The Cupboard Under The Stairs

I can’t quite remember how it came about, but in a conversation the other night, a friend admitted to having such a cupboard, her secret. She had a neighbor over, as I recall to induct them on looking after the cat or the plants or something when my friend was away. What she hadn’t counted on, was the neighbour opening the door to THAT cupboard!

The shame was instant. The plush veneer instantly stripped away revealing the cheap chipboard underneath. My friend was undone, instantly accepting her new place in the neighbourhood as the imposter, the fake, the one who doesn’t really have her sh1t together.

That was, at least, until her neighbour leaned in and said, “I have this cupboard in my house too”.

(NB: I may have totally embellished my friend’s story for effect!!)

They (whoever they are) often say “tidy space, tidy mind”. Google “understairs cupboard” and you quickly return Pinterest images of immaculate spaces with equally immaculate people, lifestyle pictures of happy carefree families, with homes filled with light and joy.

Well, I love an analogy and I think this one works really well when it comes to our mental wellbeing. The idea of having it all together is all around us. It is sold to us, promised to us, and lied to us on a daily basis via the multiple channels we may have open at any one time, (I promise I won’t start a rant about social media…well, not in this blog anyway).

We present the best version of ourselves that we are able to on any given day, and hopefully, this is enough to maintain the idea that all is as well as we would ever hope it to be. After all, this is how life is supposed to be right?

We resist the idea that we likely carry a ton of stuff that we are not so happy about. Stuff that if we were to dwell on for too long, could lead us places we really don’t want to go. Even worse, a ton of stuff that if anyone ever knew about it…well that would be unthinkable.

And so we pack it into the cupboard…quickly. Not like the neat and wonderful storage solutions we saw on Pinterest, but just like the actual cupboard under the stairs in our homes….we shove the stuff away.

Intrusive thoughts, past hurts, current hurts, insecurities, trauma, shame. The fact that I: just shouted at the kids (again), was cruel to my partner, jealous of another’s success, looked at porn, acted unethically at work, wasn’t as truthful as I should have been. The truth that I am: just not good enough, a bad son, daughter, partner, unloveable, useless, worthless, and a total waste of space.

We don’t tend to polish this stuff off and pop it proudly on the mantlepiece. Nope. We shove it in the cupboard. True, some of us have more in there than others, but for many of us, we become expert at keeping the door firmly closed. The problem is, unlike an old vacuum box, bags of tangled cables and items which really should have gone to the tip but “might come in handy one day”, the list above wants sorting. It won’t sit there and just gather dust. Left unsorted it grows and begs for attention, the more we shove it away, the stronger it seems to get, until one day, in one way or another, it bursts out of the cupboard and all over our lovely show home.

There may be many reasons we try to shove this stuff away; shame and fear are often pretty prominent in the mix. The stuff we hold in really does want processing, and left alone becomes toxic to us in so many ways.

As we were discussing my friend’s cupboard, we also discussed the importance of having people in our lives with whom we can be open and honest. There was no consensus on who these people should be, but that somehow learning to talk about that which shouldn’t be talked about, is the beginning of bringing the under-stairs cupboard under control.

The fear of being shamed is often the culprit that stops us from being honest with our struggles. The reality most of the time, is that when we do decide to share this stuff, we will be met by another human with a cupboard of their own, and a ton of empathy for ours.

As a therapist I may well be able to help you process some of the stuff you are holding inside, as for the actual cupboard under the stairs, you will need to keep looking on Pinterest…

2 responses to “The Cupboard Under The Stairs”

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