How Recycling a Stack of Papers Showed Me the Importance of Decluttering My Life

The box of binders sat in my bedroom for 7 months. This was 7 months too long.  When I went in and resigned from my teaching position back in July, I packed up my binders of personal resources and curriculum I had developed for lessons and there they remained, untouched, unopened for 7 months.  Even though that box was a remnant of unhealthy me, something that (unfortunately) didn’t better my life, and something that wasn’t going to fulfill anything in my future journey, I couldn’t seem to let it go.  So, there it sat, taking up space in my room, space in my life, cluttering areas it didn’t deserve to clutter anymore.  Yet, I could never seem to just let it go.  Take it out of my life to free that space, to free me. 

This past Saturday that stack of papers went into the recycling, freeing the binders to hold something new.    It is interesting how we cling so tightly to moments and memories from the past, grasping at an attempt to return a situation or relationship to its infancy, hoping it can still transform us.  Hoping we can change the outcome for the better and for our favor, we fail to acknowledge the truth:  it is part of our past for a reason. It no longer gives us growth.  If it doesn’t better your life, doesn’t help you grow, why do you still choose to hold onto it?   Declutter the binders in your life.

You’ve heard the phrase that our hearts can be our worst enemy, longing for and desiring what or who it pleases with no regard to the life it potentially destroys.  But our minds can be just as worse, if not more brutal of an adversary, holding our thoughts hostage to the “what ifs” and “if onlys”, keeping us from growth.  Its mission is to keep us from our healthiest selves.  The only way to truly be free in the present is to release what you are holding hostage in your life.  My release of teaching materials was a ripple effect in my life, pushing me forward in other areas I didn’t realize were important to simplify in order to live my healthiest, happiest, fittest life. 

Sometimes you must let go of memories, expectations, and the comfort of convenience so you can be free to embrace the present you, the one learning to thrive in a world that tries to tear you down. You must start with decluttering your life.

Declutter your space:

Growing up I was the typical kid who developed an obsessive passion about something, pursuing every opportunity to add a new item to my collection: my stuffed animal gorilla collection.  You read that correctly.  Gorillas.  Not just the primates including monkeys or orangutans.  Gorillas.  And gorillas only.  There’s a difference.  As a kid, I made everyone aware of that.  My first was Midnight and I’m pretty sure he was a toy from PetSmart, but he was what started my desire to collect more and more, all cluttering up space in my room.  And trust me when you get over 50 stuffed animals in your room, there isn’t room for much else.  When I went off to college, I tried to get rid of them, my mom had a hard time accepting that. Maybe it was because they used to hold such a huge part of my life.  Even though they were no longer part of my room décor. They sat in the attic, taking up space, collecting dust.  I finally convinced her to only keep a few.  I’d rather my collection bring joy to someone else’s life than collect dust in the corner, forgotten by me. They no longer filled a spot in my life, why hold onto them?

 In order to thrive and grow in the present, it is necessary to physically declutter the living space. Create room.  When I finally released my grip on my teaching resources and physically recycled the papers I no longer needed, the feeling of relief that flooded me was refreshing.  I felt hope and optimism for something new to arrive in my life. Physically removing items from your life that no longer benefit it helps center you and clear your mind, preparing you for something new.

Declutter your schedule:

I absolutely love to plan out my days…by the hour…sometimes the minutes. LOVE LOVE LOVE it!  But sometimes if I noticed an hour where I didn’t have anything, an overwhelming sense of guilt would crash into me.  I felt ashamed if my schedule for the day wasn’t fully packed.  Why do we allow ourselves to be controlled by our schedule, consuming our thoughts, our actions, our interactions with others?  We don’t give ourselves permission to breath, to rest, to refuel, to take care of ourselves.  We must stay busy because being busy is what makes us seem important, worthy, impressive, well-rounded.  You can still be all those things and declutter your schedule.  I used to be that person, filling up every minute of my day with something, it became too exhausting.  It wasn’t allowing growth.  It wasn’t allowing me to live my healthiest and happiest.  It wasn’t allowing me to be free.  I was holding myself accountable to expectations that weren’t benefiting my life.  So, I decluttered my schedule.  I looked at all the stuff I was filling it with and removed what was necessary.  If something in your schedule doesn’t help you live your best life, why is it still there?  Find ways to remove the excess in your schedule.  It is one area we tend to not think has any impact on our mental health, when in fact, it can be a large influencer on our depression, anxiety, and stress.  You deserve better than being held captive to the clock. 

Declutter your relationships: 

 So, this is always the hardest area to declutter and sometimes the messiest.  I think it’s because I fear letting go of how something used to be that I’m not willing to put in the effort to let go and change when it is time for the relationship to dissipate some, if not completely.  I am also a 6 on the Enneagram which fits my loyal personality to a “T”.  I feel like I let people down or abandon them if I choose to address what needs to be examined when it comes to changing that dynamic.  When I considered leaving my teaching career in the middle of the last school year, I couldn’t because I felt too loyal to the position, to my students.  I stayed loyal at the expense of my own health. As a result, it affected my ability to teach them well, to care for them well, to provide grace when needed.   You should never stay in a relationship in your life because you feel like you must, because you feel like you owe them. Don’t stay at the expense of your own health.  It doesn’t just hurt your mindset and health, it is detrimental to others.

Choosing to keep the clutter of relationships you know need to change only hinders your growth in overall wellness, providing the opportunity for past unhealthy habits to be resurrected and anxiety and stress to infiltrate your weakness. I’ve worked my butt off (literally and figuratively) over the past 7 months, but this is still one area that is keeping me from being 100% healthy.  A friend lovingly put it this way, “When you started this you were 98% unhealthy and 2% healthy.  You’ve flipped that.  You’ve worked so hard to get healthy and now you are 98% healthy, but you are letting this last 2% be in control.”   Some relationships are only meant to serve a certain role in your journey, and when they do, it’s ok to release the grip you hold.  Don’t let something of a small percentage take complete control over your growth and wellbeing. Don’t feel like you must allow that relationship to take up space when it no longer betters your life.  Holding onto that 2% when you know it needs to be let go, makes it much harder down the road to become healthy. 

Whatever your 2% is—a relationship, schedule, stuff, expectations, self worth, careers—don’t avoid the initial hard work.  Healing and getting healthy is a process, one that, at times, will not be pleasant. But it is worth it. Get uncomfortable. Be willing to strengthen yourself.  The expense of your own health isn’t worth letting your 2% reign over your journey.  Doing this will not allow space for what is supposed to be in our lives.

Just like my stuffed animal collection or teaching binders took up actual space in my room, if we allow one thing to consume too much of our life, too much of our time or energy when it no longer benefits our growth or wellbeing, we will never experience a thriving life.  Don’t let whatever clutter you have in your life decide your health and happiness.  Because I’ve said it before, but you deserve to thrive.

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