Part 1: The catch-all cupboard
The catch-all cupboard, aka ‘the junk drawer.’ We all have one. Sometimes it lives in the hallway, usually in the kitchen or by our bed side. We might throw it a glance or tiptoe past it. An uneasiness may be felt when opening it, for opening it means that we are forced to look at what lies inside.
Filled with things of questionable value, over time the catch-all cupboard becomes home to outdated post-it notes and ‘to do-lists,’ storage for keys with no padlocks and padlocks with no keys.
“I’ll get to that later” is the intention when we casually place items in the drawer, but seldom do we return. In reality, the ‘catch-all’ cupboard is just that: a place for things that we are not able to deal with in the moment.
And time passes… And we collect, hoard until the junk drawer is brimming, bursting.
I have wondered if the ‘junk drawer’ could be a fitting analogy for our emotional, mental, and physical being. Mostly, we may be functioning and things feel ok but every so often we arrive at a place where ‘it all feels too much,’ verging on emotional spillage and we hit a point of crisis. We are then compelled to peek into the depths of our innermost selves and effectively ‘sort out’ these metaphorical drawers.
Aspects of our existence that can end up feeling problematic as a result of being squeezed into the ‘catch-all’ cupboard of life are listed below followed by prompts to consider how they may manifest themselves in your life.
We are a patchwork of stories and narratives. These are stitched into the foundations of our moral compass, standards for relationships, and way of relating to the world. We are an amalgamation of experiences and life lessons; some of them are our own but most are borrowed from others.
This is not so problematic in infancy as we learn from our relational environment, so it is a given that the perspectives of others are woven in to our own. As we age and try to interpret the world around us with the same narratives, the way the world responds can leave us questioning these stories which have become hardwired over time.
Questions to ask yourself: Identify the narratives that are your own and those that have been inherited from others. Are these stories still relevant today? In line with my values and beliefs? Are these narratives allowing for expression, creativity or are they inhibiting me?
They can be messy and beautiful and complex. Certain relationships end up in the ‘junk drawer’ of life if they feel broken or one-sided. You may experience disappointment after being let-down, or your life’s momentum may just be different to those around you, which results in estranged connections.
Relationships do not necessarily have to be tossed aside, forced or forgotten but consider the following:
Questions to ask yourself: What is it about these relationships that are keeping me attached even though they may be difficult/toxic?’ Have conversations gone unspoken or harboured emotions that have not been expressed? Is there ‘unfinished business?’
‘De-pressed’ emotions can feel incredibly weighty and will make themselves known in some way, at any given time (usually when you least expect it). Emotions can manifest in varying ways such as behaviours, spoken word or physically through ailments.
Emotions can feel incredibly overwhelming and big to manage in the moment, and the only way we may know how to cope is to push aside, or distract, from what we feel. I get it and it’s ok. This may be the only option for you to get through a moment or period of time. However, the continual repression or ‘de-pression’ of emotions can be hugely detrimental to your emotional and mental health.
You may also find that you assume responsibility for the emotions of others, carrying them like they are your own. This may give rise to feelings of guilt and/or resentment, inadvertently leaving you feeling drained, overwhelmed or even anxious.
Question to ask yourself: Do I take on the responsibility other people’s emotions? What am I feeling? Are these feelings mine? Am I carrying a ‘people pleasing’ backpack? Why am I compelled to do this?
A bit like narratives, behaviours can be adopted in childhood and then play out repeatedly throughout life. The way we respond in certain situations can be unconscious and habitual. We don’t know why we do what we do, we just do it – without thought. Our unconscious responses that are replayed again and again can leave us feeling stuck in a loop.
Question to ask yourself. Are these behaviours serving me? How can I become more aware in the moment? How do I break the cycle of regurgitated responses?
When it is time to tackle the drawers of life and you are not quite sure where to start, know that you needn’t feel alone in the process. Professional help in the form of counselling/therapy is available to assist in accessing the drawer at a pace which feels doable. Some of us may feel comfortable dumping all the contents on the floor and then sifting, sorting, discarding. For others, the process may need to be gentler – there may need to be pauses, drawers may need to be unlocked and the process of uncovering, analysing may take a little more time.
Just as junk drawers can be stuffed with things that we are unable to face, we can also feel swamped by the discord of life. Feelings can be overwhelming, relationships messy, and facing our stories might feel scary and painful. It may be easier to ignore these difficulties or push them to the back of our mind, making it unconscious. But, clearing the ‘junk drawer’ can also be healing for our mind and body. You may just feel lighter.