managing your mental garbage…



Have you ever thought about how many garbage cans you have? Go ahead and think about it. Mentally go through each room in your house and count how many garbage cans you have. Chances are, you have one for just about every room. Some get used more frequently than others. I use the garbage can in my kitchen constantly, but the one in my sunroom rarely gets used and needs emptying far less often.

Now think about the last three things you threw away? You might not even be able to remember because we rarely have deep thoughts about what goes into the garbage. We see trash…we throw it away. It’s that simple. There are a few things that we might hang on to and really question if they are trash or not, but for the most part, throwing something away is an easy decision.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if that were the case with our thoughts?

There are thoughts constantly flowing in and out of our brains. Some of these thoughts we need to nurture. They need a secure and stable place to live. They are like the heirlooms in our home – special and important. Thoughts like I am valued, treasured memories of loved ones, our favorite Bible verses, things about ourselves and our families that bring us happiness.

There are process thoughts. We use these throughout our lives. Like how and when to do the laundry. How to do multiplication. How to feed a baby. These thought processes can even be instinctual, part of our DNA.

There are thoughts that are only valuable and worth keeping around for a season. Things like, I need to get my child to camp by 2:00 today. This thought might take up an important space in my brain until 2:00, but then I can let it go. Or maybe I think about a project at work. Once the project is completed I am able to think about it far less often.

Other times there are thoughts that have no business being in our brains. However, they have been around so long we get used to them. It’s like that old moldy jar in the back of the refrigerator. Everyone knows not to eat it. Everyone knows it’s trash. But for whatever reason no one ever seems to throw it away.

Perhaps these are old messages that seem to repeat themselves, like I am unloveable or I am unworthy. Or even I am a failure, I can’t do anything right. Maybe if I don’t do my best to fix and take care of everyone around me, bad things are going to happen.

There are so many garbage thoughts that can junk up our brain. If we never stop to throw away our trash, our brain is going to look like the city dump. The more trash our brain holds, the less room for valuables.

So how do you manage your mental garbage?

First of all you have to decide what needs to be thrown away. There might be some things that resemble a used Kleenex – thoughts that are easy to part with. Then there are going to be thoughts that resemble an old familiar but stained t-shirt. You know it needs to go into the garbage – but  you just don’t want to part with it – it still feels comfortable. Then there are things buried deep. Like a gummy mess plastered onto fabric and dried in the sun – you really want to throw it away but no matter how hard you scrub, you just can’t seem to get it removed! There are all sorts of thoughts that need to go in the garbage. Bottom line is, these thoughts usually aren’t true, they cause damage, and they always take up space that could be replaced with truth.

Once garbage is recognized, we must be willing to throw it away. There are certain everyday thought items we might need to trash over and over again. For me an everyday item is I must do something perfectly or I shouldn’t do it at all. I have learned to identify this thought and when it comes up – which is multiple times every day – and I am able to put it in the trash.

Other garbage might need to be worked through with a therapist. Maybe there are some deep seeded beliefs and damaging wounds that need to be worked over before you feel ready to throw them away. An example of this for me is I am unloveable. It took a lot of work for me to realize this thought was not an heirloom and actually belonged in the trash. Work with a therapist helped me get ready to chunk it – but I still struggle with letting it go from time to time – it’s one of those sticky gum thoughts. And that’s okay. Mental house cleaning takes practice, but the more we recognize junk for what it is, the more quickly we can process and let it go.

Philippians 4:8 says this, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Many of us want to think good things, but our minds seem constantly consumed with negativity and worry. Again, there is rarely room for the good stuff if your house is piled up with junk. Make a decision today to start recognizing your trash. Look it at, allow yourself to call it what it is, do your best to let it go, replace it with your true right and lovely – and remember it is okay to call in reinforcements to help you with this process! Sometimes we get so junked up that we need to call in the professionals!

And one last word…don’t be too hard on yourself. Your house doesn’t have to be immaculate. There’s always a little bit of garbage hanging around my home – both literally and mentally. Don’t feel like it has to remain spotless for you to be okay, just decide you will do something about it before it gets bad.



  1. Tina says

    My mind/thoughts has a hard time shutting down.. I mean really it’s getting old. So I really need to trash a lot!!

    • stephanieclayton says

      I hear you girl. One thing that can help when your brain won’t shut off is deep breathing and progressive relaxation. You might try. Really helps with focusing on the present moment.

  2. Erin says

    have always loved the metaphor of garbage when it comes to depressive thinking. Really enjoyed your thoughts. This verse has always been a favorite too! Go see inside Out to enjoy more metaphors on how our brain/ memory works!!

    • stephanieclayton says

      Thanks Erin! I do want to see inside out! Lauren really does too. We may have to do that this week 🙂

  3. Jess says

    thank you for this reminder. I needed that. I’ve been struggling this past months with my thoughts again, even though I’ve heard this before and I went through dbt to help with me learn the skills to deal with this and let things go. I like the idea of throwing them in the trash. it’s just really hard to do.

    • stephanieclayton says

      Yes I agree it is much easier said than done. With time and effort we can change the way we think. It doesn’t happen overnight nor was the damage and trash built up over night – but every time we replace a thought with truth we increase our brains flexibility for alternative thoughts. And I love DBT! Hugs to you girl. You got this! Keep working on it. Its a daily battle I have too.


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