Come springtime, many of us start refreshing our surroundings, yearning for brighter, tidier spaces. But spring cleaning doesn’t only include decluttering and deep cleaning our homes. We can spring clean all areas of our lives to create greater meaning, fulfillment, and happiness. Here’s how.
Spring Cleaning Your Career
What does spring cleaning your career look like? It’s reflecting on “what is truly fulfilling and helping you achieve your bigger goals, and what [you’re] doing out of fear, habit, [or] confusion,” said Aurora Meneghello, founder of Repurpose Your Purpose, a program for individuals who want to change careers.
As such, Meneghello suggested these tips:
Apply the 80/20 rule. Consider what 20 percent of your work is giving you 80 percent of your results. Keep the 20 percent, and consider whether you can drop the rest.
Re-evaluate your current projects. List the projects you’d like to say goodbye to, and for each one, ask yourself: “What would I gain by closing or leaving this project?” We tend to evaluate our work based on a single factor: money, Meneghello said. “But what about having more time? More peace of mind? The opportunity to take on a different project we are more excited about?”
Re-evaluate your current position. Sometimes, you need a more drastic change, such as a new job or even a new line of work. To figure this out, carve out time during the weekend to simply enjoy yourself: Sleep in, take a walk, take a mini road trip, or spend time with loved ones. “Tune into your deepest self, spend some time there, within your heart. And at the end of the [weekend], ask yourself whether you would miss your job or business if you left.”
Meneghello noted that “spring cleaning your career doesn’t have to be a rash, anxiety-provoking process,” and can take time.
You also can spring clean your workspace: Declutter your cubicle or office. Trash or shred paperwork you don’t need. Return the piles on your desk to their proper homes (and maybe create those proper homes).
You can evaluate your planner/calendar system, along with any other systems you use for work: Are they easy and enjoyable to use? Are they helping you accomplish what you want to accomplish?
And, lastly, you can update your website, resume or curriculum vita, online profiles, and anything else you use for work.
Spring Cleaning Your Relationships
“When you are talking about spring cleaning your relationships, it is about taking a step back and looking at [each one] from a bird’s eye view,” said Jennine Estes, LMFT, a certified emotionally focused psychotherapist who works primarily with couples at her group practice in San Diego.
Estes shared these recommendations:
Reflect on what you’d like to keep and change. List the habits and communication styles that you like and dislike, and decide which ones to keep and toss, Estes said. For instance, maybe you realize that you don’t like watching TV with your partner every night, and would rather connect face-to-face. Maybe you realize that you’d like to work on being assertive—instead of passive-aggressive—with your friends when they hurt your feelings.
Check out relationship resources. Maybe you’d like to attend a couples retreat or workshop to strengthen your connection. Maybe you’d like to read books on growing your relationship. (Estes regularly recommends Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight to couples.) Maybe you’d like to attend couples therapy or premarital counseling.
Minimize time with unsafe people. Think about the people in your life, and who you feel safe to be yourself with. Then spend less time with the people you don’t feel safe with (even if they’re family). For instance, instead of calling your mom every day and listening to complaints and negativity, call her once a week, Estes said.
Find what works best for you. Do you feel good about how much time you’re spending with your partner, your family and friends, your kids—and yourself? While you won’t be able to reach a perfect balance, you can reflect on a good-enough split, and make small changes. Maybe you’d like a weekly lunch date with your best friend, and a few nights out with your husband. Maybe you need a few hours to yourself every week.
Tamsin Astor, PhD, a coach and author of the book Force of Habit: Unleash Your Power by Developing Great Habits, stressed the importance of having meaningful conversations with your most important people. You might talk about how to support each other, what you want your future to look like, and how you can help each other in creating that future, she said. You also might discuss tougher topics that you’ve been avoiding, such as a recent conflict.
Astor suggested this active listening technique: Set a timer for 15 to 20 minutes, which is when just one of you speaks, and the other person listens, only nodding or smiling. This is how we “hold space” for each other.
Spring Cleaning the Self
“Spring cleaning one’s self is about decluttering the things that no longer serve you so you can make space for [joy],” said Christina Cruz, PsyD, an online life coach who specializes in perfectionism, people pleasing, difficulty setting boundaries, lack of self-confidence and self-compassion, and feelings of overwhelm.
Thank your old habits. Similar to Marie Kondo’s tip of giving sincere thanks to objects we’re giving away, psychologist Lauren Appio, Ph.D, suggested acknowledging the coping strategies you’ve used thus far—even if they’re no longer useful. “For example, maybe you developed perfectionistic beliefs and behaviors to cope with situations that felt out of control, or to obtain approval whenever you could.”
In other words, instead of criticizing ourselves for not coping well, we can practice self-compassion. We can acknowledge that we were doing the best we could at the time, and those strategies got us to here.
Adopt a new coping strategy. After saying goodbye to an old habit, consider trying out a new stress management, self-soothing, or communication technique, said Appio, who specializes in working with individuals in New York City who are caregivers and people pleasers and struggle with codependency.
You might even use spring as an inspiration. For instance, you could meditate on your porch most mornings, visit the botanical gardens, start swimming, or take an outdoor painting class.
Honestly check in with yourself. Be honest about your feelings, needs, preferences, and limits, Appio said. For instance, she said, you might ask yourself: “If I wasn’t afraid of judging myself or being judged, how would I feel about this?” or, “If I wasn’t worried that I would hurt or disappoint others, what would be my preference here? What would my limit be?”
This doesn’t mean ignoring others; it means gaining a clearer understanding of your own needs before considering other factors. In other words, start with yourself.
Toss out a limiting belief. Replace it with a new belief, look for the evidence to support that new belief, and then practice saying it over and over, Astor said. She shared this example: You trade out the belief “I am unlovable” for “I am lovable.” Some of your evidence includes your parents and best friend regularly saying they love you, and your dog always being excited to see you and being sad when you leave.
Address avoidance. Cruz noted that avoidance can add to our mental clutter—whether it’s avoiding a task or avoiding an emotion. First, identify the things you do to avoid a stressful task or emotion. For instance, one of Cruz’s clients avoided her anger by listening to music, watching TV, and exercising—which only created more distress in her life. Cruz helped her to sit with her anger by meditating.
If you’ve been avoiding an emotion, Cruz suggested this practice: Take five deep breaths, and focus on your body. Visualize your breath running through your body. Focus on the emotion, and its location (e.g., your belly, heart, chest). Describe the emotion, and visualize it “as a wave that ebbs and flows.” Gently notice any desire to avoid it. Finish up by taking five more breaths.
If you’ve been avoiding a task, Appio recommended breaking it down into manageable, even tiny, actionable steps. You can set a timer, or use different techniques to spark your start (e.g., Pomodoro technique of working for 25 minutes and then taking a break).
Clear your mind. To help keep her home clean, Cruz spends about 10 to 15 minutes tidying up at night. We can do the same by tidying up our minds. For instance, she said, if you were particularly self-critical today, replace negative thoughts with kinder ones by imagining that you’re talking to someone you love. You might say: “I may have made a mistake today but I am still a good person,” or “I accept who I am.”
Cruz also recommended asking ourselves these questions: “What no longer serves me? What can I let go of today that would serve my higher good? What was not meant for me to keep?”
After all, that’s what spring cleaning is all about: relinquishing what’s not working, and creating a clear, refreshing canvas.