Out of clutter find simplicity…

Clutter.

Ugh!  The word fills me with dread and drips with disorganization.

Seriously, this word is an onomatopoeia for the chaotic state of my house.  The “CL” sound is the “clunk, clunk” sound of me knocking something over on a table or tripping over the mess on the floor.  The “UH” sound is the sound I make when I’m lamenting over the broken Thing I’ve knocked over or me as I’m falling to the ground.  The “TUH” sound is the sound of me facepalming when the baby starts wailing because of the noise, the dog comes over to investigate the situation or my head making contact with the wooden floorboards.  The “ER” sound is the grumble I use to keep the obscenities at bay as I deal with whatever situation befalls me.  So you see, that word begets bad tidings from the outset.

I do want to clarify however.  I’m not bad enough to be a candidate for Hoarders.  Sure, there are rooms in our house that I left moving boxes in and closed the door for two years to “deal with it later” and never got to it, but I do try and be tidy when guests arrive, I do try to organize things.  I want to have a house in which all the material occupants have a place to belong.  Why can’t my house look like one of those magazines?  Why can’t my house look “finished?”

The main supporters of cleanliness and organization are my husband and my mother (when she’s in town); detail oriented, they are great at keeping me on track with the day to day minutia of chores- which is not in my nature as a big picture kind of gal- and keeping me from getting overwhelmed when the job is large, like cleaning up after Christmas.  I have my mother to thank for channeling her Monica Geller nature to save one of our rooms from certain death by suffocation.  Time and again she cleans when she comes to visit cross country and I’m grateful for every minute since I learned to enjoy cooking but not cleaning.  She likes things much more neat and orderly than I do; I have to live at least on the edge of chaos.

Why is that I wonder?

Before even starting the feng shui part of the project I’m supposed to get rid of all the clutter and clean the area, thereby beginning with a clean slate before changing or adding anything.  The book I’m using talks all about clutter, the how-to instructions that are in any organization book or magazine anywhere, but it goes beyond just mere instructions.  It talks about mental and emotional clutter as well and the cycle between those and physical clutter.  Think of it: if your home is supposed to reflect yourself, then what does clutter say about your state of mind?  And if you have clutter in your home, how does that make you feel?  It’s a vicious cycle that I’m finally ready to break.  How do I break it?  By letting go.

Letting go.  That is so hard for me.  When I hold on to something, I’m holding on to all of the memories of what that item was and the potential for all that item can be.  Who I could be is also tied to those items and who I could be is much easier to dream about than to let go and see who I really am.  Who am I really?  Am I broken like my old, broken dishware?  Am I cheap like the flea market find I purchased but never restored?  Am I a poor college student  living in a dorm still?  Am I dirty like the stained towel I never got rid of?  Do these things that clutter my home add value my life or subtract it?  

Or, most importantly, can I change my life to be who I want to be when I don’t allow myself the space to change it?

Clutter.

The word still has the same meaning to me, but I’m no longer afraid of it.  

I’m okay with getting rid of the clutter.  My home may not look like a pristine magazine cover with my pets and my dogs and my hard to defeat bad chore habits, but at least my clutter free  home will be a reflection of who I will be- who I actually am.  

Filled with warmth, compassion, peace, creativity, joy and love. 

   

Quotation by Albert Einstein

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All great changes are preceded by chaos

Silence.

Stillness.

Sleep.

As I look around the quiet room I gaze upon the slumbering faces of my dog flopped down on the floor, my cat curled up on the chair and my baby laying next to my lap and wonder how I became so lucky that they would all be asleep at the same time during the day.   What a miracle!  The cause must be the slow and constant pattering of rain on the roof and the dark, dreary clouds looming out in the chilly winter air.

Am I the only one who likes to stay indoors, curled up on the couch, pensively reflecting with a mug of steaming hot cocoa on a rainy day?

I didn’t think so.

The dark, quiet, peaceful atmosphere of a rainy day almost beckons deep thinking and creative pondering.

So what am I pondering today?  My latest project: my house, or more specifically, feng shui.  With the new year has come new actions and my spring cleaning has started early.  Before I can get to the principles of beautifying and rearranging my home I have to first de-clutter and clean it thoroughly.  (A big job for a big house.)  Be proud of me; it’s day 10 of 2013 and I’m still persevering in my cleaning campaign!  I’m tired of being a pack rat, keeping junk for sentimentality when I ave better items to maintain the same sentiments.  I’m tired of keeping broken items that I have been meaning to fix for years.  I’m also tired of the choke hold clutter has on me.  Clutter hides in every room of my house waiting to ninja chop me as soon as I walk in the door.  How can I start new projects when there is no space in which to work on them or my mind is filled with a never ending to do list?  How can I have a simple life when I have too much Stuff to create simplicity?

Though I’ve tried many organizational books in the past to help me create a plan to clean house, this time I’m working on removing the clutter from my mind and spirit as well.  This combination seems to be working well.  Beginning by answering questions about what I love/hate about my home and how I feel in different spaces, I had a few revelations:

 Firstly, there are rooms in my home in which I love everything in that space yet spend little time in that room.  At first glance that seems to make no sense.  Why would I not spend time in a room that looks nice and contains pleasant things?  The answer: the atmosphere.  The room is cold or the room is dark or the room has a gloomy aura, etc.  Like many other things in life, the outside or first appearance of something can be good yet need fixing when a deeper inquiry is made.  The vice versa is also true.  I tend to spend lots of time in rooms that I don’t love or that feel dysfunctional.  Is it because the room projects some aspect about myself that needs work?  Or is it just that I’m glued to the TV to escape reality and the couch to escape action?

Secondly, I sometimes feel like I don’t deserve beautiful things.  Am I afraid that I won’t preserve the beauty or that I will ruin or lose such things?  Or do I feel unworthy?  I’m not sure.  I took this picture of a room in Chatsworth on my choir tour to England many years ago.  This is my fantasy drawing room:

Chatsworth The beautiful rug, the walls lined with books, the treasured antiques and the grand piano… Exquisite!

Obviously, I don’t have the money for this type of splendor.  But what if my home looked like this:

Peek Crescent, Wimbledon SW19 ref328

No, I don’t have the money to own an elegant London mansion either, but I could make my space this beautiful if I chose to.  I could even be 125 lbs if I chose to be.  Why do I not work for what I want?  Why don’t I deserve beauty?

Lastly, I have a hard time separating objects from memories.  Some people can pick up a plate and only see a plate.  I pick up that same plate and feel happy because the plate brings back the memory of my roommate in college who helped me pick out that plate set.  Some people get rid of that same plate when they buy a new one to replace it, but I keep the plate to preserve the memory of that friend.  I am learning (albeit slowly) that the object does not make the memory, nor does getting rid of the object devalue the memory.  I’m also discovering that getting rid of the old makes space to bring in the new and that this type of change is refreshing, revitalizing.

***

There is no magic in feng shui, except the magic that we bring to it. Your house changes when you do as you incorporate new principles and habits into your style of living. As you rearrange your furniture you are rearranging yourself, and the world reacts to your inner revelations. Ripples do not just belong to water but to energy, to life.

I have been a student of feng shui for a week, a student of psychology for seven years and a student of life for twenty six years so I’m no expert on anything. I do know for a certainty however, that change is as inevitable as death and taxes. How a person responds to change, whether wonderfully or horribly, quickly or slowly, is vacillating.  My change is taking much longer than I would like, but hopefully this type of minuscule movement will lead to lasting change.

Hello, my name is Virginia.

I love feelings and hate change.

I am afraid to work for what I want because I am afraid of the unknown.

But now is the time for something new.

Something beautiful.

Because I deserve it.

Deepak Chopra

Read as you taste fruit or savor wine, or enjoy friendship, love or life

How often do you savor things?

No, I mean it.  How often do you really stop and savor anything?  Did you gulp down your dinner as you glued your eyes to the television, ready to jump up at the slightest provocation?  Or did you sit in a comfortable chair, fork (or spoon) hovering in the air as you contemplated the harmonious intermingling of delicious mastication going on in your mouth?

I am guilty of the former.

I am making up for it right now though by savoring my relaxing chamomile and lavender tea sweetened by fresh, wildflower honey in a deep blue and white ocean wave mug.

Mmmmmmmm.

I may be new to feng shui, the ancient art of precise placement, however I have always been aware and inspired by having things that are meaningful and symbolic.  Hence my mug collection.  You might think, “Really? Mugs?” but I enjoy having a variety of mugs to fit my different moods and whims.  For example, my wave mug helps me relax by thinking of the ocean and all the pleasant vacations I have taken in which I enjoyed the wild waves in all their watery glory.  I also think of the Starbucks on Colley Avenue in Norfolk, Virginia in which I worked when I purchased this mug.  That summer I met many pleasant people and went jet-skiing on many wonderful waves.  I was also challenged by a co-worker to be a better worker and better person; the advice in which she gave is still precious to me to this day.

Savoring this tea in this mug in this present moment.

Life should be lived like this.

Not that I do.  I live in an all or nothing mentality most of the time.  I am sitting and watching TV for hours on end or cleaning like it is nobody’s business (usually when company is on its way over).  I read books cover to cover skipping sleep (and sometimes food) because I am enraptured by the journey.  If I have to stop mid-project to do something else, the project usually lays forgotten until it is eaten by dust bunnies or the vacuous dark in my closet.  With school papers, I used to put things off and do nothing but ruminate until the very end when I would sit down and write the whole paper until it was finished.  Procrastination is the quintessence of this state of mind.  No matter how I fight it the chaos of life sucks me from one thing to another, never finishing, always distracted, eschewing routine and quickening my days.  My head is somewhere in 2010, my heart in 2020 but I need to wake up to January 2013 so that I can live.

Really live.  Savoring life.

I have done this before so I know that it is possible.  Usually it happens when I travel.  Something about being in a new place for a short amount of time makes you appreciate it and therefore savor it more.  My last trip was taking my sister to New York City.  Though I’ve been to NYC several times before, the magic of big cities is that there is always something new to experience; you’ve never really “seen it all.”  This trip, I spent time savoring the wet stones of Washington Park and the gritty underground paths of the Subway, discovering surprising mosaics in the random walls of Greenwich village, dancing clumsily with new acquaintances, filling my belly (and soul) with rich, delectable food…

A December day in Washington Park, Manhattan
A December day in Washington Park, Manhattan

Is it actually possible to savor all life like this?

I thought this an interesting question so I experimented this evening with the mundane task of cleaning the kitchen.  Now, there are some people- like my mother- who absolutely love to clean.  Good for them.  I’m not one of them.  I despise cyclical chores; once you clean dishes or laundry they get dirty once again.  Once you sweep or vacuum your floor the dog and cat walk on it, shedding fur ad naseum.  I am the type of person who will order takeout after cleaning the kitchen just so I don’t have to get my spotless pans dirty.  Loving to cook, you can see where the problem lies in my kitchen.  It is a room I can never keep clean but where I spend many enjoyable hours creating dishes and making messes.  Rather paradoxical: I love the look of a clean kitchen even though I hate keeping it clean.

Tonight was different.  I really tried to be “in the moment” while cleaning, focusing on the sensory sensations of the task rather than on my dislike.  I felt the warmth of the water running over my hands and trickling down my arms.  I watched the tiny, white soap bubbles gathering, multiplying on the sides of my pans and sliding easily into the sink when rinsed.  I handled the smooth, silver steel of my utensils  and took cathartic pleasure in wiping them to gleaming splendor.  I joyfully shined my countertops and swept the terror-stricken dust bunnies across the tiles into their new prison.  Most importantly, I looked at each item and remembered.  Remembered the wine last held by my wine topper, the first apartment I lived in when I first used my skillet, the day after my wedding when I received multiple collections of the exact same knife set (sending me a message?) and returning them to the store to get my toaster oven, the hefty tax return used to purchase our nice coffee maker (replacing the disgusting and cheap old one) in our brand new house.  My kitchen is filled with memories of me actually living and my cleaning of these items is honoring those memories.  When I think of cleaning in that aspect, it doesn’t seem quite so tedious.

Maybe there is something to this.  You hear cliche sayings like, “Carpe diem” (seize the day), “live life to the fullest,” “life is your oyster,” but get exhausted trying to live grandly.  Maybe those people just mean to take time to really see what you’re looking at and really listen to what you’re hearing.  Maybe it’s the tiny or mundane things that need to be viewed with fresh eyes.  Savoring life takes effort and seems rather exhausting sometimes, however once you start to acknowledge this new type of sensation, changes follow bit by bit until you sense everything in this way.  It’s like my random onion plant.  One day I have an onion in a wooden bowl with other onions to be used for cooking.  The next day an unexpected shoot pops up out of that  onion.  I leave it alone in that wooden bowl and each day it grows a little higher and a little fuller until I have a full fledged onion plant next to the TV that needs to be planted.

Random onion plant, thank you.  Your presence fills me with surprise, curiosity, amusement and clarity.  You thrive despite being left alone and teach me that little changes every day turn into big accomplishments.

My random onion

Quotation by George Herbert

Nothing is predestined: The obstacles of your past can become the gateways that lead to new beginnings

There are 3 things to know about me:

1.) I am always striving for balance in my mind, body and spirit

2.) I always have to have a project of some kind to work on

3.) I love the color green

You might say, “Green? Why is that important?”  However, colors do have a psychological effect that translates to the other two aspects above.  I am infatuated with bright colors of all kinds and implement a rainbow of visual hues to all facets of my life, but green has a special place in my heart.

         *              *              *

Since the New Year has begun I decided to finally take action to quench the clutter and quell the chaos filling my life- most specifically my home.  Now, every year I buy a Real Simple magazine and promise myself that I will make some drastic changes to my lifestyle in order to create one of those Better Homes and Gardens houses.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  The rooms are clutter free, perfectly decorated and painstakingly arranged to create a feeling of simplicity, peace and perfection.  Yeah right.  I could never get my house to look like that!  I’d even settle for one of those homes that have the “lived-in” look but are still inviting places of warmth and light and cleanliness.

Not chaos.

My husband may call it “first world problems” and I admit that complaining about “having too much stuff” and “having a messy house” pales in comparison to those who have too little or don’t even have a house to live in, but continual chaos crushes compassion.  Seriously.  How can I give money to the poor when I’m re-purchasing lost items?  (If you ask about the stapler I might scream.)  How can I spend time making afghans when I need to wash the Himalayan clothing pile?  How can I open my home to someone when we’re wading through pet hair?  (I might be exaggerating a bit but it feels like that sometimes.)  My nature is to be altruistic yet when I’m surrounded by mess it sucks me into a lazy stupor of selfishness.  Excuses, excuses, I know.  But how do I begin-and finish- despite past failures?

1.) Take a holistic approach to vanquishing the chaos.  Learn about feng shui.

Things interconnect.  I completely feel like the clutter in my home is a reflection of the clutter in my mind and the clutter in my body (um… why did I binge on all those cookies during the holidays?)  I should remember that I just had a baby and my whole year in 2012 had been one big roller coaster and I’m still finding my new normal in this new journey called “Parenthood.”  I would cut myself some slack for that reason, however the problem was there before I had children and will be taught to my child if I don’t regain my balance now.  It is time for more than just a simple magazine; it is time to learn the principles for fixing the energy flow in my home and life.

2.) Start a project: Feng shui my home

This will be a long term project beginning with the book I purchased, Feng Shui Your Life: 2nd ed. by Jayme Barrett.  We’ll see how this goes, although it did inspire me to put away dirty dishes and empty the trash already.  From what I’ve read so far, I like her simple explanations and pleasant approach to this ancient art.  It feels tangible, doable.  Like despite my dislike of chores I can do this because I will feel how it effects me mentally, physically and spiritually.

3.) Add more green into my home.

When looking around this evening, I noticed that although I absolutely love the color green, it’s virtually nonexistent in the areas in which I spend the most time and saturating the rooms I use the least.  How can that be?  Green to me represents newness, refreshing life, vitality in nature, peaceful  beginnings.  All the optimism in my life could be painted in hues from Cal Poly Pomona to lime and everything in between.  Green takes me back to my roots and reminds me that life goes on and it is a life worth living.  Green reminds me of nature, where I’m happiest in a quiet forest surrounded by green leaves, or in a meadow with green grass waving cheerily in the breeze.  Maybe it’s not just the color green that needs to be added to my living space, but all the things that it represents.

Birth. Nature. Healing. Renewal.

Happy 2013!
Happy New Year!

New beginnings are a big part of our home now, so I think changes are in order to reflect this new chapter of our lives- through color.  Huge or subtle, I’m not yet quite sure, but the adventure awaits.

Quotation by Ralph Blum