Building a Personal Sanctuary
After a long, stressful, busy day at work, you come home to your castle, your home sweet home, your haven of peace and comfort and … there you are, faced with a pile of dirty laundry, a mound of dirty dishes, a stack of newspapers and another of magazines to be sorted through and recycled, footprints in the kitchen, a pile of boxes to inch around to get to the dining room (you'll go through those later), and, oh no, there are those videos you were supposed to return yesterday, and what the heck are you going to have for dinner … ? Suddenly, it doesn't seem so relaxing to be home — as you grab a pizza coupon and start turning over piles looking for the cordless phone.
According to a CBS Evening News report, September 1999, the fifth annual Labor Day survey found that more than half of American workers are somewhat or extremely stressed at work. One in six workers reported being “angry enough to hit a coworker.” One of the most common sources of stress was, ironically, that modern convenience that supposedly makes life easier: technology.
But coming home doesn't have to be like this. Coming home at the end of the day or staying home all day long can be a relaxing, peaceful, or even positively exhilarating experience if that's what you want it to be. It's your home. It can be what you make it, and it shouldn't be just one more great big stressful burden. If your home isn't the place you want it to be, it may just require a little stress management.Your Home and Office as Metaphor
According to feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement, our environment is a metaphor for our lives and the energy that comes and goes in our lives. Problems in your environment mean problems in your life.
Consider for a moment that this idea is true. If your home is a metaphor for your life, how does your life look? Take a good look around you. Is your life cluttered with stuff you don't need? How's the circulation? How long has it been since you've done preventive maintenance on your life?
Your office, either at home or at your work away from home, can also be a metaphor for your life. Is your life scattered with unpaid bills, things to file, scraps of information that take up energy but don't give anything back, malfunctioning equipment, unstable piles of books, files, binders, and folders?
If what you find in your home or office space is not exactly what you'd like to have in mind for your life, then take matters in hand. Let your home and office continue to be a metaphor for your life, but shape that metaphor in a way that suits your life. Remove the clutter. Keep it clean. Build a relaxing, positive atmosphere in which to decompress at the end of each day.
Once you've gotten into the habit of keeping your house in order, you'll find how calming and rejuvenating it is to be in your home. And whenever things start to get out of order again, you'll have an immediate and visible clue that stress is creeping into your life.
Changing your external environment mysteriously and automatically seems to change your inner environment. You may never recognize how stressed you are because of the clutter in your environment until you get rid of it and experience how tranquil you feel living in your home the way you knew it must look beneath all the extra stuff. When you can see the things you love, find the things you need, and move unimpeded through your living environment, everything else seems easier.
To make your home a less stressful, more tranquil place, one of the easiest things you can do is to simplify. Spend some time in each room of your home and list all the things you do in each room. What are the functions of the room? What is impeding that function? And what would make each room simpler, its functions simpler?
Simplify your cleaning chores by creating a system for getting everything done a little bit each day. Simplify your shopping by buying in bulk and by planning your menu a week in advance. You can simplify the way your home works and consequently reduce your stress while in your home in many ways. Many excellent books, magazines, and Web sites are devoted to simple living. See the resource list at the end of this book for further reading. Here are some more simplicity tips for your home:
Wear your clothes a little longer (unless they get stained) to cut down on laundry.
Choose a wardrobe in which everything matches.
Change your bedding less often. Who's going to notice?
Get rid of or pack away household items that complicate your life without giving you very much back — ornate items that require constant dusting, house plants that require constant watering, dishes you can't put in the dishwasher, clothes you have to have dry-cleaned.
Hire a student or a neighboring teenager to mow the lawn, rake the leaves, run errands, or baby-sit. Consider hiring a housecleaning service.
There are always more ways to simplify. Keep looking for them.
Some people feel comforted by a room full of stuff, but there is something relaxing and calming about a clean, clutter-free surface, a wall with a single hanging, an expanse of carpet without any toys, books, or discarded clothes, even a room with just a few basic pieces of furniture, just what is necessary. While not everyone would like to live in a home that is completely utilitarian, chances are that over the years, yours has accumulated a couple of layers of decor.
Why not put away or give away some of that stuff and free up some space? As you make space on your surfaces, floors, walls, and rooms, you'll feel like you are making space in your mind. You'll feel more relaxed and calmer in that clean, organized, uncluttered space. If you donate stuff, you'll also get the feeling of satisfaction that you've helped others. Or, if you give clothing or other items to sell on consignment, you can make a little pocket money.De-clutter, De-stress
Clutter does more than keep your home, your desk, or your garage looking messy. It keeps your mind messy, too. The more stuff you have, especially the disorganized, unmatched, lost, or high-maintenance stuff, the more you have to worry about it, find it, maintain it, keep it, deal with it, have it. Getting rid of the clutter in your home is the most important thing you can do to make your home a stress-free haven of tranquility.
But getting rid of clutter is hard to do, especially for those who can't bear to throw anything away. Are you a pack rat? How many of the following statements would you agree with?
I keep a lot of clothes that I think I might be able to fit into someday.
I have at least one junk drawer filled with spare parts and other small items I might need someday, even if I'm not sure what most of them are.
I have at least a year's worth of magazines that I know I'll look at sometime.
All the storage spaces in my house are overflowing with stuff — I'm not sure what it all is.
I record more movies, television shows, or music than I can keep up with watching or listening to, but I save all the tapes because I think I'll get to them all … eventually.
I buy more books than I can read, but I just might read them someday.
I have at least five different collections.
I think I need to move into a bigger house because the house I'm in is overflowing with stuff.
If you check more than one item on the list, you're probably a pack rat. That means de-cluttering is trickier for you than for someone who doesn't have a problem letting go of stuff. If getting rid of clutter is actually
If you love your things and love to be surrounded by them, the trick to keeping your home stress-free is to have your things well-organized. If everything is kept neat and you know where everything is (so you aren't constantly in a panic trying to find things when you need them), then your abundant collections and favorite things can bring you as much joy, comfort, and calm as a de-cluttered, spare space might bring somebody else.
Sometimes people are actually more comfortable with clutter. They actually seem to need extra stuff all around them. You may be one of them if you are a collector, revel in the joys of bulk purchasing, or save everything. If you love your things, that's fine. You probably wouldn't feel relaxed in a sparse environment. The trick is to organize what you have so that it is neat and accessible.
The ancient Chinese art of placement, called feng shui, has become a popular and important trend in decorating in the West. Feng shui masters are widely available for hire by those decorating a home or office, or designing and building a home or office building. Feng shui classes are hot, and it's easy to find books on how to decorate or redesign your home using feng shui techniques.
Feng shui is a highly complex system that uses Chinese astrology, mathematical calculations, and Chinese philosophy. There are several different schools of feng shui that advocate different methods. But like many things that come from the East to the West, feng shui has begun to transform for use by Westerners. The methods are simpler and more intuitive.
The basic premise of feng shui, particularly Westernized feng shui, is the same as the concept mentioned earlier in this chapter: environment as metaphor. People who practice intuitive feng shui decorate according to what “feels right,” what arrangements, items, configurations, and colors make the energy feel good and flowing in a room. If you've ever arranged your furniture a certain way or placed an item somewhere and thought, “Oh yes, that's just right!”, then you understand at least a little about intuitive feng shui.
Many feng shui experts use the bagua, an eight-sided shape that you imagine overlying your house. The corners are filled in to make a square. In the bagua, each of the eight sides represents a different area of life, such as money, relationships, creativity, health, and family. Whatever part of the home is in this area represents that part of your life.
But working with the bagua is just one way to apply feng shui to your home. Besides the colors, shapes, and elements associated with the different sides of the bagua, feng shui also uses light, movement (wind chimes, mobiles), water, plants, crystals, and symbolic representations of positive things to activate and enhance different areas of the home.
Energy can get “stuck” in corners and particularly in alcoves or other irregular shapes in rooms. Cobwebs in corners of the room are a sign of stagnant energy. Keep your corners dusted and keep those feng shui areas of concern particularly cobweb-free. Wind chimes or crystals hanging in corners can get the energy moving out of the corner and back into the main flow of energy through the room. Hanging bamboo flutes is also auspicious.
Feng shui should be personalized. Your date of birth, for example, can determine specific feng shui prescriptions, such as which way to position your bed, even which direction to face if you want to appear more powerful during a meeting. (See Appendix B for sources that are devoted more fully and completely to feng shui techniques.)
The tips that follow are general feng shui tips designed to enhance the positive energy and decrease the negative energy in any household. Just remember, feng shui is most effective when used intuitively; try any of these suggestions that appeal to you or feel “right,” but don't worry about following those that seem difficult, uninteresting, or even silly. To be truly stress free, feng shui should be fun and feel good. Take your pick from the following tips:
Remember, symbolism is everything. Pictures of love birds or people in love encourage a romantic relationship, correctly placed coins or dollar bills attract wealth, a picture of a far-away destination encourages the likelihood of travel. Use symbolism everywhere to attract the appropriate energy and set your intention in your own mind. Arrange it, see it, think it … make it happen!
A crystal, mobile, source of moving water (fish tank, desk fountain), or wind chime will energize any area of your home you think needs activation.
Keep your cupboards and refrigerator well-stocked with fresh, healthy food, which represents abundance.
Never leave your broom sitting in plain view. A visible broom symbolizes death or other catastrophe.
To increase energy for prosperity, keep your stove immaculately clean.
If your bathroom is in your prosperity corner — the corner to your upper left as you enter the room — your wealth could be getting symbolically flushed down the toilet. Keep the toilet lid down, keep the bathroom door shut, and hang a mirror on the outside of the bathroom door.
Make sure you can't see yourself in a mirror when you are lying or sitting up in bed. If you can, cover that mirror at night. Seeing your shadowy image in the dark can be frightening.
If you have a television in your bedroom, cover it at night. The energy it emits can negatively affect many areas of your life, including your health.
Healthy living things add positive energy to any environment: a well-kept fish tank or turtle, dogs, cats, birds, and healthy plants all improve your home's feng shui.
Use fresh flowers in the living room, but not in the bedroom. Toss out flowers and plants as soon as they begin to wilt.
Don't sleep with a beam on the ceiling crossing over you, or with a beam dividing your bed if you sleep with someone.
Don't sit, stand, or sleep with a corner or any sharp object facing you. Sharp objects send off “poison arrows” or negative energy that can have a detrimental effect.
Don't position your bed directly facing the door. Corpses are carried out feet first!
Good hygiene, clean clothes, clean sheets, and a healthy diet are all good feng shui.
To reiterate, feng shui is far more complicated than I can begin to explain here. The most important way to use feng shui in a stress-free manner is to have fun with it and not worry too much about it. Because feng shui works so well when used intuitively, if things feel right and good to you in your home, don't worry if they don't match one particular book's advice about furniture positioning or color or anything else.
In Chinese, the word for the number eight sounds like the words for growth and prosperity. Eight is considered lucky, and in China, many wealthy people will pay huge sums of money to have an eight anywhere on their car license plates.
Because the actual, original version of feng shui is so complex, you have to take any contemporary all-or-nothing feng shui prescriptions with a grain of salt. Any easy-to-understand feng shui text is by necessity simplified and could easily be, in your particular case, inaccurate or misconstrued.
In other words, use advice from feng shui sources if you find it enjoyable and it results in a living environment that pleases you. If feng shui is starting to stress you out, well, that's certainly not the point — pick another hobby. If your home feels good, if you feel good while in your home, that's good stress management, and that's all that matters.