On Cleaning Out Your Physical and Emotional Closet

A while back, I wrote this piece on emotional hoarding for USA Today College. It got a great response (thank you for that), which means that I’m not the only one who has a tendency to hold on to things/people/ideas for sentimental value, even when I’ve outgrown them. It’s hard to admit to yourself that you’re staying in touch with a friend simply because you have shared history, even though you literally have nothing to talk about when you sit down face-to-face. I’m a bit of a physical hoarder too. I can’t throw out my ratty lanyard I got freshman year that still holds my keys because it has sentimental value. It definitely has tons of germs too, but also memories. I just about had a nervous breakdown when I sold my first car. Again, memories. But I’m realizing that sometimes you have to clean out both your physical and emotional closets in order to let new and equally good stuff in.

When you’re working, it’s hard to keep up a few friendships, let alone the sheer volume that you had in high school or college. It becomes more about remaining tight with a few close friends, instead of having a shallow “where you working again?” relationship with someone every six months or so. There’s nothing wrong with these kinds of relationships either, but they can become tiring and uninspiring after a while. You repeat the same information over and over to each other, and pretend you’ll get together soon. You don’t. While there’s no harm in this if you enjoy it, I’d rather take those ten minutes and have a real catch-up with someone I’m looking to reconnect or stay connected with.

Along with this new development in my life, I’ve been trying to set my standards higher for the kind of people I allow into my life. I had a “friendship” with a guy who I thought was a close pal. As soon as he moved away, it became clear he just wanted to be buds because he didn’t know anyone in the area and needed someone to hang out with. I even confronted him about this and asked if this was true. He didn’t say no. Instead of stressing about it and wondering about how we could get our “friendship” back on track, I simply deleted his number and moved on. It’s just more time that I can spend building real friendships.

Another example: I became really close with a girl I interned with, but we fell out of touch over time as she got engaged and we both began working full-time. The last few times we did hang out, she was texting on her phone the whole time, while I was trying to swap stories and catch up. This made me sad for a while, until the other day when she appeared out of nowhere, asking me to recommend her for a job at my dad’s company. I felt completely used and was stewing over it, until I realized I could just move on. Clearly this wasn’t a real friendship, so it’s time to focus on building up new connections that are authentic.

Cutting people like that off may sound kind of heartless, but it’s essential in order to protect your well being and focus on healthy, real relationships. Instead of trying to throw your effort and free time into “friendships” that may or may not be genuine, it’s better to trim down your contact list and invest your time where you’re truly appreciated and valued. You may not have as many “friends” as you once did, but you’ll have more real friends. The kind of friends who will help you in a crisis, provide encouragement when you need it, and know how to make you laugh. To me, that’s what counts.

If you ever find yourself feeling drained, unsatisfied or anxious in any way, I’d recommend cleaning out both your physical and emotional closets. You’ll feel lighter, and be able to enjoy people and things that truly add value and happiness into your life.

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