Declutter Your Soul

The accumulated weight of old ideas, toxic thoughts, and uncontrolled emotions can weigh us down
BY Mollie Donghia TIMEMarch 21, 2022 PRINT

You may have gotten quite successful at decluttering your home of the unneeded “things.” You’ve learned to hang on to what adds value and reduce the rest. If you have, you’ve likely seen the peace that results from owning less and having fewer items to manage.

But decluttering your home is only one way to create meaningful life change. I believe that, even more importantly, we need to declutter our souls as well.

“Clutter is not just physical stuff. It’s old ideas, toxic relationships, and bad habits. It’s anything that does not support your better self,” author Eleanor Brown wrote.

Have you ever stopped to consider what kind of mental clutter has built up inside of you? I’m talking about the clutter that weighs you down physically, emotionally, and spiritually and that gets in the way of doing what matters most.

For me, this clutter takes the form of anxiety and wanting control. For others, it may be feeling stressed, burdened by relationships, or generally overwhelmed with life.

We all desire to become the healthiest version of ourselves, but sometimes we’re buried under internal clutter that prevents us from pursuing meaningful habits and life changes.

Of course, I’m not a medical doctor and can only write from my own perspective and insights, but I would invite you to consider what mental clutter you carry with you as you continue to read this article. Think about what you can do today to create more healthy habits going forward.

The Clutter You Carry Inside

When we consider “clutter,” most of us can recognize the mental weight of a physical mess. We know what it feels like when we neglect to have a good organizational system.

We can each feel the unease that comes when piles of clothes haven’t made it to the closet, or kids’ toys are strewn through every room of the house. And although this stuff takes up mental space, I would argue that the clutter that takes up the most space in our lives is in our souls: regrets from the past, unhealthy relationships, comparing ourselves to others, stories we tell ourselves to cope with hardship, judgments from others that make us feel defeated, unregulated emotions that erupt from the stresses of life, and feeling overwhelmed and stressed from having too many tasks.

Over the past several years that I’ve struggled with my own mental clutter, I’ve seen valuable ways to combat these emotions. These approaches have allowed me to dig deeper and identify what this clutter is, where it’s coming from, and healthy ways to move forward on my journey.

Ways to Declutter Your Soul

Make time to be still

A habit I’ve been diligent to keep for the past few years is my morning quiet time. I’ve realized how important it is to have this hour of quietness to myself before the day begins. It allows me to start my day off with a clear focus as I sit and pray, read, and prepare myself for the day ahead.

Finding that time of day without distractions in order to meditate, pray, journal, or even take a break and relax is one of the healthiest ways I’ve found to clear mental clutter. Quiet time lowers your blood pressure, decreases your heart rate, and increases your awareness of what matters most.

Limit social media

Too much consumption of social media can create feelings of comparison and self-doubt, leaving us discontent with who we are or what we have. Taking an occasional break from social media is a way to take a healthy step back from passively watching the lives of others.

I’ve taken regular breaks from Instagram every few months, and this allows me to have more realistic expectations with goals, relationships, motherhood, and other important areas of life.

If social media causes you to compare yourself to others in an unhealthy way or leaves you feeling defeated after scrolling, I would encourage you to take a break for a time and consider who you follow.

Decide once

It’s been estimated that the average adult makes more than 35,000 decisions each day. Decision fatigue can cause stress and anxiety as we waffle back and forth trying to make the perfect choice.

Something I’m still learning, but have made great strides in, is this: When you make a decision, stick with it. An okay decision with firm resolve is much more powerful than a great decision that you’re wishy-washy about. Just decide and don’t look back, unless the facts on the ground change significantly.

Set boundaries

When we allow unhealthy relationships, busy schedules, or negative thoughts to weigh us down, we’re left exhausted. Learn to say “no,” even to good opportunities, so that you can be free to say “yes” to things that are truly important.

Leaving margin in our weeks has been one of the most helpful habits that we’ve found in this full season of life. We’ve committed to less, but still have plenty of space to serve in ways that matter.

Set up an emotional boundary from the relationships that cause stress or anxiety. Surround yourself with a base of friends and family that add encouragement to your life and give you strength to be there for friends in a more needy season.

Ask for help

We can’t do everything and expect to do everything well. We each have our limitations and the capacity to only take on so much.

Humans thrive when we live in communities with one another. When we ask for help from people we trust (a spouse, family member, coworker, or friend), we not only allow that person to carry some of our burden, but it also allows us to be more generous, as we see how beneficial help from others can be.

Start small

Mike and I have learned (sometimes the hard way) that when we want to make a life change, starting small is the best course of action. Starting small skips over the need for a perfect plan, because it enables you to learn as you go.

For example, you want to start exercising on a regular basis, but have never stuck with a plan for more than a few weeks. When you start small, you make the habit too easy not to do. Instead of aiming to run five miles per day or do a workout so strenuous that it leaves you completely exhausted, start much smaller. I’m talking embarrassingly small: Run for one minute on day one, two minutes on day two, three minutes on day three, and so on, until the habit becomes attainable, realistic, and even enjoyable.

Don’t set out to make gigantic lifestyle changes. Start with a few healthy choices and master those by making them so easy that you can’t not do them. Find what you can stick with in the long term, and I guarantee that you’ll have much more success.

This article was originally published on

Mollie (and her husband, Mike) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
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