Warmth, intimacy, peace
That’s my mantra for the way I want to live in my home.
I yearn to live simply and richly. Not owned by my possessions and owning only what I need or what gives me joy.
And you know what? For years I’ve felt like a fraud!
I talk a good talk about simplicity, and in many ways my life is very simple: my house is quite small, I don’t own a television, I don’t have a complicated work schedule, don’t take big expensive holidays and I’m not a fan of retail therapy. But the heart of where I live – my home – has for years been absolute chaos. (The wonderful coach FlyLady refers to this quite literally as Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.)
It makes me feel vulnerable to write about this, because I’m inviting you into a mess which I haven’t even shown my closest friends, but I’m hoping that if anyone else is in my situation it might be helpful and give you a few ideas.
I’ve always been domestically-challenged. I don’t seem to have inherited the gene which leads to a healthy, tidy home. Until very recently I’ve been unable to eat at my kitchen table, have had one seat on one sofa on which there’s room for me to sit. My clothes have been living mostly on my bedroom floor. And talking of floors, in most areas of my house there hasn’t been much floor visible under the piles of books, papers and art supplies.
It’s disgusting, demeaning and depressing to live like this.
I’ve beaten myself up for years about the contradictions in my life.
I’m very visual, yet if I put a newspaper on the kitchen table for a few moments it pulls a disappearing act: I can no longer see it. And then it gets joined by the day’s letters, an umbrella, gloves and the book I’m reading until in what seems like five minutes flat, I can no longer see the surface of the table. But I don’t even notice I can’t see it.
I’m very organised when I’m working on a project, and yet completely scatty and vague around the house – I literally barely notice what I’m doing with “stuff” because my mind is buzzing with ideas and other preoccupations.
As anyone who lives like this will tell you, it gets to a point where it’s completely overwhelming. A house which has been allowed to fester takes a long time and a lot of work to get straight again. And there’s the fear that (a bit like dieting!) you’ll just go back to your old ways again. When we’re in this situation we often don’t trust ourselves. And it feels totally overwhelming. We literally don’t know where to start and lose faith in ourselves. And the sense of being ashamed is part of the overwhelm.
But I’m finally coming out of it. I’m finally getting to a point where I can have intimacy, warmth and peace in my home and invite friends to share it. It’s taken loads of baby steps, one after the other, and I reckon I’ll be done by Christmas.
There are two things that have made a big difference for me.
I’ve had to accept that I’m not a natural at this and I need help to get and stay organised. This came in the form of a book, Julie Morgenstern’s Organising from the Inside Out, which has been invaluable. One of Julie’s recommendations is that once you sort out a cupboard or other storage space, you label it with what goes in there.
Well I scoffed. I scoffed for months. It was obvious what was supposed to go in that cupboard, wasn’t it? What are we, in kindergarten? But then after the umpteenth time of looking for something in the wrong drawer, I caved in. As I gradually began to clean out my cupboards and shelves, I took my labeller and made discreet little labels to attach just out of sight. Now, I have a small kitchen cupboard labelled laundry liquids/dish-washing/floor washing; I only put those things in it and I can find them easily. It’s a dream. The whole kitchen is now populated with similar labels and I don’t care any more whether an intelligent woman like me “should” need to label her cupboards.
This has been the single most important thing for me.
In all my previous attempts to get organised, I’ve started with the “public” rooms: my kitchen/diner and living room, where guests would actually come and spend time.
Meanwhile, my bedroom and study – “my” rooms – were tips. Literally. They were where I tipped all the unsorted chaos from the rest of the house. There have been times over the past few years when I’ve slept in a bed surrounded by a wall of scruffy boxes taller than I am, with space in the room only to get in and out of bed and walk to the door and back.
And this was the key. I started clearing our my bedroom and making it beautiful. I spent 30 minutes a day and quite quickly it began to be a space that nurtured me.
When I put myself first by putting my private space first, everything began to fall into place.
Sleeping in a comfortable, clean and beautiful bedroom has set my creative ideas racing, it’s given me physical and spiritual space and energy which has made it much easier to tackle the rest of the house, bit by bit.
So if you’re struggling with any kind of block, whether it’s a physical block like my messy house or a creative block, the key is to start with some active self-love. Show yourself some respect and love, get going and build up some momentum. Everything else will flow from that.
What do you need to accept before you can move forward?
Photo by Ralph Aichinger