A place to renew
2019-07-22 | By Carolyn Van Es-Vines
As a graduate student, I moved house every year. Even though it was always within a 20-mile radius, packing up all my stuff, coordinating friends to help me lift heavy furniture, loading it and unpacking it all again was not only physically draining, but stressful.
It soon occurred to me that I wasn’t even using the majority of the stuff I was shifting from place to place. So I made the decision to go through my stuff and give away everything that, in the words of Marie Kondo, didn’t “spark joy.” I whittled it down to the bed, books, computer and clothes that I used daily. I ended up sitting on an oversized bean bag while watching TV balancing plates of homemade enchiladas on a stack of books.
Clutter be gone
I’d just experienced first-hand the impact that the stuff in our houses has on physical, mental and emotional well-being. In a mobile lifestyle, it’s easy to collect stuff and before we know it be surrounded by an accumulation of things we don’t love, need, use or even want.
According to Katarina Gaborova, a member of the ACCESS Counselling Network, “clutter in your living space has been linked to increased production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can make us feel more stressed, anxious, helpless, overwhelmed, frustrated or even depressed.”
The more clutter we have around us, the more distracted and overstimulated we can feel. Gaborova points out that it’s not simply enough to clean up and store our stuff, because “we know it’s there and that we still need to deal with it.”
Feng Shui: connecting energy and space
Eline Cointepas, Wassenaar-based interior decorator and feng shui practitioner, believes that we choose a house with the heart, not with the head. Our home should be where we return to relax and unwind, and the one place where we should be able to feel vulnerable. “Choosing the wrong house or the wrong decoration,” she asserts, “can zap your energy.”
This was the case with her former client, a single mother who’d often felt drained of energy, and Cointepas knew why even before going inside her house. The garden around the front door was unkempt, overgrown with bushes almost blocking the entrance. Inside, the front hallway was cluttered with stuff and the living room filled with unpacked boxes, toys and strewn books.
Cointepas’ first order of business was to encourage her client to tidy up the front entrance so, according to a key feng shui principle, clean, life energy–or Chi–could flow freely into the house. Cointepas also recommended a fence around the back yard to contain her home’s Chi. After the changes, her client experienced a boost in energy and a growth in confidence.
Letting go of our stuff
We all know the heavy, unsettling feeling we get when we enter a room full of unpacked boxes or crowded with furniture. Everything we own carries energy, positive or negative. The basic tenet of feng shui is to work with the energy in our surroundings to create beneficial effects in our lives.
“(Re)decorating is an inner process,” says Cointepas, which starts to explain why letting go of our stuff is hard. We’ve become emotionally attached to it. Instead of dealing with the reasons for our attachments (homesickness, fear of the future, being stuck in the past), we store them away in a drawer, closet or storage unit. A mobile lifestyle can present the perfect opportunity to begin sorting through those emotional attachments.
Gaborova concurs. When the issue of attachment comes up in her practice, it’s usually linked to missing something from the past like one’s home or family. “An object given to someone that carries sentimental value can bring a sense of comfort. It can also trigger other feelings like homesickness. The ACCESS counselling network is there to help clients find the right balance in these situations.”
To see the potential our home has, it is crucial that we clear space. This means going through our personal belongings, paying close attention to the feelings they illicit and discarding articles that don’t feel good. This process starts to clear the clutter in our heads. This is a powerful step to becoming free of the thoughts of inadequacy. “Our brain has to analyse and process a lot of data,” says Gaborova, “so a simple, well-organised space surrounding us feels more soothing.”
Moving to a new place is a wonderful opportunity to redecorate our home and to redesign who we are. We are not alone, there is always support from fellow expats like Gaborova, and Cointepas to “make our house into a place to recharge so outside we can live to our potential.”
About the author
Carolyn van Es-Vines is a life coach and trainer as well an author of black and (A)broad: traveling beyond the limitations of identity.