I have inherited the pack rat gene from both my parents. Although I have moved 10 times over the past 17 years, I have lugged with me: boxes of “childhood memories” I cannot bear to part with; notebooks of stories and school projects; photo negatives; VHS tapes and cassettes I haven’t listened to in a decade; canvases for when I “return to painting;” and tons of art and crafts supplies I anticipate being useful someday.
It’s hard for me to part with stuff that I’ve imbued with meaning. And now we’re collecting even more with our daughter’s photos, videos and piles of artwork. It’s nice to hold onto memories, but when do those memories become just… stuff?
The problem with all this stuff—aside from physical storage—is the energetic space it consumes. The collections, the tower of boxes, the heirloom items, create a white noise of their own, humming in the background, sucking out a portion of our personal energy.
The Chinese and other Eastern cultures understand this more than Americans. They even have a word for it: chi, which is the energy or life force that flows through and around all living things. The interaction between the chi of a space and the chi of the people living in that space is the concept of Feng Shui.
I’ve been a follower of Feng Shui for years, so I’m fairly attuned to my energy levels. When I find myself feeling stifled or lethargic, I often make an attempt to de-clutter my home.
A few weeks ago, I went through my desk and shredded enough financial documents to fill four bags for recycling. I’ve since gone electronic with many accounts, but still had old paper files hanging around. Not only that, according to the principles of Feng Shui, they were hanging around in the Children and Creativity section of my home—an area where I definitely want energy to flow. (Check out the Bagua Map below to determine your home’s energy spaces.)
Last summer, I went on a cleaning spree that included tossing out (recycling) all my old journals. That was a cathartic process. Why was I keeping books filled with the angry rants and depressed ravings of my twenty-something self? I’d been holding onto that negative energy too long, and I felt much lighter after removing the journals from my home.
The accumulation of stuff blocks the flow of chi and can lead to depression or stagnation in one’s life. Clearing out the old makes room for new energy to flow in. Since shredding the old financial files, I’ve been on a high of creative energy and project ideas. A couple of weeks after tossing the journals, I acquired a freelance design client that I’d been hoping to get for months. It really does work!
Chi loves open, airy spaces with room to circulate. Not overflowing closets or dark corners crammed with unused boxes. This is probably why I tend to keep a clean house, especially since I work from home. Seeing stuff everywhere makes me edgy. I think my daughter might be a little like me.
I rarely ask Sofie to clean her room unless we’re having weekend guests or a party. But over the last year she has taken on room cleaning to the point where she’ll close her bedroom door and emerge a few hours later to surprise us with a clean space. She says she wants to clean it, and I can only guess it’s because she feels good when it is.
The biggest preventative step to clutter, of course, is to not acquire it in the first place. Try making conscious choices before bringing something into your home. It’s tough when our society conditions us to grab anything that’s free, to load up on stuff just because there’s a sale, or to own one of everything instead of sharing resources with friends and neighbors. (I fell into this trap when I bought a large punch bowl in December. It’s gorgeous, made of recycled glass, but I will likely only use it twice a year for parties. Now it sits in my basement, gathering dust and taking up space.)
Next week I’ll post some tips for sorting through and discarding your clutter. Until then, take a look around your home or office and notice what areas lower your energy. Do you dread opening the hall closet? Are the contents of your garage a nagging mystery? It might be time to confront your clutter and clear a path for fresh chi to flow into your life.If you’re interested, Nourishing Minimalism is offering a 2013 De-Cluttering Challenge. Get support while you clear out your stuff.