Let me preface this by saying that I am far from a neat-freak, nor am I someone who enjoys cleaning.
My mother is the Little Red Hen of our family. The rest of us are more like the lazy friends who don’t get to share in the delicious bread at the end of the story. However, with the arrival of spring and long days of beautiful weather, I find myself wanting to clean the house.
I mean this both literally and metaphorically.
I’ve found myself cleaning out old clothes and toys and trying to clear the clutter from the interior of my home. I’ve been cleaning windows, opening them to let in the light and fresh air. I’ve given everything a good scrubbing, and I find myself exhausted, but with a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
At the same time, I’ve been cleaning house on my own interior.
I’ve been getting rid of unwanted thoughts, negative perceptions, old patterns of behaviors and unhealthy relationships. I’ve been sorting through my life to clear the clutter.
At the end of the day, I need my inner life to reflect my true priorities.
How do we discover our true priorities?
All we have to do is look at how we spend our time and where we focus our thoughts. We all have the same amount of hours in the day, and we make choices about how to spend those hours. Even going to work has intention, because most of us wouldn’t choose that but for our desire to have shelter, to support our families and to provide the funds by which we live.
What we do outside of our obligatory time at work also shows what we value. As adults, we are able to choose the activities that comprise our lives, and what we choose (as well as what we don’t) tells us a lot about what we value. I know many parents spent three quarters of the year on the sidelines of some sports field not because they enjoyed being out of doors in all weather, but because they value supporting their children in their endeavors.
When we choose one activity over another, we are shouting to the world that we value this and not that.
After we’ve examined our lives to clarify how we’re choosing to spend our time, we can begin to identify the patterns of behavior that don’t line up with what we claim to value.
If we say that we value time with our family, but don’t make the time to spend with them, then our values and behaviors are incongruent. This will create cognitive dissonance and leave us feeling out of sorts. To sort out these feelings and return to a sense of harmony, we need to either decide that we do not actually value time with family, or we will need to clear time in our schedule to ensure we have adequate family time.
Spring cleaning our outer lives is tough. Dusting, vacuuming, sorting and organizing—all of these actions take time and energy that are often in short supply. Spring cleaning our inner lives can be equally, if not more, time consuming and challenging.
Here are a few ways I’ve found that we can spring clean our inner lives:
1. Make time for mindful living.
I will often take long walks, pushing my small children in their stroller. When I do this, I try not to spend time planning my grocery list or thinking of problems in my life. Instead, I point out different colors in our environment and often stop to hand my children a leaf or a flower and talk about the textures, colors and smells. We focus on opening our senses and enjoy the walk by being fully present in it.
2. Mindful living is a practice that can extend into all areas of our lives.
Being fully present strengthens our relationships and helps us prioritize our values. We can cook, clean, care for our children and work mindfully. By focusing on the here and now, we can clear out the clutter of worry and stress about the future.
Our lives often move along at a near-frantic pace, and meditation helps us slow down long enough to simply exist within our own bodies without being overrun by thoughts. I don’t meditate nearly often enough, and I prefer guided meditations and mindful meditations. There are several free podcasts and apps that offer guided meditations. One of my favorites lasts only eight minutes and can be fit into the busiest of days.
4. Utilize positive affirmations.
My focus in meditation has been the mantra, “I am not broken. I am transforming.” I also use the affirmation, “I am enough.”
5. Begin (or continue) a yoga practice.
I have recently rediscovered my love for yoga. I took a yoga class in college, many years ago. My instructor taught us Iyengar yoga, and had such joy and enthusiasm for sharing the practice with us. It was a positive experience for me, and I found myself returning to the practice in my mid-20s. Now I have found a weekly class in addition to my home practice, and it helps center me.
6. Create quiet spaces in our family routines.
Perhaps we can enforce a screen-free time for reading, meditation or resting, or sit down as a family for meals.
7. Take time to be outdoors.
Taking mindful walks or just spending time outside can help de-clutter our lives. There is something so settling about spending time in nature. A breath of fresh air and a little sunshine can help restore our spirits and bring a sense of calm to our lives.
8. Donate an item each time we purchase a new one.
Rather than allowing our possessions to quickly take over our space, we can choose to give something away and make room for something new. By keeping our environments clear of additional clutter, we can help keep our inner lives free of clutter as well.
9. Focus on gratitude.
When we count our blessings each day, we’re more likely to be content in our lives rather than dissatisfied. Gratitude helps us realize that what we have is enough and that we are blessed in so many ways. Difficult days make gratitude a challenge, but these days are the ones where it’s most important to find something we’re thankful for.
10. Make time to laugh daily.
I have one simple parenting goal that stands above the rest. I try to make my children laugh at least once a day.
11. Nurture the relationships in our lives that nurture us.
We need to stop giving our time to the relationships that drain us. Instead, we can focus on building up the relationships where we are loved and supported.
12. Commit our time only to the essentials.
This goes back to examining our priorities. Rather than choosing to overwhelm ourselves with obligations, we can commit to less activity and participate in the activities we choose more fully because we have the time and energy to put into them.
As I continue to work to organize my home (and next, my car), I know I will also continue to work on cleaning up my inner life. I’ve been experiencing a sense of calm as I take on this task. When negative thoughts arise, I examine them and then use my positive affirmations. I strive to be grateful every day for what I have and to live mindfully.
I know that our minds and our very lives can become disordered, but we can regularly take the time to clean house and return to a sense of peace.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Assistant Editor: Ellie Cleary / Editor: Toby Israel