Friday, January 16, 2015

New Year's Resolution ... A Tidier house (and life!)

I hope you had a lovely festive season and are feeling positive and ready to embrace the New Year, whatever that means for you.

My sister and her family visited the States in December and for a few days before they left they stayed in an apartment in Manhattan, kindly lent to them by neighbors of friends in the same building. We headed into the city on their last day here, to spend the day together, and got to have tea and some hanging out time in that beautiful apartment.

It's hard to explain exactly what it was that made it such a beautiful and peaceful place. From the minute I walked in the door i wanted to curl up in their red armchair beneath the window and drink long cups of tea. I think what really struck me was that every object seemed to have been chosen with care, they had chosen the most beautiful of everything to fit their space perfectly. From the deep red armchair below the window to the wall of bookshelves, there was no clutter, only a few select pieces. Three small pieces of art on the wall. One lovely rug. In the kitchen a rack hung with mugs and each one was hand painted or brought from travels far away ... each would make drinking out of it a special experience. Their son's bedroom had simple wooden furniture and the toys were tidily packed away in baskets - the whole room felt nurturing and well put together, simple and effortless. 

Long after we left and said goodbye to my sister and her family, my thoughts returned to that apartment, wondering why it had appealed to me so much. And then I realized that my own home contains so many things that are not my favourite, or even the best I could find ... they are items bought impulsively on sale, or to tide us over until we find the right thing to fit a space. Time and again I read articles about homes which have been lovingly put together over time, and the owners always talk about being patient - not rushing to buy something for the sake of buying, but to wait until the right item presents itself. If you're shopping for a rug, wait until you find one that makes your heart sing. And really, shouldn't we have the same standard for the mugs we drink tea out of, the clothes we wear each day, the towels we dry off on.

Yes there are practical limits ... of course most of us cannot afford to splurge on the most expensive luxury items we see. But even at a low budget we still have choices - to buy what really appeals to us and to leave the rest behind. To fill our home only with the things which really make us happy.

A week or two later I came across this book online ... 'The Life Changing magic of tidying-up' by Marie Kondo.

                                                 (Image via Pinterest)

I'm not sure how to be honest, I don't think I did a google search for tidying ... but I was reading on clear simple spaces and it came across my path. I was a bit sceptical at first, there are so many books and magazines and websites devoted to clearing clutter and living a simpler life but that's not really what I was after. I ordered her book (kindle edition) and read it in just over an hour. The principle is very simple and yet so different from other articles on similiar subjects that I have read before ... she tells her clients to only keep those items in their homes which 'spark joy.' To let go of anything that is being kept because it was given as a gift, inherited (unless there is emotional attachment), kept to be used at some point in the future, a reminder of past achievements (like books from courses taken long ago). Unlike other authors and 'de-cluttering' experts, she doesn't care how long last an items was used or worn, it's about the emotional connection we have with our belongings. She claims that if we use this criteria to de-clutter our homes, we really will only need to tidy up like this once. It's called 'getting your house in order' and it make sense that once we let go of things which do not make us happy, we're not likely to fill our spaces up again with things that don't. We'll be more aware as we go shopping and travelling in the future, mindful only to purchse the things that we love and really want in our spaces. Whether that's a piece of jewellery or something practical like a dishcloth, shouldn't we place the same amount of importance on that choice and allow our homes to have space and light in which to appreciate the things we truly love ?

Her clients typically throw out bags and bags of books and clothes and things they no longer love. They are told to say goodbye and to thank those items for their role, now that it's time for them to move on. It's a beautiful and very Eastern sentiment. She also does not recommend storage systems to help in the process - her belief is that once the tidying has been done according to her principles, the storage system in the home or room that is already there, will be just enough. 

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions - it feels like too much pressure to place onto a year that's brand new and just unfolding, but I think all of us have ideas of what we'd like to achieve, how we'd like to live, be, feel in the year ahead. For me, this year holds a lot of decisions around work or staying home, art and how to include that in my life again without a studio space in our new home ... writing and how that fits in, starting a business or not, studying ... so many decisions and choices and I have been craving the home around me to feel lighter, simpler and less cluttered. It's not as if I have heaps of things lying around on the floor or in my closets, but the weight of all our possessions has been heavy of late. So it seemed like the right time to try out Marie's method after reading her book at the beginning of a new year.

Honestly, it's a very liberating approach, to only keep the things you love. Gone are the heavy art history books - I finished studying and don't use that in my day to day life anymore. Gone are the piles of novels and books on parenting and self-help. They were reminders of where I came from, not of where i am today. The clothes I was keeping because I had them and need clothes, but when i held each one up I realized they really did not make me happy and I never felt good wearing them. The shoes I never wear and the ones I bought but that hurt my toes.

It's a slow process. In her book she talks about it taking half a year to do it thoroughly, and i can see why. She talks about taking it in stages also, dealing with clothes, books, papers and so on in increasingly difficult levels. It's often easier to get rid of clothes, but not as easy when it comes to photographs or decorative items gathered from travels. Papers are definitely my downfall and I haven't reached that stage yet but already I am feeling so much lighter, as if I can breathe in my space again. Furniture that was making me feel heavy is on it's way out, we are ripping up more carpets and I am arranging the things I have chosen to keep so that I can see them and enjoy having them in my space. And already I have found that the areas I have worked on are so much easier to maintain, the space and simplicity makes me happy so i want to tidy a few minutes each day to keep them like that.

At the end of this process I hope my  home will make others want to curl up in an armchair with a blanket and a cup of tea ... make our family feel rested after spending time in it ... recharge and rejuvenate us rather than leaving us feeling overwhelmed and tired. An emptier space is easier to keep clean, and hopefully the cleaning and tidying will become more of a daily practice rather than an overwhelming chore which never seems to end.

So that's my start to the New Year. In her book, Marie Kondo talks about how sometimes the clearing out and making choices around what to keep and what to let go of, signals deeper changes in her client's lives around work and passions and life direction. I am hoping for a little of that too. In the meantime I am boxing up books and drinking tea and preparing myself to tackle piles of old letters and photos, and the towering heaps of papers that really set this whole project off.

Here's to a light bright year, hopefully filled with clarity and fresh new beginnings.