I love decorating ― artistically designing a space ― making it beautiful for the person living there. However, I hadn’t redone it in my own home for years. In early adulthood, I chose the theme of lighthouses to remind me of what is real beyond where the ocean kisses the shore. As the title of this blog suggests, the beach is a powerful place for me. But as years went by, souvenirs from
Africa started creeping into my
living room, taking over, and I needed a change of scenery.
Around this time, I developed a renewed interest in material simplicity and started taking trips to the library in pursuit of books about this topic. My favorite book on cleaning things out and most importantly, why we should and what affect all that stuff has on us is Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. You can find it on Amazon or at your local library. I HIGHLY recommend it.
Though getting rid of even unwanted items can be hard, I love how I feel afterward. In years past, I have written several times about the process of reducing what I own but this never really changed what my space looked like. But last year, I conducted a major cleanout, going through everything in my apartment getting rid of piles and piles of unwanted items. This seriously reduced what I had around me and I learned some things from this process I want to share with you in hope you might find it helpful in your own life.
I believe the more stuff we have around us, the more stressed out we are. With cupboards and drawers filled, items piled up on the floor and tables, it can be difficult to find things. As we look, we are reminded of all the things we haven’t attended to that need to be done and these are each little weights laying on our subconscious. We put them off because we feel overwhelmed with everything needing to be done right away. For example, behind my favorite chair in a convenient hidden corner is a quilt I need to send to the quilter and my camera that needs its sensor cleaned. They are things needing to be done that I am reminded of every time I have cause to look back there. What I need to do is just deal with them and get that weight of “I should do these things” off my mind.
How many times have you looked for something and been unable to find it? Perhaps it is in that pile of papers you haven’t sorted in months or in the bottom of the closet and you don’t even remember the last time you cleaned that out. But what if all those papers were sorted and filed? What if you knew exactly what was on the bottom of your closet? Wouldn't that be less stressful? With those tantalizing rewards, I decided to sort through, get rid of, and basically redesign my space to fit who I am now, not who I was years ago. It’s hard to live in a space that no longer expresses who you are inside.
The first step was sorting through everything I had. Some areas were easier than others but I worked through the house asking myself if I really needed this item or if I had too many. If I did have too many of one thing, I gave the extra away. What I have found over the years is getting rid of things comes in layers. An object I was not okay discarding the last time I went through that drawer, I am now ready to release. It helped that a friend was moving into her own apartment after having a roommate and needed household items and some furniture. Another friend keeps a library for the international students of the seminary we both attended so I gave several seminary books to him. It was a fun adventure finding places where things were wanted and would be used. By the time I was done, I had discarded a lot of dishes, food I wasn’t going to use, four pieces of furniture, gads of books, a bunch of clothes, and numerous other items. Seeing all that stuff leave through the front door never to return felt wonderful.
One of the things Karen Kingston talks about in Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui is what kind of influences our items have on us. The dishes I had been using was a set I bought just after college at a garage sale for five dollars. They had been the couple’s wedding gift but years and years later, were cracked, chipped, discolored, and there were far too many for one person. Having so many, this also meant I didn’t have to wash dishes as often, a continual struggle when I have no dishwasher but my own two hands. Though there is nothing wrong with having such dishes, what I heard when I looked at them was that I deserved no better. I was trying to make do but as a person in my 30s, I could afford better and it was time to find a set that fit me, a design of my own choosing. I shopped around and found a white and light green set that could serve four. With so few, the load felt lightened and I felt better about having something I loved that I could use everyday not to mention I now wash dishes on a regular basis. I also tossed nearly all my plastic containers and bought a new set of four covered glass bowls. Some of the cooking utensils too, were put in the discard box and with gift cards from Christmas, I went to the stores and replaced them with ones of higher quality that will last. I didn’t replace everything I wanted to, that will come in bits and pieces as I can afford it but I did replace the most important items.
Most of my furniture is second-hand, either bought used or given to me by old roommates when they moved out. I have bought a few smaller items new but these are few and far between. This has actually been a great way to furnish my home at little to no cost but as we get older, we can afford to replace items that don’t fit who we are or the look we’re going for. The desk I was using fit smack in the middle of this category. My mom’s friend had bought this small, particle board desk for her son when we were kids and when they were done with it, I inherited the desk. It was only moderately functional but that was about it. Over the years, it was also getting worn down and I didn’t like it. I wanted something I loved that fit me, that made me feel good when I looked at it. On top of all that, I am a writer and a writer without a desk he or she loves to be at is just plain sad. So I took the advice of the Karen Kingston and gave the desk away to someone who could use it and left the space open for a new desk to come into my life. I shopped around online but my new desk came to me in an unexpected way. I was visiting a friend’s new place of work on Easter Sunday, a store of old furniture and household items right before their grand opening. While exploring, I saw it. The desk intrigued me. It was a secretary’s desk made of rich mahogany, a type of desk I hadn’t even considered. It had three large drawers and the top fliped down to expose the desk with all its little shelves inside. It only took me a day to think it over and call Gil to tell him I wanted it. It is a place where I love to sit and work on various projects and though I keep it very neat, being able to close up the desk and not have all that stuff exposed to the room gives the space a much cleaner feel. I am sure that will be a beloved piece of furniture for years to come.
Once I gave away the furniture I didn’t want, I rearranged the rooms. Without the extra stuff, my space now has room to breath, to let the energy flow around the area. Having taken out two bookshelves in the living room (along with all the stuff on them that wasn’t placed in the desk drawers), I moved the couch down and put the keyboard near the desk so I can store the chair under the keyboard when the desk is not in use. The wooden two drawer file went into the corner along with a small lamp. My problem now was there was nowhere to set a hot drink while sitting in my favorite chair. That was solved when I took a look at some things a friend was selling which included a small, dark wood table with a little shelf and drawer. I love places I can store things so they’re out of sight. The drawer holds some little booklets and pencils and pens. I placed a basket from
Kenya on the shelf for library
books and on top is another basket with a lid where I stored my manuscripts for
the latest book while I worked on them. At a bazaar this last fall, I found a
stone coaster on which to place a cup. On top of the desk is another small
basket where I store important papers I’m working with and my keys and cell
phone so I can always find them.
A New Theme
As I said before, bits of
Kenya had started taking over my
lighthouse-themed living room so I decided to make the transformation complete
by finishing the job. I rounded up all the lighthouse themed paraphernalia and
got rid of it or stored it away. I then dug into a large basket in my room (do
you see a theme of baskets here?) and pulled out other items I had bought in Kenya. A little
wooden lion and elephant went on top of the fireplace with a small rattle made
of a gourd in between. A carving of a giraffe along with an Africa-shaped soap
stone box made friends with the basket on my desk. Over those, I hung a
hand-woven disk made of basketry material about eight inches in circumference.
I found an African print skirt my friend brought back from Mali to lay over
the back of my couch. My mom offered me a cream and tan colored couch cover to
replace my dusty blue one (which I also gave away.) In July, while walking
around the World Beat Festival in my hometown, I met a vendor selling pillows
with African covers. I selected three: two matching ones for the couch colored
green, blue, and brown, with bits of orange, and a green and brown one for my
means a lot to me and I love being reminded of it every day. A few souvenirs
from my trip to Europe did slip in including a small Eiffel Tower and a rosary from St. Paul’s Cathedral. I
love the reminder of different cultures and the friends who live in them.
Having taken down nearly all the old art, I started taking advantage of my local library’s art lending program until I decided what I wanted to put up. I didn’t have much money to spend on this part of the project so I used what I already had. Taking an old framed picture I had ― bland frame, uninteresting mat and a print that no longer fit with what I wanted ―I went to a friend who runs a frame shop. Taking the whole thing apart, she added texture to the frame, painted it a dark brown espresso color, and added a deep green mat to go with a picture of two giraffes I took myself while on safari. The result looks incredible, nothing like what she started with, and all it cost me was some supplies and a little labor. (The coloring on the pillows was my inspiration for my color choices.) At the same time, she also painted two other frames that same espresso color which I filled with more of my own photography, an elephant in the smaller frame and the one with nine openings, I put in some of my favorite photos from my trip to
Kenya. One of the cons of living in
a rented apartment is that one does not typically get to paint the walls. Thus
I chose bold, darker colors to stand out. I also rooted around my belongings
and found a black, wooden carved frame a friend gave me years ago and put in my
photograph of a lion at rest.
As words are also important to me, I framed the poem my editor later told me is the center of my latest book in a green mat and hung it by the door. I also went through the smaller picture frames around my house and replaced the outdated photos inside to pictures of friends who give me great joy. Whenever I look at their faces now, it lifts my heart. I believe the art around one’s home should reflect who you are now, not who you were five or ten years ago. Having my house fit who I am now feels wonderful. It helps remind me of who that person is and keeps me living in the moment, not in the past.
Besides going through all my belongings and changing some of the furniture around, I have not redecorated my bedroom or bathroom. On the floor in my bedroom are two high quality rugs I am not yet ready to replace and I have a bunch of fabric I bought in Kenya with which I want to make a large quilt for my bed. Once that is finished, I will use the quilt as the basis to redecorate those rooms. They may not quite fit who I am now, but they are peaceful spaces and that is highly valuable to me as well.
I also have some items in storage in a friend’s unfinished room across town. I started the process of going through all that at the same time I went through my apartment but stopped when writing and publishing my recent book took over my life. Once the weather warms back up (the room is unheated), I will go back and finish the job — throwing things away, recycling unwanted papers, selling what people may want to buy, and giving away others. Since much of this is from younger years, this part of the project also includes working through letting go of who I was, of the need to hold onto that person, that child, and embracing who I am now. Who we have been is important and valuable but if I put that person higher in value than who I am now, then my value is misplaced. We cannot live in the past, we have to live in the present. We may not think we do this, but if we look around ourselves and think about what items we hold onto, even in storage, we can tell where our values lie and what lives we are living. So I am keeping only the important things: some of my favorite toys (though I have let others go), the canopy that goes with my four poster bed, Christmas decorations, graded papers from seminary I want to read later, and a few of the best pieces of clay sculpting from a class I took in high school. The rest I feel is weighing me down and I am ready to let it go.
The hard part of going through everything, is doing it again. As I said before, going through things comes in layers. Once you’ve peeled back one layer, you have to do it again to peel back the next. For example, friends have been giving me clothes they no longer want (which I love!) but that means I need to go through my own closet and do the same to make room for the new items. Books also seem to come in a lot faster than they leave — my library is the hardest thing for me to go through. I am sure I could go through my whole apartment again and take out a couple more boxes of things I don’t use.
Having so many drawers and baskets around, one of the easiest things to do is to shove things into them and forget what is inside. So every now and then, I pull open a drawer or pull down a basket and go through what is inside. Each one typically only takes a few minutes but it keeps me asking “Do I need this?” It also reminds me of what is inside, helps me keep things organized and I don’t forget where things are. It’s a habit I’m working on forming as things I thought I would use when I did the major cleanout, I really don’t need and it’s my chance to go through that next layer of items I’m ready to let go.
The trickiest part of upkeep, though, is keeping things picked up. For me, this includes not leaving things out on counters and tables but putting them away. I also have to keep shoes and clothes organized in my closet or they fall out and start infringing on the floor in the hallway. I can’t use the living room floor or the couch as a dumping ground but put things away when I come home at the end of the day. Regularly, I now go around and make sure things are picked up, put away, and I even run the vacuum cleaner every now and then. My biggest growth area I am working on this year is the deeper cleaning: cleaning the bathroom, washing the kitchen floor, and dusting. Some of you may have a system down but I live by myself and tend to focus on projects instead of keeping the house deeply cleaned. I’m not saying this is entirely wrong, but it is my goal this year to develop better habits on keeping things truly clean and organized.
Last night while I was picking the things up I had left on the floor, my keyboard was playing my favorite song, and between the putting away, I continued to practice my violin. It felt so cozy, so warm and inviting, so comfortable. I like the cleaned up yet lived in look. Things are definitely in their place but there are also books stacked up next to my chair, the laptop is set up on the dining room table, my coat hangs on the back of the desk chair, and my work bag is waiting by the door. It’s home and I love it. It’s so much easier to enjoy my time there when I’m organized, when there is space, and I’m surrounded by things I truly love. Sorting everything out and redesigning the space took a lot of effort and time but it was completely worth it. I am now truly home in my home.
The things I learned through my own experience of cleaning out and reorganizing, you can apply to your own home. It may seem daunting but let me tell you, it is worth it. Here are some tips I learned to get you started. Check your local library for books on cleaning out your home. They will inspire you! They certainly inspired me.
- Start with one area at a time. Don’t feel overwhelmed, just start with one drawer or one closet. The satisfaction you feel in cleaning out and organizing that space will inspire you to go onto the next.
- When choosing furniture, choose the pieces that can serve more than one purpose. One piece of furniture serving two functions means one less thing cluttering your home.
- Choose furniture with drawers or out of sight storage spaces such as a television stand with shelves on the side. The more things you can store out of sight but keep easily accessible, the cleaner your space will feel. My desk has three large drawers and I can close the top so everything is out of sight where previously, all my supplies were on display on a bookshelf.
- Baskets! I love baskets. I have one for books by my chair, one for music and remote controls by the television, one for papers on top of my desk, another in my kitchen for food storage, and a giant one in my bedroom for blankets and other various items. Again, out of sight gives a much cleaner look and baskets, when not overdone, are a beautiful decoration as well as being functional.
- Keep knick-knacks to a minimum, The more of these you have, the more cluttered your space will feel and the more difficult dusting will be. I keep a few favorites out, especially if they go with my theme, and have several more in storage to rotate in at a later time.
- What you are not okay letting go today, you may be okay letting go of tomorrow. Be honest with yourself, but be tender too. Things can come off in layers and once you know how good it feels to have less, you will be ready to go deeper.