THE BLOG
23/10/2015 13:12 BST | Updated 23/10/2016 06:12 BST

The wardrobe of your mind

When was the last time you spring cleaned your wardrobe? Have clothes, bags, boxes, presents from yesteryear piled up at the bottom of your wardrobe, like recycled artwork?

Your wardrobe needs re-organising, but how you do it will tell something about you. For example, do you:

• Take one look at it and think 'oh forget it, I haven't got the time. There's more to life than tidying up a wretched wardrobe'. Every time you need something, you have to fumble through the pile for an age to find it - or not find it?

• Take everything out, come across some memorabilia, get distracted and carried away by the memories, the hours pass and the job gets half done?

• Take everything out and get on with the sorting?

The first option suggests that you have a tendency to procrastinate. As long as you shut the door, it's out of sight; you don't need to worry about it. You prefer to block it out, deal with it when necessary and find something else to entertain you to ease the tension. The accumulated non-dealt-with problems will become overwhelming, leaving you stressed and inundated by them.

The second implies that you intend to resolve the issue but are easily distracted. You tend to be led by the past or the future, ending up wasting your time on emotional distractions due to your flitting thoughts. Your problem is a lack of focus.

The last option tells us that you don't mess around but get down to things methodically and pursue the job until it is done. Your wardrobe tends to be tidy. You have reasonable strategies to de-clutter your stress, but you need to take care that you don't become obsessive.

How you tidy up your wardrobe is not dissimilar to how you resolve stress in your life. When was the last time you tidied your mind? Left unattended, the mind becomes cloudy and over-cluttered with stress, anxiety and worry. When we de-clutter, we sort things out accordingly, see them for what they truly are - just thoughts and emotions; they come and go with no substance of their own. They are not us. In so doing, the mind is able to discard them or let go of them for a short while. When there's a lack of mindfulness, we start piling them up again. Just like when we go shopping. Sometimes we mindlessly buy on a whim things we will never use or need and just add them to the pile in the wardrobe. If we were to think more carefully, we would probably buy a lot less.

To keep the wardrobe of the mind neat, clean and tidy, patience and persistence are needed. Without regular mind de-cluttering, we can get overwhelmed by the emotional junk, feel hopeless and drowned in negative thought. That's why when married couples go on holidays to clear their minds, some end up having even more rows because of the accumulated stress being carried with them. Without regular tidying, the accumulated stuff can force the wardrobe door open and spill the contents onto the carpet. Suppress the emotions for too long and too often and they can either burst out as heated anger or remain suppressed and turn into depression.

We label our files, boxes or drawers so we can sort things systematically. When we develop mindfulness, our initial practice includes labelling the experience as seeing, hearing, thinking, feeling, moving, touching, etc. We acknowledge each feeling as it arises as whether or not we like, dislike or neither like nor dislike it. The labelling helps to keep the mind more focused, less distracted and prevents us from adding more thoughts or emotions to obscure the mind.

One of the problems with de-cluttering is expectation. We expect to get things done quickly and achieve peace and calm straight away. A lack of patience means that we may give up before things get done. We stuff the mess back into the wardrobe. Or when a strong negative emotion emerges during mindfulness, we think that meditation is not working and give up. But when the mind becomes clearer and more focused, we can see better - all the negative emotions we have been hoarding so we can let go of them through understanding.

If you have already started, the preliminary work has been done. The future looks neat, clean, tidy and greater peace of mind seems attainable - provided that you don't give up or go back to the old ways of leaving things untidy. Once the space has been created in the wardrobe of your mind, you will have more room to manoeuvre. You head will be clearer and you will be able to stay more calm and mindful of whatever arrives next in the wardrobe!