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A Little Winter Cleaning for the Soul

Typically Spring cleaning happens, well…in the Spring. But as the year comes to an end, take some time to do a little winter cleaning for your soul. Every once in awhile your mind needs to be cleaned out, just like your favorite closet. Throughout the year, information you thought you could use or deal with, or what seemed important and helpful at one time has become disorganized clutter, keeping you from finding what you want and need. Over time ideas, memories, and concerns accumulate because they seem worthy of our attention. As we accrue experiences the original value, importance, or interest often changes, and the closet of our mind gets a little overwhelming.

The first order of business is sorting through all the “stuff.” When we are serious about cleaning our personal closet we need to take everything out so we can toss what isn’t useful, reorganize things based on how often we will have to access them, and store the precious stuff in a safe place. You might think you know what you have in your closet, but there are also probably a few surprises waiting for you. Dr. Daniel Tomasulo describes this as a four-step process, and step one is to take everything out of the closet. Yes….everything.

1. Cleaning out the psyche means making a list of all the things you have been thinking about doing, wanting to do, or those things that need to be done. This list is designed to be as complete as possible. Get all the things on your mind out of the closet so you can see what you are dealing with. Don’t worry that you have the report you’ve got to do for work next to cleaning out the refrigerator, just write down the list as it comes to you. Your method of making a list is your choice. If a computer is your thing, start a file called “Closet Cleaning” and go to it. If you are a pencil  and paper kind of person, then use that. The second part of step one is to arrange the list into categories. These might be labeled “Work” or “Things to do around the house” or “Calls I have to make.” Whatever your categories, sort the things on your list into groupings that make sense to you. If there are items that don’t fit neatly into the clusters you have made, create a spillover group called “Miscellaneous.”

2. Assign an action word to each task that describes what you are going to do. Instead of “Fred” it would be “Call Fred” or “Email Fred” or “Pick up Fred” or “Mail Fred’s Letter.” The idea is to note what action you need to do to get the task done. Wash car, trim bushes, write application letter, clean bathroom, and buy stamps aligns the right task with the right action. If you wanted to pick out shoes or find a hat there would be a separate area in your closet with a different type of search associated with your exploration. By assigning categories and designating actions you are lining up shoes and putting hats on hooks so you can get at them more easily in your personal closet.

3. Prioritize each section with numbers 1, 2, and 3 so you know what needs to be done in which order in each category. This way you will know exactly where to go first. Many people waste time trying to decide what to do when they have a few moments to tackle something. A ranking of your priorities with an assigned action allows you to get things done more efficiently. Once you complete the third thing on any of your lists you simply go on to identify the next thee things to do. Of course, as you get things done and add things to your list the order can change, but identifying the first three events to be tackled will keep you focused.

4. Create a “Virtual Vault” for your personal positive experiences. This is the safe place in your closet for all the good, wonderful, happy experiences that need to be preserved in case of a calamity. To activate these recollections, write down three of the most positive experiences in your life with as much detail as you can. Describe everything you can remember: the date, the location, the people involved, and the feelings. Be vivid and write a paragraph for each memoryyou wish to preserve.The latest on happiness research indicates that one of the best ways to combat feelings of depression has to do with reflecting on real past positive experiences as a way of activating strong positive emotions. In doing this you dwell on the actual positive experiences that have happened in your life rather than on what you may not have control over in the moment. The list of things to do and the order of actions you need to take will give a sense of accomplishment. When the woes of life get to you, recalling the positive experiences will help buffer your feelings.


Tomasulo, D. (2009). Spring Cleaning for the Soul: Tidying Up Our Personal Closet. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 28, 2011, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2009/spring-cleaning-for-the-soul-tidying-up-our-personal-closet/

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