively caring about what you accumulate.
When what's on your heart is burdensome and unforgiving, reach for something better. Never mind the calamities of yesterday or the unfairness of it all, simply decide you want more gratitude or joy or calm in your heart and go after it. Stretch as hard and far as you need until goodness is within your grasp then start collecting.
Gather in hope that today there is far more adventure than adversity that awaits you. Fill up on love—for your friend who sometimes falls short… for your family who sometimes asks for more than you can give… for your home (or pantry) that sometimes isn’t as tidy as you’d like it… for your life that sometimes gives you more than you bargained for. Notice a kind word, savor everyday conveniences, acknowledge your own talents. Heap together happiness, piece by piece.
I wish I could tell you I’ve rid my heart of disarray forever. But a minimalist never retires. Clutter, no matter its shape or size, has a way of sneaking in through the cracks. There’s plenty more chaos that lingers, I assure you. Of all the titles I claim, I am undeniably human.
Which means that among the summer frenzy and missed family adventures, I’ll keep my efforts focused on gathering up the good. I hope you’ll do the same.
Start obsessively caring about what you accumulate in that heart of yours and I'm here to say that soon enough you won’t be so worried about the guilt or grudges, fear or frustrations. You let it all go the moment you decided to reach for something else.