Tidying Up? The Most Important Things to Get Rid of Aren’t Things

Kelly Coffey
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I’m a woman of a certain age with kids. It feels like I spend 90% of my at-home waking hours moving inanimate objects from one place to another – dirtying, cleaning, drying, stacking, folding… often fantasizing I could just throw it all away.

Can you relate?

When Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up book came out a few years ago, the premise spoke to me: 1

  • Survey your stuff
  • Split clutter into categories
  • Pile the crap from one category into one place
  • Work through objects one at a time, getting rid of anything you don’t need or that doesn’t spark joy.

I did this with my clothes. I piled everything onto my bed, and legit picked up one thing at a time, asking myself, “Does this spark joy?”

I got rid of more than half of my clothes that day. It felt good.

Like most good things – highs, belly-laughs, and orgasms, to name a few – my post-clean-out elation wore off. It didn’t take long. When I woke up a few days later, instead of feeling good because my closet was neat, I woke up to the feeling I have when my brain assaults me with memories of every stupid, gnarly, embarrassing, shameful, disgraceful, off-color thing I’ve ever done. 

Tidying Up? The Most Important Things to Get Rid of Aren't Things #selflove #weightloss #tidyingup www.strongcoffey.com


  • That time I walked out of an antique shop wearing a bracelet I didn’t pay for.
  • That time at a Renaissance Festival 2 that I drunkenly shouted about graphic sex within earshot of a gaggle of nuns.
  • That time I missed an important, emotional family event because my drunk ass slept through the alarm.
  • That time I didn’t tip my waitress because I brought just enough to cover the cost of my food.

My brain likes to torture me, replaying moments like these. Moments I messed up. Moments someone else messed up and I didn’t stand up for myself.

Memories that linger like wounds that won’t heal can have a way more devastating impact than the stacks of paper, piles of clothes, or boxes full of books.

Mental Clutter

Clearing out your clothes, filing papers, and generally tidying up can feel critical if your biggest problem is that you have too much stuff. But, if you’re anything like me, your growing piles of stuff are really just a symptom of a deeper problem: Mental clutter. 

Tidying Up? The Most Important Things to Get Rid of Aren't Things #selflove #weightloss #tidyingup www.strongcoffey.com


Just like excess fat is usually a symptom of a deeper problem, excess stuff is but a symptom. The problem may be that you’re carrying around painful memories, unresolved conflict, and mistakes; a past that is anything but. You assault yourself with these missteps and misfortunes all day, every day.

Eventually, you stroll into Marshall’s to change the channel in your head.

Or you binge.
Or you scroll.
Or you… you get the idea.

A client recently told me that every time she drives past the church where she got married – several times a week, if not every day – she feels a pang of guilt. Shame.

Why? Because, when she got married there 12 years ago, she forgot to tip the wedding planner.

And, several times a week, if not every day, soon after she passes the church, she pulls into the strip mall down the road. Sometimes to buy a milkshake posing as coffee. Sometimes to blow money she doesn’t have on shit she doesn’t need.

Mental clutter, when we’re the type that can’t just let it go, robs us not only of time, but of money, and self-respect. And space – in our homes, in our clothes, and in our lives.

Until I started to address the clutter in my brain – to bring some resolution to the memories that haunted me – my whole world was a trigger. I couldn’t open my eyes without seeing something that brought a flood of memories and all the shame, guilt, and regret that was attached.

My unaddressed mental clutter left me weighing over 300 pounds and feeling out of control in every way.

Tidy Up

Are you being held hostage by mental clutter? Does it manifest as rumination-based anxiety? Depression? As an unshakable feeling of STUCK? The desire to reach for anything – food, alcohol, smokes, bargain shopping – to change the channel in your head?

If the answer is yes, after you’re done figuring out which of your cardigans spark joy, do yourself a favor and try this:

  1. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Jot down as many pieces of mental clutter as you can in that time. Be sure to include the oft-recurring, nagging thoughts that you think “make no sense.”
  2. Walk away from the list for 24 – 48 hours. Then, set a timer for 1 minute and add any items to the list that didn’t make the cut the first time.
  3. When you’re ready, 3 one item at a time, figure out a resolution.
  4. Take the action you need to take to clear out your mental clutter, one item at a time.

If you owe money, consider apologizing for the hold up and making a plan to pay it back. If you shafted someone on a tip, consider finding them and giving them money. If you can’t find them, maybe consider becoming a more generous tipper moving forward. If you did or said something you wish you hadn’t, consider owning it, apologizing for it, and asking if there’s anything you can do to make things right.

Perfect resolutions aren’t always possible but, even if some of your mental clutter is from the distant past, it’s never too late to make things right (directly or indirectly). It’s never too late to live so that you wake up feeling good in The First Minute. And, it’s never a bad time to free up space in your head for all the joy sparked by old band t-shirts.



  1. I paraphrase:
  2. Meeeeeeeeead!!!!
  3. And, preferably with the guidance and support of a therapist, a spiritual adviser, or a coach.

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