Decluttering: Creating space to process our COVID experience

When clutter stops us from doing our best work, being our best selves or leading our best life, it needs our attention


We go through life accumulating all kinds of stuff. Some of that will be physical stuff. That’s the obvious, tangible and most visible manifestation of this accumulation. However, alongside all the stuff we can see with our eyes, there is also less visible stuff — our thoughts, habits, inner chatter, feelings, emotions, beliefs and so on.

Over these extraordinary 18 months, we will have continued this accumulation and developed new habits, emotions, and mechanisms for coping with fear and uncertainty. Perhaps, we have been eating more comfort food or have started a new hobby (jigsaw anyone?), or learned a new skill, or worked longer hours increasingly, or found ourselves ‘languishing’ (a state that gives a sense of stagnation, of emptiness). And this ‘pandemic-clutter’ created a new layer of stuff in our lives.

Clutter is not intrinsically a bad thing. Far from it! Who would we be without our inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions, or the items that make up our homely cosy spaces or our ideal work environments? Some of our newly-developed habits may be useful — a shift of perspective can help us focus on the more significant and strategic priorities, making choices around where to direct our energy in a far easier manner. Maybe we have honed our selective skills and started to say ‘no’ to what did not matter in the grand scheme of things.

When clutter stops us from doing our best work, being our best selves or leading our best life, it needs our attention.

As the planet slowly moves into its next stage of post-or-mid-COVID ‘normal’, much is being written about how businesses, office life and ways of working may be affected. We recognise that a hybrid work style is probably the way forward. Thinking about how this may be implemented and operate best for various sectors and industries, generates much debate.

So how about the individual? What does it all mean for us? It would be easy to flow into this new world and carry on without much thought about stepping into a new phase, not only in terms of our work but also personally.

Now is a great time to reflect on the ‘clutter’ that we have accumulated while living in various degrees of lockdown, to pay attention to how we have shifted our behaviours, activities and thought processes. Let’s notice how these changes affect us and decide what will serve us in the future and what we may want to let go of and declutter from our lives. While doing this work, we may also want to notice what ‘pandemic-clutter’ our colleagues, managers and employees have accumulated.

As coaches, we know that much of the value of our work lies in the space we create for others to stop, pause and reflect. Competency 6 of the updated ICF coaching core competencies, ‘Listens Actively’, invites us to pay careful attention to what our clients are saying and not saying. We create a space for them to be themselves and be heard.

Competency 7 of the updated ICF coaching core competencies is, ‘Evokes Awareness’. This encourages us to reflect what we are noticing, seeing, and hearing in our clients. We can also invite clients to consider what changes they have witnessed and how this may impact their lives and the system they operate in before choosing a path forward.

In the workplace, using coaching skills will allow a manager to be more receptive to the finer nuances of their team. This may be with individual team members, collectively or observations of the broader system. Coaching skills allow a manager or leader to take the time to be inquisitive and then reflect on the collective experiences. This will help identify what may need to be cleared for a more effective and productive future.

And just as we may look to evoke awareness in others, we all benefit from increased self-awareness. Whether we want to create healthier eating or work habits, be more understanding of and have empathy for others, have the confidence to trust our teams as they work remotely, build brilliant relationships with others through the medium of a screen, quiet the ‘inner critic’ or learn to be sociable all over again… whatever is getting in our way, let’s pay attention and notice it. And then, let’s find ways to declutter the unhelpful and create space for what we want instead.

Letting go and decluttering the unhelpful creates space for something new. What could that new thing be for you, your team or your business?

About ICF

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 40,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work toward the common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards.Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Hyderabad, ICF Mumbai, and ICF Pune.

About the author

After a 16-year career in corporate IT and a lifelong interest in the organising space, Ingrid Pope now works as a professional coach in both the private and public sectors. She also runs talks and workshops on reducing the clutter, the ‘busyness’ and ‘noise’.Pope runs her coaching practice, Creating Space, which focuses on decluttering all aspects of clients’ lives. She is particularly interested in uncovering the mental and emotional clutter that can hold clients back, especially self-confidence, and the feeling of being overwhelmed.


  1. Excellent thought provoking article that spans the spectrum from the visible physical clutter to a deeper philosophical self refection. Listening and awareness can be applied to all aspects of life. I will save this article for future benchmarking to see how well I am doing decluttering and prioritizing what’s important. Thank you Ingrid!

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