Spring Cleaning
Your Life

Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo
Spring Cleaning

Spring has sprung. Well, it is about to spring…

Regardless of the temperature outside, spring is a time for new beginnings, growth and flourishing.

The practice of “spring cleaning” has been around for centuries: cleaning homes and opening windows to allow air circulation after a winter of closed doors.

Not only can spring cleaning help disinfect your home, but it can also help boost your physical and emotional well-being.

In fact, active housework can decrease stress by up to 20%!

Spring cleaning” can help reduce cortisol and boost overall happiness. It can also lead to healthier eating.

In addition to spring cleaning your home, this is also a great time for a psychological spring cleaning: getting rid of emotionally draining experiences in your life.

How can you create a psychological spring clean event? Try these 6 steps:

1)      Declutter

Clutter in your home or work can cause more stress. People who describe their homes as being cluttered have higher levels of stress hormones. What’s more, women who described their living space as “cluttered” or full of “unfinished projects” have higher rates of depression and fatigue as opposed to those who describe their homes as “restorative” and “restful.”

So schedule some time to declutter where you work and live. Consider creating three categories: (1) Get rid of, (2) Put away and (3) Take care of.

Throw away, recycle or donate as much as you can. If you haven’t used something in over a year, it is likely past time to get it out of your life. This includes clothes, papers and household items. If you find yourself struggling with getting rid of items, realize this may be your brain playing tricks on you. The confirmation bias makes us believe that previous decisions were good ones. So, that pair of cowboy boots that you got on sale that are still sitting in your closet… Your mind thinks, “it was a good decision to buy them, so I should keep them,” rather than a rational assessment of “I never have and likely never will wear them. Let me donate them to someone who will enjoy them.”

Put away items you choose to keep. For me, even just putting the family’s shoes that are often left at the garage door away in the closet can make me feel better as I walk to my car. Same thing with the pile of shredding that I accumulate. Putting everything through the shredder and getting rid of that pile feels liberating.

Take care of what needs your attention. This may include paying bills, getting appliances that are not working fixed or responding to a correspondence that has been patiently waiting.

This decluttering can include your email. Having a packed in-box can increase stress and reduce productivity. So, take steps to purge messages already there and prevent a new buildup.

If decluttering seems like a daunting task, try this: schedule out a 20-minute block of time. Get rid of all distractions and focus on just one area you are going to declutter: Your closet, kitchen pantry, inbox. Even just 20 minutes can make a significant impact and help you feel happier.

2)      Get rid of toxic relationships

Is there someone (or more than one person) in your life that causes you stress on a regular basis? It may be time to stop interacting with them, or at least reduce your time with them.

It is well documented that you are of the average of the people you spend the most time with. This includes things like happiness, weight, health habits and even wealth. If you spend your time with mostly negative people or spend a lot of time with a particularly toxic individual, that can lead to more stress and problems in your life.

Often, we hold onto old relationships that are not serving us because we feel like we have to or we “should.” Sadly, toxic relationships can have a hugely negative impact on your health, your emotional well-being, your work and even other relationships.

If you do have a relationship that it’s not serving you – where are you feel more stress than positivity, where you feel down about yourself consistently – it might be time to purge yourself from that relationship. If you can’t cut all ties, then take steps to protect yourself. This can include minimizing the time that you spend with them or setting clear boundaries and assertively communicating them to the other person. Your job is not to try to make the other person happy. In fact, the best thing you can do is focus on being the best you possible. Toxic relationships can cause you stress which can negatively impact other relationships. Be bold for yourself, and for the people you love.

3)      Crush your inner critic

We all have an inner critic, that inner voice that says mean things to us like, “you are such a failure,” “you are never going to amount to anything” or “no one likes you.” And that inner critic can sometimes take over your rational thinking.

Our inner critic can, often and without us realizing it, cause us to feel more stress. It also impacts our actions. So, if you’re inner critic is saying, “life is too stressful right now and it’s never going to get better,” that can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. It can also cause you to not take the steps you need to in order to create a better life. While we will probably never get rid of your inner critic altogether, the goal is to really control it so that it doesn’t control you. One way to do that is by applying what I call BFA.

BFA stands for Best Friend Advice. Here is what I mean. If your best friend came to you sharing their automatic thoughts and they’re exactly the same as yours, how would you react? If that thought was “I am such a loser,” would you respond, “You really are. And not only are you a loser in this situation, but let me remind you of all these other times when you are a loser…”? Of course you wouldn’t say that to your best friend. Heck, you probably wouldn’t even say that to someone you didn’t particularly like. And yet that might be exactly what you are communicating to yourself.

Instead, identify advice or words you would impart to your best friend. And then use those for yourself.

4)      Stop wasting time

Andrew Mellen is a professional organizer and author of "Unstuff Your Life! Kick the Clutter Habit and Completely Organize Your Life for Good.” He suggests that you can save about 15 minutes each week per item by not searching for everyday necessities such as looking for your keys, wallet, bag or phone. Think about it, that is an hour extra per week, 52 hours (over 2 days) per year!

So, keep these important items in a consistent place when you are home. Put the keys in the same location each time you come home. Same thing with your wallet and bag. 

As for your cell phone, try not to carry it around with you in your hand, where you could put it down without realizing it. Andrew recommends that you have, “a dish or tray or other container for every room in your home and office where you spend time and make that the home for your phone when you’re in that space. While this may take a few days to feel natural, after a few weeks, it will feel odd if you DON’T put your phone in its home as soon as you enter a room. You can use a decorative tray or dish or even a wireless charging station as the home.”

5)      Get rid of the word “Should”

When we use the word “should” when assessing yourself, others, or a situation it can cause us more stress. The word “should” is based on judging: judging how you think things should be, rather than how they are.

When we “should” on ourselves, we feel guilt and shame.

When we “should” on others, we often feel angry and resentful.

When we “should” all over ourselves and/or others, it is an indication that our “Rules” have been broken. You see, we all have certain rules about how we believe people should act, think or be. Often times we are not aware of the rules per se, until they are broken. And when they are broken, that is when we often zoom into higher levels of stress.

Consider Lisa who was feeling extremely overwhelmed. She had a big project due on Thursday and by the Monday before, she was feeling resentful towards her colleagues. “They should be helping out,” she told me.

When I asked her why she thought that, she responded, “because we’re all part of a team.” You see, Lisa’s rule was that a team should voluntarily support each other. She hadn’t overtly asked because, according to her rules, if they wanted to help, they would. Or really, if they wanted to help, they should volunteer. And because no one was jumping into assist, she felt angry and resentful.

The way to overcome shoulding is to replace the word with “would like, as in “I would like my colleagues to help me out.” When you use “would like,” you stop feeling the resentment and, instead, are empowered to assertively ask for what you want.

6)      Drop the perfectionism

Perfectionism is an all-or-nothing, perfect-or- failure perfect-or- forget it mentality. One place we often see perfectionism rear its head is for New Year’s resolutions. On January 1, someone commits to giving up all sugar, all alcohol and working out every day. Then January 2 happens in life gets in the way and we revert back to old ways.

With perfectionism comes procrastination (“that project is going to be hard so I’m not going to try it”), health (“I had one cookie and run my diet, might as well have the whole plate”) or stress (there’s no way I could get rid of all of my emails, so why even bother?)

Rather than strive for perfection, I recommend you go for being better than perfect. Better than perfect means you take steps to achieve the goal that you want, but don’t judge yourself for how long it takes. It means to embracing steps “back” by learning and growing from them. It allows you to focus on you what you want to create in your life as opposed to comparing yourself to others and feeling like you fall short.

Try any (or all!) of these spring cleaning steps to boost your over well-being. You deserve it!!!

Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo is a Licensed Practicing Psychologist with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Master's degree in Physical Therapy, and the authority on how to crush your inner critic so that you can live a life of purpose, fulfillment and True Success™. She’s America’s most trusted celebrity psychologist with over 100 national media interviews. She writes for Combined Insurance in an effort to help educate readers, but her medical opinions and advice are for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for visiting your doctor.