As our world and our spaces get smaller, you may have noticed yourself becoming a bit more discerning about who and what you invite into your home, your energy, and your life. Whether you are finding yourself decluttering your home, purging your inboxes and to-do lists, or clearing your social media spaces of frienemies, you are not alone. You are, however, highly in tune with what we’re all feeling and, hopefully, communicating.

Cleaning, Decluttering, and Purging our Spaces

Our movement is limited, so our space is getting smaller, and those smaller spaces call for more intentional use. I don’t know about you, but now that I actually spend time in my home, I am learning to actually like it and I don’t just want it to be amazing—I need it to be. My sister always says, “Physical clutter is mental clutter,” and I consistently find that to be true. Maybe it’s very creative procrastination, but I find myself unable to work on a demanding project until I clear my workspace. As I write this blog, my desk has never been cleaner. Ha!

 

Here’s the source of the tension, I believe: our space has remained the same size but suddenly it must hold everything that we used to carry out into the world. Nowadays, moving between spaces or even having separate spaces for different activities is not always available to us. And so our spaces have new purposes.

 

We are cleaning our spaces more. We are decluttering more. And we are even purging belongings that a year ago would have been essentials, but today just seem to be taking up space. If you need some support with cleaning up and cleaning out your space, there are countless resources shared by much more knowledgeable folk than me: Marie Kondo, Organization Maven Kelly Jayne McCann, and That Feng Shui Lady Valerie Sands.

Setting Boundaries for our Energy: If it’s not a “Heck yes!” it’s a “Hell no!”

Energy for all of us is considerably lower than this time last year. Our “best” during 2019 or even early 2020 is not going to be the same “best” we can offer today. And we get to be patient and compassionate with ourselves.

 

If you’re like me—a “type-A, high performing, self-critical, overachiever, productivity is my worth” kind of person—the shift in our ways of being during the pandemic have been difficult for you. If you’re having a hard time accepting this slower pace, let me ask you this,

How did you fare in the previous global pandemic?

Are you smiling yet? Because no one on Earth has lived through something like this before. And none of the people qualified to help us through it (those in the healing and helping professions) is immune to it either. Usually, therapists are not enduring the same traumas they are treating their clients with. But these days, we’re all vulnerable and stretched: physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

It is time to perfect a new skill: setting boundaries.

I have a new barometer for deciding whether or not something is for me: I call it,

 

If it’s not a “Heck yes!” it’s a “Hell no!”

 

Energy Positive: Gives me energy

Energy Negative: Takes my energy.

Highly Engaging:

Easy to focus on and perhaps even fulfilling.

Heck yes! Fills my cup

Example:

Connecting with my closest loved ones. A space where I can be myself; I feel loved and accepted for who I am.

Heck yes! My Labor of Love

Example:

A day of teaching leaves me zapped of all cognitive ability. But I love my work, so I accept that this is a labor of love.

Barely Engaging:

Hard to focus on or get interested in.

Heck yes! Worth it

Example:

Physical activity. It takes me time to get into a workout. I don’t love it. Inevitably, though, I end up feeling more energetic than when I started. Every. Single. Time.

Hell no! Only if I have to.

Example:

Sometimes our work involves aspects we don’t enjoy and which take a lot of our time. If the majority of your work or activity falls into this quadrant, however, consider a new direction for yourself.

Some Polite Ways of Saying “Hello no!”

It can be really difficult to say no, especially when we wish we had the bandwidth to take on a task or to give time to an activity. I thought I’d share some examples from the past 30 days of my life. What follows is a series of “no”s that I have heard myself uttering more in the past 12 months of my life than ever before:

“I can’t take that on right now. I already have a lot on my plate that I’m struggling to balance.” was my response when I was asked to do something extra at work.

 

“I don’t have the bandwidth for that right now.” was my response to an initiation to join an online social group.

 

“I need to unplug tonight, maybe next week?” was my response to a good friend who wanted to get together.

 

“Thank you, but I just don’t have the space for that.” was my response when my generous neighbor tried to give me an old TV of his.

 

For women especially, guilt is a huge driving factor in us taking on more than we can handle. But anyone can fall into the trap of our Western work ethic. Again, there are much more qualified experts than I to support you in realizing that you simply must drink as you pour in order to live your life whole-heartedly: I recommend Brene Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us—specifically three episodes: featuring Glennon Doyle on Untamed, Alicia Keys on More Myself, and Emily & Ameila Nagoski on Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. It is my hope that by talking about it, we can learn to be more compassionate with others and, most importantly, with ourselves.

When we look back at the lessons from this time, I think we will see that this global event helped all of us set new parameters for personal boundaries. May our spaces be functional and pleasing. May our lives be filled with energy and fulfillment through people and passions. And may we have the grace and the courage—when something doesn’t fit into those parameters—to say “No.”

Molly J. Scanlon, Ph.D.
Molly J. Scanlon, Ph.D.

Molly J. Scanlon, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Writing and a student in the M.S. Family Therapy Program at Nova Southeastern University. Her research interests include identity construction, experiential learning, and mindfulness. She is a contributing editor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.

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