Friends, if you ever need instant motivation to clean while fasting, check out the site for TLC’s series, Hoarders: Buried Alive. I’m having a hard time sitting down to write this – after visiting the site as part of my research for this post, I’m struggling with a compulsion to scrub my entire house, then bathe myself in Clorox. I didn’t find the reference I was looking for, so I’m asking you to just consider the premise of this post; everything in your internal world is represented somewhere in your physical space. Being burdened with too many ideas at work might result in heaps of paper stacked on your desk. A resentment towards taking care of yourself might appear as a perpetually empty refrigerator. While it’s easy to see the extremes of this in shows like Hoarders, we all experience this phenomenon. The good news is that we can use this to make changes in reverse.
I found myself disturbed by Hoarders, but watching the clips almost compulsively. I can’t help but think that the people who are willing to appear on this show are some of the bravest people on the planet. It’s not easy to open yourself up and be willing to acknowledge you have a problem and ask for help. I suspect it is made all the more difficult by the judgments of friends, family, and a large cable viewing audience. I, myself, am a recovering hoarder. At my worst, as a young child, I probably wouldn’t have qualified for the show because no bugs were involved, but watching it was close enough for me to take a trip down a memory lane of emotions. Shame, desperation to avoid feeling anything – an internal chaos that could only be expressed by creating heaps of stuff in my environment.
Ten years ago, as I was entering therapy, I remember having more clothes than I could possibly fit in my three giant closets. Costco was a dangerous place- surely I needed another fake plant? A set of luggage? My apartment wasn’t in complete chaos – I could at least fake it when I had people over. But when I was alone, clutter was everywhere. That’s a perfect description of my internal world at that time – I looked okay on the outside, but I knew I was broken inside.
Today, I’d willingly show my closets to any visitor. I’ve cleaned out most of my emotional baggage, and there’s nothing in my house that feels shameful and needs to be hidden. (Thank God for therapists.) I still find, though, that patterns that aren’t working for me are reflected in my house. My initial inspiration for this post was my radical redecorating act for the week: I moved one of my nightstands out of my bedroom, and moved my bed over so that I can open the closet door and walk on “my side” of the bed simultaneously. As the nightstand is twelve inches square, I feel a little ludicrous explaining just how resistant I was to doing this.
A while ago I was fortunate to have my dear friend – a fellow coach and a lifelong designer – stay with me. I solicited her help for my bedroom, as something felt off but I couldn’t decide how to change it. She suggested getting rid of both ridiculously small and ineffective nightstands, moving my bed over, and getting one real nightstand for myself. She laughed at me for not even being able to fit my Kleenex box on the current nightstand.
I was instantly resistant; I needed both nightstands or I would never find a romantic partner. Didn’t she realize the cardinal rule of Feng Shui for attracting love into your life? There must be pairs of everything! I can’t selfishly hog all the bedroom space or I will never manifest a partner! I went on in this vein for some time before she cut me off, claiming this was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard. It wasn’t until she announced she had the best sex of her life in a room with only one nightstand that I even began to consider it.
I am embarrassed to say I contemplated this change for more than a month. Could I really break my Feng Shui rules so flagrantly? Could I take all my bedroom space for myself with no regard for my not-yet-manifested partner? Finally, I decided that if the existence, or lack, of a personal nightstand even registered as a decision factor when I invited a partner into my bed, there would be far more serious problems at play. Out went the nightstand.
I moved my bed over, and discovered that it is now perfectly centered. There is plenty of room to walk on both sides. It feels spacious and easy. Though it was a change of only one foot, the room feels five times larger. I’m not cramped trying to get into bed. I realized that it has perfectly mirrored an element of my psyche. I’ve shrunk myself and given up my own needs in favor of a partner who does not even exist; this is part of why I am afraid of relationships. I think I will have to shrink and accommodate someone else’s needs above my own – without even being asked to do so. I didn’t even realize I was doing it; it’s been an old, unquestioned rule laid out in my physical space.
So what patterns might you change with some minor household adjustment? Martha Beck has an excellent way to start if you are lost. Think about your home, and identify the area that you like the least. This could be something tiny like a junk drawer, or a whole room. Describe it with three adjectives. Then, list three antonyms (opposite words) of these descriptors.
In my bedroom example, it felt cramped, unfinished, and out of balance. My antonyms would be spacious, finished, and balanced. Now you know both what you don’t and do want for this space. Second step- ask yourself if there is any are of your life that can be described by those initial three adjectives.
Now for the fun part – instead of having to do deep psychological work, we get to redecorate. The goal is to find an object, a change – anything – that will make your least favorite space feel more like your antonyms. If you are stuck, enlist the help of a trusted friend. Often they can see things that we can’t. For me, this was easy (once I had help) – all I had to do was remove a nightstand and move my bed over. I still get to have some fun playing with making it feel “finished,” but one step at a time.
Repeat this process – making tiny changes towards your desired state – until this space feels like your antonyms. I promise this is significantly more fun than therapy. Try it! What’s your area of least satisfaction? Post the area, your adjectives, and the antonyms below. Keep us posted on how the transformation goes!