This is slightly more esoteric territory than The Tonic usually treads, but in recent months a preference for tidy and organized spaces has become something more, a sense that tinkering, tidying, and playing with the elements in one’s home is more than just practical, it is also healing and a little bit magic.
There are aspects of feng shui that have always appealed to me. I cherish the super-practical nature of it and its championing of harmony and organization and clearing and balance. There are things, however, that hold much less appeal. If you’ve ever Googled feng shui you will, no doubt, have gone down a rabbit hole of sites all regurgitating the same information about bed directions and mirrors and also advocating for things like little golden frogs or coins tied together with red ribbon… ugh. I want less clutter in my home, not more.
The thing is, I really like being home. After every workweek, time at home and time alone is something I value and seek out. Without it I am wiped and uninspired and exhausted even if I’ve been sleeping 8 hours. Just…off. My home has always been tidy and things have always had a place, and all who have ever visited will attest to this, but it hasn’t always felt balanced or like an accurate reflection of me, and the last six months have seen me addressing that imbalance.
There is a difference between a considered home and a tidy one, and mine was very much the latter. It is a primal thing, needing a warm, dry place to rest your head, and this is just an elevation of that. A warm, gorgeous, sexy place to rest your head. You know when a place feels good, feels light and inviting and welcoming, and also when it does not. Like any other relationship, homes require maintenance and nurturing and ours had not really had much of either. I always hated the colour of our walls as well as the marble flooring, and there were all these other things, like four different sorts of lighting in the living room, or bedroom windows that just LET TOO MUCH LIGHT IN that all pissed me off, just a little smidge, but every day.
Where to begin?
Meghan Wallace James has been an incredible resource (although her site is much less informative than she is on podcasts). I first found her work via the That’s so retrograde podcast, and was inspired into a whirlwind of shedding and discarding. Clothes, furniture, broken lamps, unwanted wedding gifts (from nearly six years ago)… no cupboard or cranny escaped unscathed. At the end? I felt that smug satisfaction of a job well done, of course, but also the lightness that comes from discarding all the detritus that you’ve been carting around. I really was never going to wear that dress, but someone else I knew really liked it, and passing it (and many other similar bits) on has been a win-win. Happier without all the crap, and happier also that all of those things and clothing and artefacts I’d been hanging on to have gone to new owners who might love them more.
“Clutter is a series of unmade decisions,” Wallace James said to The Local Rose blog. ”When you begin to clear the clutter, to make the decisions, you not only access clarity in mind and home, you create space for fresh energy to land. Abundant energy needs to be able to find you, to circulate beautifully and to have a place to rest.”
Wallace James bases her practice of ‘modern feng shui’ off a simplified Bagua map. In Wallace James’ practice she takes the classic feng shui energy map, which divides your home into nine equal-sized ‘guas,’ or zones, but makes it easier. She uses the front door as the point of orientation, so it’s easy to look at it and work out where in your own home those zones lie. She then gives each zone its own energy connotation, colour family and material element. All the essential components of feng shui are there, but it’s much more digestable and chic, and no little golden frogs in sight.
In the months prior to hearing that episode of the podcast I’d been walking through my front door and feeling like something, or many things, just weren’t right. This was more than ‘ugh I fucking hate this floor’ although I really, really did. It was more a feeling of ‘stuckness’ and stagnation, of a lack of flow, or just…joy. Just not right. It made me a little tense and anxious because everything was, ostensibly, in the right place but just felt wrong. In a larger sense it has been a rough couple of months for everybody, and on every plane: personal, political, social… there is so much happening and changing and churning, and all of it is ripe and necessary, but home has felt like a refuge in many ways, except when it didn’t.
What I did
Oh man, what didn’t I do? There was the cleaning and the clearing, of our bedroom, the store room, all those cupboards and drawers and the store room, oh the store room! And after the purge there was the restock, when we put down flooring in the living room (that we can take with us should we move), painted the walls (a dark, dark blue in our bedroom, a grey stripe in the guest room, and a slate grey in the living room), and replaced our bed with a lush, low upholstered one from Gulmohar Lane. I also got rid of as much floor-standing stuff as possible that always gave me this tight, hemmed-in feeling that I hated. So, wall lamps by our bed instead of floor lamps, for instance.
And what’s changed? Everything. The dark bedroom has us all sleeping better for a start. It is also, dare I say it, quite sexy, all lush, dark walls and little brass accents. I walk in my front door into an oasis that just has me feeling lighter and brighter and happier. The second room (that has over the last five years been at times a guest room and a store room and a general dumping ground) now makes me happy every time I step in, with its lovely stripe that’s brightened it up beyond expectation and that’s also encouraging me to restart my flagging meditation practice. There have also been things that have happened – little victories and blessings and unexpected pleasures that I believe have been helped along by the space we cleared for them. Great things happen when we are inspired by what we see and sense.
1. Capital-P Purge
This is a common theme in many cultures; Buddhism, for instance, although their language around it is a little more gentle. The idea of a home and possessions purge cannot have eluded you entirely, even if only recently via the Marie Kondo method (I haven’t read it because, um, I live it, but lots of people swear by Marie “KonMari” Kondo’s best-selling book about the art of organization, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up). The core idea is that when our physical spaces are clear, our brains and bodies are too. That ‘a cluttered home is a cluttered mind’ is the adage you’re thinking of, and few who have ever done a deep clean of a room, or even a set of junk-filled drawers can deny that there is something really powerful about clearing things out.
2. Make space for magic
Once you’ve purged, don’t feel compelled to fill all that space back up again. Whether it’s your wardrobe or your kitchen drawers you’ve cleaned out (or better still, both!), enjoy that spaciousness and emptiness for a while, and when you do start to replace things that need replacing, make more considered purchases. I’m still looking for ways to make our entryway a little bit more exciting, but nothing’s struck me yet and until it does, I’m content to let it be.
3. Rearrange stuff
Everything doesn’t have to go where it did before. Try new layouts and room configurations for a fresh injection of energy into a familiar and well-worn room. Our bedroom has an odd layout, with doors and built-in cupboards and things that make it hard to do this, but we tossed out old shelving, and moved lights to make it feel new in there regardless.
4. Cleanliness is key
From windows to drawers, clean everything. Dust everything, polish everything. Clean out dusty nooks and wipe down shelving. I rubbed our front door down with essential oil and I don’t know if anybody else can tell or has even noticed, but I feel a little frisson of pleasure every time I’m letting myself in and a little fragrance wafts over me.
5. A place for everything and everything in its place
….and voila, no more clutter. Also no more scrabbling for your keys or wallet ever again.
6. Add Life
I like plants, but flowers and art all count. I’ve gone truly bonkers at the nursery, and all rooms now have at least a little greenery in them and nothing has made me happier, truly.