When I tackled the Junk in my Emotional Closet, I found my Voice.


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Every time we sit on our feelings or when we fail to say what’s bothering us, those unexpressed emotions accumulate like piles of clothing that no longer fit. Or like papers we no longer need.

The bigger the piles get, the messier life becomes.

“I never seem to get to it!” Jane bemoaned, as she checked into group. Cleaning out the garage has been on her action list for months along with organizing her office, sorting her kitchen drawers, and going through her closets.

She isn’t alone.

In addition to life goals, almost everyone in my coaching program needs decluttering. Whether it’s possessions inherited from dear ones who have passed away, or a backlog from a difficult time, or simply not being able to keep up with the busyness of life.

But physical clutter is not the only thing I’ve noticed.

Like we accumulate physical clutter, we also accumulate emotional clutter.

I recently moved in with my boyfriend and at first, everything was great. A clutter-free environment. But before long, it started: those little, unspoken annoyances. That sound he makes when he eats. How he leaves his clothes in a pile. And every morning, do we have to recap how we slept the night before?

Then there are the big things.

How I need space after work, but because he’s always so happy to see me, I don’t know how to ask for it. The way we sometimes talk past each other. Needing things from him that I’m not even clear about myself and feeling angry at him anyway.

When these feelings come up, I find myself biting my tongue. I worry I’ll come across as harsh or judgmental or maybe even wrong.

But over time, I’ve noticed that when I’m not being true to myself—expressing what I really think—well, I just feel sad. When I withhold my feelings, I start to withdraw from the relationship. I participate less and I end up feeling isolated and alone.

To avoid becoming an emotional hoarder we have to give voice to what matters.

I’m not suggesting we say whatever flashes into our minds, there is something to be said for discernment. Although, I realize I’d rather be wrong and say I’m sorry, than say nothing at all. I’d rather preface what I have to say with a preemptive apology, than sit on my feelings.

When we fail to speak up about dysfunctional dynamics in a friendship, or to the guy at work who makes off-tone jokes, or a family member who makes hurtful judgments, feelings pile up like dusty memorabilia forgotten in an attic.

Out of sight, out of mind things pile up. And over time, life begins to feel overwhelming and maybe even a little hopeless.

In her book Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life, Julie Morgenstern says in her experience as an organizing expert, people who are ready to get organized have a clear vision of what they want instead.

They know what’s on the other side of the mess.

Morgenstern also wisely concludes when you don’t know exactly where you are going or what you want (even though where you are isn’t working), organizing isn’t enough.”

Physical clutter is easy to see. Emotional clutter can be a bit trickier. So how do we start the process of tackling it?

A simple way to see what’s stuffed in your emotional closet is to create a Tolerations List. List everything you can think of that you’re tolerating. Everything! From a squeaky door to a friendship that’s gone sour, from a burnt-out lightbulb to bills you can’t pay.

Next, pick something off the list.

Maybe it’s a family situation, money issues, or a loss. Think of it as choosing an old box to go through. Open it up. Look inside. Spend time with it. Who’s involved? What’s happening? How do you feel? What emotions have you been hoarding? Sadness? Anger? Fear?

And most important, what do you want?

Once we’ve explored our emotional boxes and know what we want, we’re more likely to speak up the next time we’re confronted with a similar situation. Instead of biting our tongues or walking away, chances are good we’ll stand and address the issue.

There’s no guarantee we’ll get what we want, but we’re guaranteed to keep getting what we’ve been getting if we don’t say anything.

And maybe, just maybe, if we do say something, things will change.

In the end, clutter serves a purpose.

It helps us stay where we are and if that’s what we need right now, okay. But when we’ve had enough, when we’re ready to move forward, when we know what we want to move toward, that emotional clutter is easily tidied away.

There’s no better day than today to open the closet, clear the clutter, and move on with our lives.


Author: Anna Celestino
Image: Bench Accounting/Unsplash
Editor: Kenni Linden
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis


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Anna Francesca Celestino Jan 2, 2018 10:57pm

Leontien, thanks so much for your thoughts on the tolerations list. I'm always amazed at how such a simple thing can have such a big affect. I hope your new year is clutter free!

Leontien Reedijk Dec 19, 2017 7:16pm

I love that idea of a tolerations list! Such a simple but powerful tool. I am always in for it to look at things from a different perspective, take a little roundabout way and sneak a peek from another angle. Our tolerations (and irritations) are great gauges to see where we’re at, emotionally. A wonderful article, Anna, thank you!

Tahya Love Dec 19, 2017 12:45am

Your writing always inspires me ~ thank you Anna!

The Shift System Dec 18, 2017 8:35pm

Thanks Barbara Cecil. Much appreciated.

The Shift System Dec 18, 2017 8:34pm

Yes, where do you want to go? Setting our course fuels the change. Thanks for emphasizing that point Betty Laino Corral.

The Shift System Dec 18, 2017 8:25pm

Congrats on breaking out of the emotional box, Cathy Stierhoff. There's such freedom in seeing what we've been holding on to and consequently, what's been holding us back. Well done!

The Shift System Dec 18, 2017 8:23pm

Yes, it's amazing how much we tolerate without even realizing it. Such an energy drain. Kudos for taking the time to flush that list out!!!

The Shift System Dec 18, 2017 8:22pm

Agreed! Honing in on our authentic selves. So inciteful, Bev. Thanks.

Barbara Cecil Dec 18, 2017 4:21am

Fresh thinking, solid wisdom, practical advice. Thank you, Anna.

Betty Laino Corral Dec 17, 2017 6:05pm

Wonderful piece dear Anna and timely indeed! The metaphor of the closet is so relateable for all of us. So who is ready to step into the emotional closet so to speak? Merely organizing is not enough you have to know where you want to go-love that! That seems to be the missing piece in all of this organizing frenzy that is currently out there. You can organize until the cows come home but if you don't have an idea where you want to go it can become just a futile exercise. Time to do to work! Thank you!

Cathy Stierhoff Dec 17, 2017 5:36pm

Whew! I just went through an “emotional box”. Such a simple and powerful way to clear the clutter. I am going to have a busy end-of-year!

Debra Perry Cohen Dec 17, 2017 5:54am

Such a wonderful and timely article, Anna! At the end of this crazy and tumultuous year, we all need help to focus on honing in on what we need to do individually and collectively. How can we work on the outside and not from the inside and expect change or movement forward? I love the Tolerance List and the more I thought about it and opened up, the longer the tolerance list became!

Bev Petow Dec 17, 2017 3:07am

And this seems to be the perfect time of year when winter slows down the acitivity levels, days are short, evenings long, to tidy up both the emoitional and physical portions of our lives, My life! Thank you, Anna for the inspiration. Cleaning up and letting go of "stuff", can be seen as being painful but really it's about being concise with ones desires and energy, honing in on our authenitc selves. Perfect inspiration for my week!

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Anna Celestino

Anna Celestino is a highly intuitive coach, emotional healer, author, and creator of The Shift System: Shortcuts to a Life You Love. She spent years studying consciousness and now applies her experience to help busy people live more authentic lives. Her latest 10 Minute Tool is The Emotional Workout, six simple questions to cut through emotional roadblocks and get to supportive relationships, fulfilling work and a more meaningful life faster. Download your free copy of TEW now.